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According to John Petty, auction director at Heritage Comics, Cage's collection also contains the likes of Batman No. 1, All-Star Comics No. 3 (which marked the debut of the Justice Society of America, the first superhero team), All-American Comics No. 16 (the 1940 Green Lantern introduction) and other top-notch titles that tighten Full Frontal's Spider-Man Underoos. "It's very obvious that he collected with an eye towards quality," Petty says. "He was looking for the best examples he could find." It's surprising that the man who starred in Con Air, Captain Corelli's Mandolin and Gone in 60 Seconds would be so discerning. What's more shocking is that Cage, who hardly needs the spare change, would sell off so valuable and lovingly assembled a collection.
"From what I understand, and from what he's said in interviews, he's just trying to simplify his life," says Petty, who was offered the collection after Cage and his agent spoke with several other auction houses.
Cage's decision to go with Heritage further cements the Highland Park Village-based auction house's rep in this increasingly lucrative market. Just last month, at the WizardWorld convention in Chicago, Petty and his comic-book heartbreakers sold off a huge chunk of Spider-Man/X-Men/Fantastic Four co-creator Stan Lee's private collection. Even comics considered fairly uncollectable went for a small fortune: A beat-to-hell copy of Marvel's Strange Tales that sells for $27 at Titan Comics on Northwest Highway went for $900--"just because Stan Lee sweat on it," says one local collector. The July auction brought in nearly $5 mil--and that included but a fraction of Lee's stuff, more of which will be sold with Cage's this fall.
Heritage still deals primarily in rare coins, but Petty figures since it branched out into comics last year, the auction house has pocketed $10 million--"not a bad little start-up." And it has also allowed Petty, a comics reader since before he could read, the chance to hang with his comic-book idols.
"Imagine you get invited to spend two days with Stan Lee going through his storage rooms--with Stan," Petty says, his broad face all grin. "How cool is that? The fact that Stan Lee is sending me e-mails is more than my little fanboy heart could have ever hoped for." --Robert Wilonsky