April 12, 2011 -- Actor Nicolas Cage said it was "divine providence" that his stolen vintage comic book was found 11 years later in a storage unit in Southern California. This wasn't just any comic book. It is the first Superman comic, titled "Action Comics No. 1," worth about $1 million.
"It's the most important and valuable comic book," said Stephen Fishler, who sold the comic book to the actor in 1995. "Before this book was published, there was no such thing as a super hero. It really created the comic industry."
Detective Donald Hrycyk, head of the Los Angeles Police Department's Art Theft Detail, has been working on this case since the actor filed a theft report Jan. 21, 2000. The actor, who won an Oscar for his role in "Leaving Las Vegas," said the item was stolen from his home in Los Angeles. He reportedly received insurance money for its loss, according to Hrycyk.
Cage's publicist released a statement from the actor that said: "It is divine providence that the comic was found and I am hopeful that the heirloom will be returned to my family."
Fishler would not disclose the amount the actor paid for the comic book in 1995.
"It's worth considerably more than it was then," said Fishler, who owns ComicConnect.com, the world's largest retailer of comics. In March 2010, he said his company broke the record for the most expensive comic book for another copy of "Action One" for $1.5 million. In February 2010, he said his company sold another copy for $1 million. While there are about 100 in existence, only six of those comic books are in similar preserved condition, he said.
Mark Balelo, a collectibles expert in Simi Valley, Calif., was contacted by a man who said he found what was later discovered to be actor's comic book in a storage locker in San Fernando Valley. The man, who does not wish to be identified according to Detective Hrycyk, bought the locker's contents through American Auctioneers, a company based in Riverside, Calif. Elisabeth Metzidis, controller for Balelo Inc. confirmed that the man who found the comic book asked Balelo to sell it.
Ongoning Investigation of Original Theft
Balelo, who knew that the comic book was valuable but not stolen, reached Fishler on April 4 and sent photos of the comic book, according to Fishler.
Fishler said he realized the comic book was the stolen "Action One" and contacted Hrycyk. Fishler, based in New York, said he got onto a flight to California the next day.
Detective Hrycyk said it can be difficult to identify the exact copy because it was mass produced and has no serial number.
"It's a task to identify the right one," Hrycyk said.
But Hrycyk and Fishler were able to identify it through markings or aberrations. Hrycyk said the comic book, which is in "pretty good" condition, is under the possession of the LAPD.
"We seized it as stolen property and are conducting an investigation into the original crime," he said.
Fishler said the comic book is "very condition sensitive."
"It would not be a good idea to take it out and read it," Fishler said.
Hrycyk said there have been false leads into this stolen comic book in the past.
In 2002, police thought the comic book had surfaced in Memphis, Tennessee. A search warrant was served for a safe deposit box there, but it turned out to be a fake copy.
"It looked like they were trying to find a sucker to defraud," Hrycyk said.
Hrycyk said the comic book is legally the property of the actor's insurance company but the actor is trying to regain ownership of it.
"Consistent with people who lose things, they would much rather have the object than insurance money," Hrycyk said. "I think he was very ecstatic about it. He's very eager to get it back.
Fishler said he informed the actor that they had found the missing book and the actor's response was very positive.
"It's obviously a famous book," Fishler said. "I could understand why anyone would want an Action One. It's a book that everybody wants."