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AP
This copy of Action Comics No. 1, featuring the first appearance of Superman,is part of a collection expected to bring more than $2 million at auction in New York City Wednesday.
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updated 2/22/2012 4:31:01 PM ET 2012-02-22T21:31:01

When Michael Rorrer found 345 comic books neatly stacked in a basement closet as he cleaned out his great-aunt's Virginia home after her death, he thought they were cool but didn't think much about their value.

He later discovered that his late great-uncle Billy Wright had managed to assemble a remarkable comic book collection that included some of the most prized issues ever published, and kept them in good condition. And, on Wednesday, the bulk of Wright's collection sold for about $3.5 million.

Lon Allen, managing director of comics for Dallas-based Heritage Auctions, said Wright's 1939 copy of Detective Comics No. 27 that features the debut of Batman got the top bid at a New York City auction Wednesday. It sold for about $523,000, including a buyer's premium.

Action Comics No. 1, a 1938 issue featuring the first appearance of Superman, sold for about $299,000. And Batman No. 1 from 1940 sold for about $275,000.

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"This is just one of those collections that all the guys in the business think don't exist anymore," Allen said.

Story: Superman comic draws highest price ever paid: $2.16M

The collection includes 44 of The Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide's list of top 100 issues from the Golden Age of comic books: the late 1930s to the late ’40s.

"The scope of this collection is, from a historian's perspective, dizzying," said J.C. Vaughn, associate publisher of Overstreet.

Staggering array
Rorrer, 31, of Oxnard, Calif., found the comics in his great-aunt Ruby Wright's Martinsville, Va., home a few months after her death last February. His mother, Lisa Hernandez, 54, of League City, Texas, then divided the comics into two boxes — one for him and one for his younger brother.

After his box arrived in California in the fall, Rorrer mentioned the collection to a coworker, telling him about seeing a Captain America No. 2, a 1941 issue in which the hero bursts in on Adolf Hitler. Rorrer, who works at a plant where oil is separated from water, said the co-worker mused that it would be something if he had Action Comics No. 1, in which Superman makes his first appearance.

"I went home and was looking through some of them, and there it was," said Rorrer, who then began researching the collection's value in earnest.

He found that his great-uncle had managed as a boy to buy a staggering array of what became the most valuable comic books ever published.

Story: DC do-over: Superman and friends start over from scratch

Once Rorrer realized how important the comics were, he called his mother, who still had the box for his brother at her house. He and his mother then went through their boxes, checking comic after comic off the list.

AP
The collection of 345 comics discovered in good condition in a basement closet also includes a Detective Comics No. 27 from 1939: the first appearance of Batman.

"I couldn't believe what I had sitting there upstairs at my house," Rorrer said.

Hernandez, who works in a chemical plant, said it really hit her how valuable the comics were when she saw the look on Allen's face after he came to her house to look through the comics she had there.

"It was kind of hard to wrap my head around it," Allen said.

Rorrer said he only remembers his aunt making a fleeting reference to the comics when she learned that he and his brother, Jonathan Rorrer, now 29 of Houston, liked comic books. He said his great-uncle, who died in 1994 at age 66, never mentioned his collection.

Slideshow: Comics that should (and shouldn’t) be movies (on this page)

Allen, who called the collection "jaw-dropping," noted that Wright "seemed to have a knack" for picking up the ones that would be the most valuable. The core of his collection is from 1938 to 1941.

Hernandez said it makes sense that her uncle — even as a boy — had a discerning eye. The man who went to The College of William and Mary before having a long career as a chemical engineer for DuPont was smart, she said. And, she added, Wright was an only child whose mother kept most everything he had. She said that they found games from the 1930s that were still in their original boxes.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Photos: From comic pages to big screen, what makes the cut?

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  1. 5 comics that should (and 5 that shouldn’t) be movies

    As superhero movies continue to pack moviegoers in the aisles and their stars court fans at Comic-Con in San Diego, here's a look at five comic franchises the studios have somehow overlooked -- and five they should have.

    Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, and Iron Man all have had multiple movies, yet comics' most iconic female figure has never had even one live-action, big-screen portrayal. A script by Joss Whedon (of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" fame) never came to fruition, and a promised Warner Bros. movie is still at least two years away. Do we smell super-sexism? Maybe the Amazon princess hit the glass ceiling in her invisible plane. (DC Comics) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Catwoman (2004)

    Doubtless inspired by Michelle Pfeiffer's memorable turn as the ultimate cat lady in "Batman Returns" (1992), French director Jean-Christophe "Pitof" Comar upped the ante by casting the uber-sexy Halle Berry as the title character in 2004's "Catwoman," but still somehow managed to cough up one hairball of a movie. The narrative has little or nothing to do with the classic Batman villainess (her age-old alter-ego "Selina Kyle" is jettisoned in favor of mousey "Patience Phillips," for instance). And while visually striking in her leather get-up, Berry is so unconvincing that she earned a Worst Actress Golden Raspberry award -- which she bravely accepted in person. (Warner Bros.) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Doctor Strange

    $7 billion. That's how much eight Harry Potter films have racked up. Wouldn't it make sense that the Sorceror Supreme of Marvel Comics, Doctor Strange, could make at least a piece of that magically appear at the box office? Especially when his narrative -- an arrogant surgeon damages his hands in an accident and journeys to the Himalayas in search of a mystical cure, but instead is tutored to become the world's greatest magician (not unlike a certain young Hogwarts student) -- is so relatable and contemporary. Yet aside from a little-seen 1978 TV-movie, the mystic mage has yet to have a live-action adaptation, though scripts have been in development for decades. (Marvel Comics) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. The Punisher (1989, 2004, 2008)

    Deliciously devoid of even the slightest shred of compassion, Marvel's gun-toting, grimacing antihero The Punisher is precisely the type of comic book character that gives parents pause, given that he's more like Charles Bronson in "Death Wish" than mild-mannered reporter Clark Kent. So, while not the ideal comic book for Junior to be thumbing through, he seemed perfect for the big screen. Yet three attempts have ...er... backfired. The 1989 adaptation starring the wooden Dolph Rundgren was tepidly cheesy and went straight to video. A 2004 version starring chiseled Tom Jane (left) as the vigilante was more faithful, but crumpled under the weight of its own humorlessness. As for "Punisher: War Zone" from 2008, the less said the better. The silver lining? The franchise seems to be finally out of ammo. (Artisan Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. The New Teen Titans

    Though the original Teen Titans were a superhero team in their own right in the 1960s , DC Comics’ New Teen Titans made their mark in the early 1980s as yin to the yang of Marvel Comics’ wildly popular X-men. No longer relegated to trailing behind Batman’s cape, Robin leads the show here, flanked by other super-sidekicks like Wonder Girl, Kid Flash and new characters like Cyborg, Raven and Starfire. Though possibly lacking the tortured mutant pathos of their Marvel counterparts, the New Titans exuded their fair share of emotional turmoil via the soulfully complex conscience of gloomy empath Raven and the youthful warrior’s rage of alien Starfire, a scantily-clad doppelganger of the X-men’s volatile Phoenix.

    The New Titans have made it to the small screen via an animated series, and there are rumors of a live-action series about Raven. But there’s no reason they couldn't transition to the big screen with the same success as the X-Men, whose franchise is going strong after five films. (DC Comics) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Howard the Duck (1986)

    Originally the hero of a clever comic book about a talking duck from another dimension who’s trapped in a world he never made, Howard became trapped in a movie that never should have been made when this bloated mess came out. Though it was produced by Star Wars creator George Lucas, it is considered by many to be one of the worst films ever made.

    What went wrong? For one thing, Howard was played by various little people in unconvincing duck suits (here's one with Lea Thompson, whose career somehow survived). Today he would be probably be portrayed in CGI – and it still wouldn’t work. Some comic books just belong staying comic books. (Everett Collection) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. The Inhumans

    Now that Hollywood has finally embraced fairly complex comics like " Watchmen" and the X-Men titles, isn't it time some of the more esoteric superheroes get their due? Not unlike the X-Men, the Inhumans were literally a breed apart, genetically engineered by aliens who later abandoned them. With Black Bolt (so powerful that his faintest whisper can level mountains) as their king, the Inhumans' rich history bears all the classic trappings of an epic poem or Shakespearian tragedy. Or at least an enjoyable two hours at the cineplex. (Marvel Comics) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Jonah Hex (2010)

    You have to wonder how the Warner Bros. pitch meeting about this turkeyburger must have gone. “Hey, here’s an idea: With superhero movies making zillions, let’s ignore all the beloved characters our DC Comics division owns. Instead, let’s make a western based a second-tier comic with a hideously disfigured antihero. Yeah, that’ll work.”

    It didn’t; critics ambushed the bloody western starring Josh Brolin as a supernatural gunfighter. Even Megan Fox as a lovestruck prostitute couldn’t help; audiences stayed away in droves and tie-in toys gathered dust in warehouses. Almost as if Harry Potter or Doctor Strange had put a hex on it. (Warner Bros.) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Milk & Cheese

    From the twisted mind of writer/artist Evan Dorkin, cult favorites Milk & Cheese are two pint-size -- literally -- dairy products who were first unleashed on an unsuspecting comic underground in the late 1980s. Driven by a fondness for booze and a rampant appetite for violence and mayhem, the anthropomorphic carton of milk and diminutive wedge of cheese giddily run afoul of all semblance of decency. Though Dorkin has reportedly turned down all offers to turn the nihilistic duo into cartoon or movie stars, there is a deluxe hardcover anthology slated for December 2011. The perfect holiday gift! (SLG Publishing) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. The Spirit (2008)

    If you think what Paz Vega has in mind for Gabriel Macht in this still from the big-screen adaptation of Will Eisner’s 1940s newspaper comic strip is bad, it’s downright merciful compared to what the critics did to it. Eisner, inventor of the graphic novel and a bona fide comics legend, deserved far better than to have his masked crimefighter sullied by this almost universally panned stinker: “To call the characters cardboard is to insult a useful packing material,” Roger Ebert wrote. (Lionsgate) Back to slideshow navigation
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