Pay up, get quirky mystery goods on a regular basis. We break down the value of some popular services.

What started as a way to try a  variety of makeup samples has turned into a big business for getting toys, comics and rare (or “rare”) collectibles without leaving the house.

Box subscriptions started popping up in 2010 with the launch of Birchbox — a $10 beauty box for women that remains one of the most popular subscription services to this day.

Now, there’s one out there for just about anything, from zombie apocalypse tools (it could happen) to a bagel of the month club. And as for geeks like me, there are plenty of pop-culture boxes, including ones devoted to Star Wars, Funko vinyl figures, DC superheroes, Marvel superheroes, you name it.

I recently got two to see if they’re worth either the hype or your cash.

The Contenders

Here’s what we’re comparing, in a nutshell — or cardboard box…

Legion of Collectors

  • Created by: Funko and DC
  • Started in: January 2016
  • Boxes per year: Six
  • Price: $25 per box, plus shipping and handling or $150 for the year plus shipping and handling
  • Promise: “Over $50 value”

Stan Lee Box

  • Created by: Pow Entertainment
  • Started in: December 2016
  • Boxes per year: Six
  • Price:  $50 per box plus shipping and handling or $270 for the year, plus shipping and handling
  • Promise: “Over $100 value”

You’ll notice both promise face value of double the subscription rate.

What’s inside?

The items for each month of a subscription box usually fit into a theme, and the type of contents vary, too. Here’s what I got…

Stan Lee Box April Box

  • Theme: Hulk
  • Number of items: 10
  • Contained: Pop! Baby Groot figure, Metal Diecast Hulk figure, two prints, two exclusive variant X-Men comics, one hardcover and one softcover book, one t-shirt, one bottle of soda
  • Most expensive item: Hulk Season One hardcover book, retail value of $25
  • Cheapest item: Bottle of Jones soda, retail value of $2

Legion of Collectors April Box

  • Theme: Wonder Woman
  • Number of items: six
  • Contained: An enamel pin, embroidered patch, a pair of Pop! socks, two exclusive Pop! figures and a Pint Size Heroes figure.
  • Most expensive item: Exclusive Wonder Woman Pop! Figure. Exclusives typically have a retail value of $15
  • Cheapest item: Pint Size Heroes Wonder Woman figure. Figures from this series usually retail for $4, but in a blind bag. Subscribers all had the guarantee of Wonder Woman through this box.

Exclusives & rarities

There are usually things you don’t care so much about in a subscription box, and things you really want. So the most important thing in deciding its value to you is what you can’t get anywhere elseOf course, exclusive doesn’t always mean cool, so you be the judge…

Stan Lee

This box had five exclusives: a Green Eggs and Stan T-shirt, a bottle of green Stan Lee Jones soda, an exclusive variant cover of one of the comics, a print of an artist sketch before it morphed into a comic book cover, and a photo of Stan Lee on the set of The Incredible Hulk Returns. All of the items are fun for someone who lives and breathes Marvel, but they’re not numbered or necessarily “limited.” The remaining six items can be bought separately.

Legion of Collectors

Subscribers of this box got four exclusives: the pin, patch and two exclusive Pop! figures. One figure was a character from the upcoming Wonder Woman film, Doctor Maru. The other was Amazonian goddess herself, Wonder Woman, in an exclusive mold holding her signature golden lasso. This is the first Legion of Collectors box to contain two Pop! figures instead of one. Though these items aren’t numbered, they acknowledge the fact that they’re exclusive with a large blue sticker on the box of each Pop! Figure. The only items that can be purchased separately without subscribing are the socks and the Pint Size Heroes figure. However, if you buy the Pint Size Heroes figure at a store, you won’t have the guarantee of getting a Wonder Woman one.

Cool factor & quality

Do I actually want this? What’s special about this? How’s the packaging, quality of the box and its curation as a whole?

Stan Lee

Though this may not be the box for someone who only likes rare stuff, it is the box for someone who likes Marvel. This month’s box was themed around the Hulk and it was curated smartly. The box itself has an awesome design on the outside, but if you’re a regular subscriber, it’s the same every month — the Legion of Collectors box exterior changes based on the theme. A huge con for the Stan Lee Box (unless you like surprises?) is that the box’s theme isn’t announced ahead of time.

Wonder Woman

Unless you like everything DC does, this is a hard box to commit to as an annual subscriber. But, one thing LoC does over Stan Lee boxes, is announce the theme ahead of time for you to opt in or out month-by-month. And if you find yourself liking more than you dislike, the annual subscription will get you an additional gift. I also like that the exclusive items that come in the LoC box feel more significant than a lot of the Stan Lee ones, for instance an enamel pin over a print of a photo. That said, if you’re a comic book person, Stan Lee’s box caters more toward that than LoC.

Price breakdown

Here are the hard(ish) numbers, which is all some people care about…

Stan Lee

Total value: about $98

I really didn’t expect this value to be so high, which is bad considering it’s supposed to hold “over $100.” When adding values of each item, I was conservative with the prices — $10 on the diecast figure, $12 for the Pop! Baby Groot even though they sometimes go for more depending on the retailer, $15 for the T-shirt, etc. That said, I don’t know. We’re barely hitting $100, which is a bummer.

Legion of Collectors

Total value: about $56

This box came out lower in value than I expected, but I think it’s because I’m looking at it with a collector’s mentality. For instance, the exclusive Pop! figures in this box would retail at $15 each if you could buy them independently — but you can’t. To me, that translates into them selling on eBay for $30 and up. Either way, the company is true to its word of a “$50 value.”  

Before you buy

If you’re new to subscription boxes, here are some tips to get the most for your time and money…

1. Like the box’s page on social media

That way you’ll be the first to know when themes get announced. You’ll also hear about promotions and potentially catch discount codes before they go away. The Stan Lee Box Facebook page recently put a $10 off coupon code out there.

2. Look for spoilers

If you’re like me and terrible at surprises, spoilers be damned. I usually lurk in Reddit threads to see if anyone on the inside has leaked photos of what’s inside a box that hasn’t been released yet. That way, I can decide if it’s worth my time. Because I’m a DC girl, Legions of Collectors catches my attention more often than other boxes. So I check the subreddit, r/LegionOfCollectors for a sneak peek before committing. Loot Crate has a subreddit devoted completely to spoilers, called r/LootCrateSpoilers.

3. See what people are trading

Sometimes, not everything in the box will be a win. Whether you only want one thing in a box full of stuff or you love everything but one item, check out a subscription box trading page. Subreddits like r/SubBoxBST will let you buy, sell or trade unwanted items to fellow subscription box-lovers. That way, you get a return on the stuff you don’t like, but somebody else does.

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Article last modified on May 31, 2017. Published by Debt.com, LLC .