Action Comics 1
|Action Comics #1|
|Publication date||June 1938 (Cover date)|
Action Comics #1 (June 1938) is the first issue of the comic book series Action Comics. It features the first appearance of several comic book heroes -- most notably the Jerry Siegel/Joe Shuster creation, Superman. For this reason it is widely considered both the beginning of the super-hero genre and the most valuable comic book of all time: as of 2014 it is the only comic to have sold for more than $2 million for a single original copy.
Action Comics #1 was an anthology, and contained eleven features:
- "Superman" (pp. 1–13) by Siegel and Shuster.
- "Chuck Dawson" (pp. 14–19) by H. Fleming.
- "Zatara Master Magician" (pp. 20–31) by Fred Guardineer.
- "South Sea Strategy" (text feature, pp. 32–33) by Captain Frank Thomas.
- "Sticky-Mitt Stimson" (pp. 34–37) by Alger.
- "The Adventures of Marco Polo" (pp. 38–41) by Sven Elven.
- "'Pep' Morgan" (pp. 42–45) by Fred Guardineer.
- "Scooby the Five Star Reporter" (pp. 46–51) by Will Ely.
- "Tex Thompson" (pp. 52–63) by Bernard Baily.
- "Stardust" (p. 64) by "The Star-Gazer".
- "Odds 'N Ends" (inside back cover) by "Moldoff" (Sheldon Moldoff).
Published on April 18, 1938 (cover-dated June), by National Allied Publications, a corporate predecessor of DC Comics, it is considered the first true superhero comic; and though today Action Comics is a monthly title devoted to Superman, it began, like many early comics, as an anthology.
Action Comics was started by publisher Jack Liebowitz. The first issue had a print run of 200,000 copies, which promptly sold out although it took some time for National to realize that the "Superman" strip was responsible for sales of the series that would soon approach 1,000,000 a month. Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster were paid $10 per page, for a total of $130 for their work on this issue. Liebowitz would later say that selecting Superman to run in Action Comics #1 was "pure accident" based on deadline pressure and that he selected a "thrilling" cover, depicting Superman lifting a car over his head. Christopher Knowles, author of Our Gods Wear Spandex: The Secret History of Comic Book Heroes, compared the cover to Hercules Clubs the Hydra by Antonio del Pollaiolo.
In January 1933, Jerry Siegel wrote a short prose story titled "The Reign of the Superman", which was illustrated by his friend Joe Shuster and self-published in a science-fiction magazine. It told the story of a bald villain with telepathic powers. Trying to create a character they could sell to newspaper syndicates, Siegel re-conceived the "Superman" character as powerful hero, sent to our world from a more advanced society. He and Shuster developed the idea into a comic strip which they pitched unsuccessfully.
National Publications was looking for a hit to accompany their success with Detective Comics, and did not have time to solicit new material. Jack Liebowitz, co-owner of National Publications, told editor Vin Sullivan to create their fourth comic book. Because of the tight deadline, Sullivan was forced to make it out of inventory and stockpile pages. He found a number of adventurer stories, but needed a lead feature. Sullivan asked former coworker Sheldon Mayer if he could help. Mayer found the rejected Superman comic strips, and Sullivan told Siegel and Shuster that if they could paste them into 13 comic book pages, he would buy them.
The original panels were rewritten and redrawn to create the first page of Action Comics #1:
- Baby Superman is sent to Earth by his scientist father in a "hastily-devised space ship" from "a distant planet" which "was destroyed by old age".
- After the space ship lands on Earth, "a passing motorist, discovering the sleeping baby within, turned the child over to an orphanage".
- The baby Superman lifts a large chair overhead with one hand, astounding the orphanage attendants with "his feats of strength".
- When Superman (now named Clark Kent) reaches maturity, he discovers that he can leap 1/8 of a mile, hurdle 20-story buildings, "raise tremendous weights", outrun a train, and "that nothing less than a bursting shell could penetrate his skin".
- Clark decides that "he must turn his titanic strength into channels that would benefit mankind, and so was created 'Superman', champion of the oppressed...."
Two new panels offering a "scientific explanation of Clark Kent's amazing strength" were added. The panels do not identify Superman's home planet by name or explain how he was named Clark Kent.
The next 12 pages showed Superman attempting to save an innocent woman about to be executed while delivering the real murderess, bound and gagged, and leaving her on the lawn of the state Governor's mansion after breaking through the door into his house with a signed confession; coming to the aid of a woman being beaten up by her husband, who faints when his knife shatters on Superman's skin; rescuing Lois Lane (who also debuts in this issue) from a gangster who abducted her after she rebuffed him at a nightclub (and after Clark had refused to stand up to him, earning Lois's ire) which leads to the cover scene with the car; and going to Washington, D.C., instead of South America, to "stir up news" as his editor wants, to investigate a Senator that he suspects is corrupt, and prompting a confession by leaping around high buildings with the terrified man, which leads into the next issue. All the while, Clark tries to keep Superman out of the papers.
It has been estimated that there are only 50 to 100 original copies of Action Comics #1 still in existence, and a smaller number of such exceptional quality as to be at the very high end of collectibility.
Action Comics #1 has set several sales records for comic books. On February 22, 2010, a copy of Action Comics #1 CGC Grade 8.0 sold at auction for US$1 million, becoming the first million-dollar comic book. The sale, by an anonymous seller to an anonymous buyer, was through the Manhattan-based auction company ComicConnect.com. On March 29, 2010, ComicConnect.com sold another copy for US$1.5 million, making it the most expensive and most valuable comic book of all time. The copy sold is the second highest-graded copy from the CGC, which stands at 8.5 VF+ grade.
There are six known Comic Guaranty LLC (CGC)-graded copies with a grade above VG (CGC 4.0), with a single issue having the best grade of NM (CGC 9.0). EC and Mad publisher William Gaines, whose father was also a comic book publisher and had business dealings with DC Comics at the time Action Comics #1 was published, claimed in a Comics Journal interview that he at one point had dozens of copies of the issue around his house, but they were probably all thrown out. Another copy, rated CGC 5 ("Very Good/Fine"), was discovered in July 2010 by a family facing foreclosure on their home while packing their possessions. ComicConnect.com estimated the comic may sell as high as $250,000 once auctioned, saving the family's home.
One copy was stolen from American actor Nicolas Cage, an avid comic book collector, in 2000. In March 2011, it was found in a storage locker in the San Fernando Valley and was verified by ComicConnect.com to be exactly the same copy that they sold to him previously. Cage had previously received an insurance payment for the item. A copy which sold for $2.16 million on November 30, 2011 through ComicConnect.com is believed to have been this same one, having been noted as stolen in 2000 and recovered in 2011. The Hollywood Reporter mentioned in its March 23, 2012 issue that a movie was in development based on the theft of Cage's copy of the comic book and would be titled Action No. 1. The screenplay was a spec script written by Reno 911! creators Robert Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon and sold to Lionsgate. They will produce along with Peter Principato and Paul Young.
In the mid-1970s, DC reissued several of its most popular Golden Age comics as "Famous First Editions", including Action Comics #1. These reprints were oversized, roughly double the size of the original editions, and have a cardboard-like cover. However, there have been many reports over the years of the outer cover being removed and these reprints being sold as legitimate first issues to unsuspecting buyers.
DC reprinted Action Comics #1 in 1988 as part of the 50th anniversary celebration of Superman that year. This edition reprinted only the Superman story, with a 50¢ U.S.A. cover price.
The complete issue was reprinted in 1998 with an additional half-cover featuring the Superman stamp from the U.S. Postal Service's "Celebrate the Century" commemorative stamp series along with a "First Day of Issue" cancellation. It was sold by the U.S. Postal Service, shrinkwrapped, for $7.95.
The complete issue, except for the inside front, inside back, and outside back cover, was reprinted in 2000 as part of DC Comics' Millennium Edition series of reprints of famous DC comics.
Other reprints known are the Unauthorized "Copied Edition" which has unknown origins and the famous Unauthorized "Exact Copy" which had every detection point as the Original 1938 issue but was too big until later cut down and put back up for auction.
The New 52
In the spring of 2011, DC Comics announced plans to reboot and reset 52 of its ongoing titles, dubbed The New 52. This included ending the original 73-year run of Action Comics with issue #904, October 2011 (on sale August 24, 2011). The first issue of Action Comics volume 2, with a cover date of November 2011, went on sale September 7, 2011.
The New 52 version of Action Comics #1 has gone through five printings. The fifth printing, which went on sale March 28, 2012, is cover-dated May 2012 in both the UPC box on the cover and the indicia, with no mention of its original November 2011 cover date.
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