Action Comics 1
|Action Comics #1|
June 1938 (cover date) / May 1938 (on sale date)|
November 2011 (cover date) / September 2011 (on-sale date)
Action Comics #1 (cover dated June 1938) is the first issue of the original run of the comic book series Action Comics. It features the first appearance of several comic book heroes—most notably the Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster creation, Superman—and sold for 10 cents (equivalent to $2 in 2017). It is widely considered to be both the beginning of the superhero genre and the most valuable comic book in the world. Action Comics would go on to run for 904 numbered issues (plus additional out-of-sequence special issues) before it restarted its numbering in the fall of 2011. It returned to its original numbering with issue #957, published on June 8, 2016 (cover-dated August).
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.
- "Scoop Scanlon 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 a 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 twelve 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, 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 who 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.
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 third highest-graded copy from the CGC, which stands at 8.5 VF+ grade.
As of 2011, there were six known Comic Guaranty LLC (CGC)-graded copies with a grade above VG (CGC 4.0), with only one issue having the grade of VF/NM (CGC 9.0) at that time. 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 the copy 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.
A CGC 9.0-graded comic, with white pages, was auctioned for sale on eBay in August 2014. The seller Darren Adams, a comic book store owner in Federal Way, Washington, had purchased the issue from the estate of a man who had originally bought the issue from a newsstand on its release in 1938. The original buyer lived in high altitudes in West Virginia and stored the comic in a stack with others, which provided the optimal "cool, dry and dark" conditions that lent well to a comic's age, according to Adams. The comic changed hands twice prior to the auction; first sold as part of an estate sale when the original purchaser died forty years after its publication, and then to a third person who held the comic for about thirty years. Some years prior to the auction, Adams was contacted by this third person, and seeing the pristine condition of the comic, purchased it for a "seven figure sum". He held onto the comic for a few years before deciding to sell it, keeping the existence of it otherwise a secret, even rejecting a $3 million offer to buy the comic outright. On his decision to sell, he opted to use eBay instead of other comic auction houses like Heritage House, believing the auction site would reach a wider audience and was a better fit for the pop culture nature of the piece. After discussions with the site, Adams and eBay also arranged to donate 1% of the sale to the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation, reflecting on Christopher Reeve's role as Superman in motion pictures. The auction ended on August 24, 2014 and sold for over $3.2 million. This was the highest value ever paid for a single issue of a comic book. The purchasers were Vincent Zurzolo and Stephen Fishler, the owners of Metropolis Collectibles; Zurzolo expected the value of the near-mint comic to continue to increase in time.
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Beginning in the mid-1970s, DC reissued several of its most popular Golden Age comics as "Famous First Editions", including Action Comics #1, published in 1974. These reprints were oversized, roughly double the size of the original editions, and had a cardboard-like cover. The interior, however, was an exact reprint of the original comic, right down to the ads. As a result, the Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide has, since the 1970s, published a warning advising that attempts have been made to pass off the reprint, stripped of its Famous First Edition cardboard cover, as an actual #1. However, the Guide does not cite any actual instances of this.
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, save 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.
The 1988, 1998 and 2000 reprints were published to the page-size standard of the 1988–2000 period, and not the larger page size utilized by Action Comics in 1938.
The New 52
In early 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.
In 2016, as part of the Rebirth relaunch, DC restored Action Comics' original numbering, releasing Action Comics vol. 1 #957 after Action Comics vol. 2 #52. Subsequently, a commemorative poster celebrating 1000 issues of Action Comics was released in 2018, which retroactively listed all issues of the New 52 Action Comics vol. 2 with their cumulative issue numbers. As a result, Action Comics vol. 2 #1 is now also considered to be Action Comics vol. 1 #905 overall.
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