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250px-Action Comics 1

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 2011 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

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.


In January 1933, Jerry Siegel wrote a story titled "The Reign of the Super-Man." Siegel and Joe Shuster then created a comic book entitled The Superman later in 1933. Building on his previous ideas, he envisioned a child on a far-off planet named Krypton. Krypton was doomed to soon explode, and so the boy's father, a scientist, built a spaceship and placed his baby son inside. The spaceship escaped Krypton just in time as the planet was destroyed. The spaceship reached Earth, landing somewhere in rural America, where the small space traveller was soon discovered by a passing motorist. Soon it is discovered that the child possesses super human powers of strength, speed and endurance, among others.

The Superman section of Action Comics was made up of a cut up comic strip. Siegel and Shuster had shopped Superman around as a comic strip, but were continually turned down. 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:

  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".
  2. After the space ship lands on Earth, "a passing motorist, discovering the sleeping baby within, turned the child over to an orphanage".
  3. The baby Superman lifts a large chair overhead with one hand, astounding the orphanage attendants with "his feats of strength".
  4. 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".
  5. 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. 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 2011 it is the only comic to have sold for more than $2 million for a single original copy.