Action Comics 1

Action Comics #1

Cover of Action Comics 1 (June, 1938). Art by Joe Shuster.
Publication information
Publisher DC Comics
Genre Superhero
Publication date June 1938 (cover date) and September 2011 (cover date)

Action Comics #1 (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. For this reason it is widely considered both the beginning of the superhero genre and the most valuable comic book of all time.

On August 24, 2014, a copy graded 9.0 by CGC was sold on eBay for US$3,207,852.[1] It is the only comic book to have sold for more than $3 million for a single original copy.[1] 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 is scheduled to return to its original numbering in 2016.

It is not to be confused with the first issue of the second series (or "volume") of Action Comics which was launched as part of DC Comics' New 52 revamp in the fall of 2011.


Action Comics #1 was an anthology, and contained eleven features:


The cover has been compared to Hercules Clubs the Hydra by Antonio del Pollaiolo.

Published on April 18, 1938 (cover-dated June),[2] by National Allied Publications,[3] 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.[4]

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[5] for sales of the series that would soon approach 1,000,000 a month.[6] 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.[7] 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.[8][9] The issue's cover also bears a resemblance to the Polish comic cover released in 1932 "Rotmistrz i przyjaciele" which told a story of a heroic captain.[10]


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.[11]

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...."[12]

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.[12]

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.[12][13]


At the 2014 New York Comic Con, Vincent Zurzolo of Metropolis Collectibles displays the CGC 9.0 copy of Action Comics #1 for which his firm paid $3.2 million (USD).

Comics Buyer's Guide estimated in 2012 that only 50 to 100 original copies of Action Comics #1 exist.[14]

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[15] On March 29, 2010, sold another copy for US$1.5 million, making it the most expensive and most valuable comic book of all time.[16] The copy sold is the third highest-graded copy from the CGC, which stands at 8.5 VF+ grade.[17]

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.[18] 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.[19][20] 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. estimated the comic may sell as high as $250,000 once auctioned, saving the family's home.[21]

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 to be the copy sold to him previously. Cage had previously received an insurance payment for the item.[22] A copy which sold for $2.16 million on November 30, 2011 through is believed to have been this same one, having been noted as stolen in 2000 and recovered in 2011.[23] 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.[24] The screenplay was a spec script written by Reno 911! creators Robert Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon and sold to Lionsgate.[24] They will produce along with Peter Principato and Paul Young.[24]

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.[25] 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.[26] 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".[25] 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.[26] 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.[25] The auction ended on August 24, 2014 and sold for over $3.2 million.[1] This was the highest value ever paid for a single issue of a comic book.[27] 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.[28]


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.[29][30]

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.

It should be noted that 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 the spring of 2011, DC Comics announced plans to reboot and reset 52 of its ongoing titles, dubbed The New 52.[31] 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.[32]

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.


  1. 1 2 3 Lance Whitney (August 26, 2014). "Superman's Action Comics No. 1 sells for record $3.2 million on eBay". Retrieved August 26, 2014. A "pristine" copy of Action Comics No. 1, the comic book that introduced the Man of Steel to the world in 1938, sold for $3,207,852 on an eBay auction Sunday night following a last-minute round of intense bidding. By far the highest price ever paid for a single comic book, the number flew up, up, and away past the $2,161,000 paid for a less pristine copy that was auctioned in 2011.
  2. Muir, John Kenneth (July 2008). The Encyclopedia of Superheroes on Film and Television. McFarland & Co. p. 539. ISBN 978-0-7864-3755-9. Retrieved 2011-05-31.
  3. Booker, M. Keith (ed.), Comics through Time: A History of Icons, Idols, and Ideas, Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO, 2014, p. xxx.
  4. "Action Comics". IGN. Archived from the original on 20 May 2007. Retrieved 2007-04-25.
  5. Van Lente, Fred; Dunlavey, Ryan (2012). The Comic Book History of Comics. IDW. p. 32.
  6. Miller, John Jackson (February 22, 2010). "Million-dollar Action #1 copy was once one-in-200,000". The Comics Chronicles. Archived from the original on 30 March 2010. Retrieved 2010-02-23.
  7. Nash, Eric P. (December 13, 2000). "Jack Liebowitz, Comics Publisher, Dies at 100". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-08-01.
  8. Knowles, Chris (November 28, 2007). "The Action Comics #1 Cover Debate – Part 1". Comic Book Resources. Retrieved 2008-08-01.
  9. Knowles, Chris (November 29, 2007). "The Action Comics #1 Cover Debate – Part 2". Comic Book Resources.
  10. Rotmistrz i przyjaciele, front cover.
  11. Cronin, Brian (December 28, 2006). "Comic Book Urban Legends Revealed #83". Comic Book Resources. Archived from the original on 29 April 2007. Retrieved 2007-04-25.
  12. 1 2 3 "Action Comics, No. 1". Archived from the original on December 6, 2009. Retrieved 2010-02-22.
  13. "From Papers to Comics to Papers". Diamond Galleries. Archived from the original on August 25, 2003. Retrieved 2007-04-26.
  14. Smith, Andrew A. managing editor (January 2012). "Recommendations for the 1%". Comics Buyer's Guide. Iola, Wisconsin: Krause Publications: 15 "Dear Captain" column. There are only 50 to 100 thought to exist and only a handful in decent condition.
  15. "Superman's debut sells for $1M at auction". Associated Press via Crain's New York Business. February 22, 2010. Archived from the original on 2010-02-23.
  16. "Comic with first Superman story sells for $1.5m". The Independent. March 30, 2010. Archived from the original on 2 April 2010. Retrieved 2010-03-30.
  17. "Rare comic of Superman debut fetches $1.5 million". CNN. March 30, 2010. Archived from the original on 1 April 2010. Retrieved 2010-03-30.
  18. "Is The Nicolas Cage Copy Of Action Comics #1 About To Become The First $2,000,000 Comic?". October 10, 2011. Retrieved 2011-10-10.
  19. "An Interview with William M. Gaines". The Comics Journal (81): 55. May 1983.
  20. "The Online Marketplace for Comic Buyers & Sellers". ComicConnect. Retrieved 2010-06-17.
  21. Sanchez, Ray (August 3, 2010). "Superman Comic Saves Family Home From Foreclosure Unexpected Find of Action". ABC News. Archived from the original on 4 August 2010. Retrieved 2010-08-04.
  22. Harris, Mike (April 10, 2011). "Simi man helps recover $1 million comic book stolen from Nicolas Cage". Ventura County Star. Retrieved 2011-06-14.
  23. "BBC News - Action Comics Superman debut copy sells for $2.16m". British Broadcasting Corporation. December 1, 2011.
  24. 1 2 3 The Hollywood Reporter. Los Angeles, California: Prometheus Global Media, LLC. March 23, 2012.
  25. 1 2 3 Cavna, Michael (August 22, 2014). "Rare Superman book draws record $3.2 million top bid: The long, 'cool' journey of a record-setting comic". Washington Post. Retrieved August 25, 2014.
  26. 1 2 Melrose, Kevin (August 24, 2014). "Pristine copy of 'Action Comics' #1 sells for record $3.2 million". Comic Book Resources. Retrieved September 4, 2014.
  27. Cain, Sian (August 24, 2014). "Superman's debut, Action Comics No 1, sells for $3m". The Guardian. Retrieved August 24, 2014.
  28. Yaun, Soo (September 3, 2014). "Who Pays $3.2M for a Superman Comic, Anyway?". Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved September 4, 2014.
  29. Robert M. Overstreet, Official Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide #36 (et al), (New York: House of Collectables/Gemstone, 2006), p. 423
  30. "Beware of 1st Superman reprints". eBay. Retrieved 2008-08-06.
  31. Truitt, Brian (2011-05-31). "DC Comics unleashes a new universe of superhero titles". USA Today. Retrieved 9 September 2011.
  32. Langshaw, Mark (9 September 2011). "DC Comics New 52: Action Comics #1 - review". Digital Spy. Retrieved 9 September 2011.
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