Classic Comic Cover Corner – Action Comics #1

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Every Sunday morning we showcase a classic comic cover, complete with compelling commentary, for your cordial contemplation. It’s the Classic Comic Cover Corner!

Action Comics #1 – June 1938
(Published April 18, 1938)

Cover art by Joe Shuster

Action Comics #1
Action Comics #1 – June 1938 (Published April 18, 1938)

This is the one that started it all. The world’s first superhero comic-book, Action Comics #1, was released on April 18, 1938, but using a publishing gimmick that gave the magazine a longer shelf-life on the newsstands, the comic had an artificial cover date of June, 1938. This historic book set the stage for every spandex-clad comic-book hero that there has been for the past seventy-five years.

Action Comics #1 marked the first appearance of Superman, the ultimate hero created by writer Jerry Siegel and artist Joe Shuster. Popular comic writer Grant Morrison noted in his book, Supergods: What Masked Vigilantes, Miraculous Mutants, and a Sun God from Smallville Can Teach Us About Being Human, that this famous comic cover has no textual description or introduction for the Man of Steel, and that readers in 1938 couldn’t tell from the ambiguous cover whether the character was a hero or a villain. Nevertheless, the comic’s initial run of 200,000 copies sold out almost immediately and America’s most popular hero was born.

Hercules Clubs the Hydra by Antonio del Pollaiolo
Hercules Clubs the Hydra
by Antonio del Pollaiolo

In his book, Our Gods Wear Spandex: The Secret History of Comic Book Heroes, author Christopher Knowles compares the Action Comics cover to the 15th century Antonio del Pollaiolo painting, Hercules Clubs the Hydra. There is certainly a resemblance, but it’s not clear whether Joe Shuster was influenced by this Italian painting or not. For certain, Superman is a mash-up of multiple heroes who came before him, from Hercules and Sampson to John Carter and Doc Savage.

Action Comics #1 is undoubtedly the Holy Grail for comic collectors, with decent quality copies auctioning for over $2-million dollars. That price is in another galaxy for most of us, but that doesn’t mean you can’t read this book (and if you are a comic fan, then you really should.) DC Comics has it available digitally (currently for $0.69), or you can pick up the Superman Action Comics Archives, Vol. 1 hardcover book which collects the first several stories about the Man of Steel.

Join NERDVANA as we celebrate Superman’s 75th anniversary all this week with amazing articles and incredible information about the history of the Man of Tomorrow.

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About the author

Bob Leeper

Bob Leeper is the co-owner and manager of "Arizona’s Pop Culture and Alternative Art Network," Evermore Nevermore. He is the co-creator of the pop culture events Steampunk Street and ENCREDICON, and is a member of the Phoenix Film Critics Society. He also curates the Facebook fan site The Arizona Cave – AZ Fans of Edgar Rice Burroughs, and is one of the few brave and bold fans of Jar Jar Binks.