Sunday, August 4, 2019

Action Comics 1 Review

You'll believe a man can kick the crap out of a car


On April 18th, 1938 a new comic book was issued by National Allied Publications (later DC) called Action Comics and it changed the world. Action Comics was an anthology comic that contained a number of different stories in it but there was one that was different from the run of the mill gangster and western stories about a man that had super strength and could leap tall buildings.





Until this point, comic books were mostly "funny" books with comedy stories or pulp stories with heroes that were similar in vein to Indiana Jones, heroic and full of action but still humans with human abilities. Action Comics 1 featured Superman, the first true superhero who ushered in the Golden Age Of Comics. The original print run was for 200,000 copies which quickly sold out to kids with dirty fingers who would roll the comic up and stick it into their back pocket before going out to play with their friends. In 1938 nobody had any idea that this comic book would command the prices it does today.

In today's review, we will only be talking about the Superman story which was the first out of eleven stories in issue 1. Besides Superman, you had stories starring Sticky-Mitt Stimson, Pep Morgan, and Scoop Scanlon which I'm sure that 99 percent of you reading this have never heard of. The most well known today would be Tex Thompson and Zatara, the father of Zatanna.

Superman's first-ever story contained one page explaining his amazing abilities. In his first iteration, Superman was just from a doomed planet, Krypton didn't have a name at first. When his rocket ship landed on Earth he was found not by Ma and Pa Kent but by some random stranger who after seeing a rocket ship land on Earth opened it up and found a baby. Instead of calling the police or the army about an alien rocketship landing on Earth, this "passing motorist" dropped of Superman off at an orphanage.



The explanation given for his amazing feats is that on his home planet the people had a physical structure that was millions of years more advanced than ours. Apparently on Not-Krypton when you became an adult you were "gifted with titanic strength!" and then compared Superman to ants and how they can carry objects heavier than its own weight as well as grasshoppers who can leap whole city blocks if there were human-sized. At this point there Superman wasn't getting his powers from our yellow sun.

Also, it must be mentioned that in the beginning, Superman was bulletproof and stronger than an ordinary man but he had nowhere near the powers he would get later. At this point he didn't even fly, instead, he was able to leap tall buildings with a single bound. In these early stories, Superman spent a lot of time running to where he needed to go.

The first page of the story proper starts midway through. This original story was originally drawn to be printed in a newspaper but they had to be cut up to be included in the comic book. Even though Superman was on the cover he didn't get any more pages than the other stories. Because of this the beginning of the story is missing but the whole story was reprinted in Superman #1.



The story begins with Superman carrying a bound and gagged woman that he leaves near a tree as he approaches the Governor's house. Superman tries to gain entrance but he is stopped so he knocks the door in. When the butler says he won't tell him where the Governor is Superman picks him up and awkwardly carries him up the stairs to see the Governor but is stopped by another door, this time a metal one. A regular character in a comic book at this point would give up but Superman is no mortal man and he breaks the door down.

Superman finally gets to see the Governor and tells him that a woman named Evelyn Curry is minutes away from dying in the electric chair and Superman has a signed confession that Ms. Curry was innocent. Suddenly!! the butler reappears with a gun aimed at Superman. The butler tells him to surrender but Superman won't so he shoots the man of steel and of course, the bullet doesn't harm Superman.

Superman shows the Governor the proof he has and he finally realizes that she is innocent so he calls the penitentiary to call off the execution and Superman's first-ever adventure is a success. While the phone call is being made Superman writes a note to the Governor explaining the actual killer is bound in his yard and leaves before he is missed. Superman, now roleplaying as Clark Kent, goes to work and finds the story of Superman's exploits the night before and is happy to see he isn't mentioned at all. In these early stories, Superman just wanted to help people anonymously.


Clark Kent makes his way to the offices of the Daily Star, the newspaper that he works for, and heads to his bosses office. In these first stories, he didn't work at the Daily Planet and his editor was George Taylor and not Perry White. Anyway, Kent goes into Taylor's office who immediately points at him and asks what he knows of Superman. Kent plays dumb so Taylor puts him to work on finding out all he can about Superman.



As Kent leaves Taylor's office a guy on the phone tells Kent that there is a wife-beating going on at 211 Court Ave.



First off why is this information being called into a newspaper? If someone is being attacked you call the police. Maybe there's a cop on the force who calls in tips to the Daily Star but if this beating is currently happening how much time has elapsed since it started because by the time Superman gets to the address and breaks down the door, his third in this issue, the man isn't finished with his wife so Superman goes to work on this jerk.


After throwing him around his apartment the jerk tries to stab Superman, when the knife bounces off his skin Superman tells him, "Now you're going to get a lesson you'll never forget!" but before he gets all punchy with him the guy faints. I would have liked to see what Superman was about to do to this guy.

After he faints Superman puts his street clothes on just before the police arrive and this is what I was talking about earlier. Someone had to have called the police because they came into the apartment guns drawn. Let's go over the timeline, 1. The guy starts beating his wife. 2. someone calls the police. 3. someone calls the Daily Star. 4. The guy at Daily Star tells Kent what is happening. 5 Superman changes his clothes and runs to the house. 6. Superman enters during the middle of the beating and knocks the guy out. 7. The police arrive. Unless this guy beat has been beating his wife for an hour it just doesn't work. Either that or I'm nitpicking an 80-year-old story for children.

When the cop enters the apartment Kent tells him that they must have just missed Superman. Just a few panels before Superman was happy that his name was left out of the papers but this time he immediately mentions Superman to the cop.

The very next panel goes from the apartment to the offices of the Daily Star. The way its looks is that scene at the Daily Star could be another room at the apartment. Anyway at the Daily Star Kent asks Lois Lane out on a date and surprisingly she agrees. Later that night while dancing Clark begins to whine that Lois is always avoiding him at the office. A couple of guys at a table decided it was time to dance with Lois whether Clark likes it or not. The guy gets into Clark's face and he backs off telling Lois that they can leave after she dances with the guy cutting in. Lois tells the guy he can pound sand and then says to her she's going to dance with him and like it so she slaps him and storms out. The creep then tries to fight Clark but he plays his meek self and says he won't fight and as a result of this Lois has had enough and storms out of the dance.


I have to say that it's refreshing to see a strong woman in a superhero comic book that is over 80 years old. We are only a decade or two past women being stuffed into refrigerators so having a strong woman who determines her own destiny instead of letting the men around her tell her what to do is pretty unique for the 30s. Lois Lane also had a job as a reporter which was a man's profession back then thus every time they mention Lois it's as Lois Lane Girl Reporter.

Lois leaves in a cab and the creeps who were trying to dance with her follow her out and proceed to run her cab off the road. They grab her and stuff her into the back of their green car. I honestly don't know what these guys are planning on doing with Lois but if this scene played out in a comic book today she would probably be in big trouble.

Lois is shaken out of the car just like the bad guys.


Superman chases the creeps car down, picks it up, shakes the occupants out, and smashes it into a rock in the now-iconic scene.


Superman then catches Butch, the dancing creep, and hangs him off the top of a telephone pole. Next, Superman tells Lois not to be afraid of him and warns her to not write about Superman in the Daily Star.


Superman's last adventure in Action Comics 1 has George Taylor sending Kent to San Monte in South America to cover a war. Instead, Superman takes a train to Washington DC to spy on  Senator Barrows. Outside of the Senate chambers, Kent gets a picture of the senator with a slick lobbyist. That night Superman goes to the Senator's apartment and hangs off the window eavesdropping which is something that Superman liked to do a lot.


Superman overhears the Senator and the lobbyist talking about getting the US into a war with Europe so they can line their pockets with fat stacks probably from selling munitions. Superman confronts the guy and when he won't talk Superman carries the guy by his foot onto the telephone wires and mentally tortures the lobbyist.

As they near the Capitol building Superman wonders out loud if the lobbyist thinks the two of them could make the jump. The guy screams, "NO! DON'T!" but Superman jumps and in the next panel shows that he didn't make the jump and the story ends with the last panel telling readers to pick up next months Action Comics for new Superman adventures.


Overall not bad for a debut. The stories are simplistic and the art is crude, even for the times. Nobody at the time knew Superman and his look so there is a lot of mistakes, particularly with the coloring of his suit. A perfect example is of the panel of Superman smashing the car. In the picture, you can see that the S on his chest has been drawn but not colored which is the biggest issue in these early stories. In the same shot, you can see that his red boots are blue as well. The boots look more like lace-up sandals instead of boots. In all 24 panels that you can see Superman's boots, they are all colored blue so I'm guessing

A real copy of Action Comics 1 in near mint condition sold for over three million dollars in 2014 making it the most expensive comic book ever sold. You can find single pages from the issue for fifteen thousand dollars on eBay. Even one page from a non-Superman story sells for thousands. I remember going to a comic convention many years ago and I saw a real copy for sale and it made me feel like the Jewish kids at Christmas. Action Comics 1 is my white whale, my holy grail, one that I'll probably never get my hands on but a guy can wish.



Eighty years later, even while comic books themselves are selling in low numbers compared to years past, superheroes are more popular than ever. Avengers Endgame has made just under 2.4 Billion dollars this year and Spider-man and Captain Marvel have both earned over 1 Billion so Superhero movies are here to stay and they all came from Action Comics 1.



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