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Action Comics #1 (June 1938), the debut of Superman. Cover art by Joe Shuster.
Action Comics #1 (June 1938), the debut of Superman. Cover art by Joe Shuster.

Action Comics is an American comic book series which introduced Superman, the first major superhero character as the term is popularly defined. The publisher was originally known as Detective Comics, Inc., and later as National Comics and as National Periodical Publications, before taking on its current name of DC Comics, a subsidiary of Time Warner.


Publication history


Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster saw their creation, Superman, AKA Kal-El (originally Kal-L), launched in Action Comics #1 in April 1938 (cover-dated June). (Approximate present-day value (In "near mint" condition): $1,380,000 USD.) Siegel and Shuster had tried for years to find a publisher for their Superman character (originally conceived as a newspaper strip) without success. Superman was originally a bald madman created by Siegel and Shuster who used his telepathic abilities to wreak havoc on mankind. He appeared in Siegel and Shuster's book Science Fiction.Gerrard Jones, Men of Tomorrow pp82-84 Arrow Books Siegel then commented, "What if this Superman was a force for good instead of evil?" The writer and artist had worked on several features for National Periodical Publications' other titles (Slam Bradley in Detective Comics, for example Gerrard Jones, Men of Tomorrow pp120 Arrow Books) and were asked to contribute a feature for National's newest publication. They submitted Superman for consideration, and after re-pasting the sample newspaper strips they had prepared into comic book page format, National decided to make Superman the cover feature of their new magazine Gerrard Jones, Men of Tomorrow pp124 Arrow Books. The dynamic "Man of Tomorrow" was an instant hit, and he permanently changed the medium of comic books and comic strips by formalizing a new fantasy subgenre. Action Comics was soon followed by the Superman comic book series in 1939, along with a wealth of other comics starring numerous costumed superheroes. The cover to Action Comics #1 remains one of the most homaged covers of all time.

As of 2008, Action Comics is still in publication, surpassing a milestone of 850 issues. This makes it the second-highest-number American comic book series, after Dell Comics' Four Color. Despite being continually published since 1938, it is not the longest-running American comic book; that distinction belongs to Detective Comics.

Hiatus, name changes, publication changes, and special numbering

Action Comics is the second-longest running DC Comics series after Detective Comics; however, it cannot claim to have had an uninterrupted run, as it went on hiatus for three months twice, once in 1986 (when the regular Superman books were suspended during the publication of John Byrne's The Man of Steel six-issue limited series, and again in 1992 (when the Superman books went on a 3-month hiatus following the "Death of Superman" and "Funeral for a Friend" stories).

In 1988, DC Comics tried unsuccessfully to return the format of the comic to an anthology and publish it on a weekly basis, but it returned to a monthly format less than a year later. (However, the temporarily increased frequency of issues allowed Action to further surpass the older Detective Comics in the number of individual issues published. It originally passed Detective Comics in the 1970s when that series was bi-monthly for a number of years.) Another departure from a strict monthly schedule were the giant-size Supergirl reprint issues of the 1960s and very early 1970s (published as a 13th issue annually).

An issue #0 (October 1994) was published between issues #703 and #704 as part of the Zero Month after the Zero Hour crossover event and issue #1,000,000 (November 1998) during the DC One Million crossover event in October 1998 between issues #748 and #749.

Important issues

  • Issue #1, first issue, first appearance of Superman.

Early anthology

Originally, Action Comics was an anthology title featuring a number of other stories in addition to the Superman story. Zatara, a magician, was one of the other characters who had their own stories in early issues. (Zatanna, a heroine introduced in the 1960s, is Zatara's daughter.) There was also the hero Tex Thomson, who eventually became Mr. America and later the Americommando. Vigilante also enjoyed a lengthy run in this series. Sometimes stories of a more humorous nature were included, such as those of Hayfoot Henry, a policeman who talked in rhyme. Gradually the size of the issues was decreased as the publisher was reluctant to raise the cover price from the original 10 cents, so there were fewer stories. For a while, Congo Bill and Tommy Tomorrow were the two features in addition to Superman (Congo Bill eventually gained the ability to swap bodies with a gorilla and his strip was renamed Congorilla), but soon after the introduction of Supergirl in issue #252 (May 1959) the non-Superman-related strips were crowded out of Action altogether. Since then, it has generally been an all-Superman comic, though other backup stories such as The Human Target occasionally appear.

Action Comics Weekly (1988-1989)

For slightly less than a year in 1988-1989, the publication frequency was changed to weekly and the title became Action Comics Weekly, and was an anthology format series; this change lasted from issue #601 to issue #642. During this time, Superman appeared only in a two page story per issue; however, he was still the only character to appear in every issue of the run.

To boost the profile of Action Comics Weekly, prior to its launch DC cancelled its ongoing Green Lantern title Green Lantern Corps, and made Green Lantern Hal Jordan and his adventures exclusive to Action Comics Weekly. The move was largely a failure, as many fans felt the Action Comics Weekly stories were of extremely poor quality. During the Action Comics Weekly run, a Green Lantern Special was published in 1988, tying in with the events happening in Action Comics Weekly. Green Lantern was soon moved out of the title, with Green Lantern Special # 2 (1989) published concluding the story plots from Action Comics Weekly, and the character was relaunched with a limited series in 1989 (Green Lantern: Emerald Dawn), followed up by a new ongoing series in June 1990 (Green Lantern Vol. 3).

The rest of these issues featured rotating serialized stories of other, mostly minor, DC heroes, as try-outs that led to their own limited series. Characters with featured stories in the run included Black Canary, Blackhawk, Catwoman, Deadman, Nightwing, Phantom Lady (Dee Tyler), Phantom Stranger, Secret Six, Speedy, and Wild Dog.

Issue #650 was originally intended to feature an encounter between Clark Kent and Hal Jordan penned by writer Neil Gaiman, but it was canceled due to an editorial decree and Action returned to monthly publishing. The story dealt with the friendship between Hal Jordan and Superman, and their knowledge of each others' secret identities and the origin of the Alan Scott battery. This was not considered canon in 1989, so the story was never published. But it was finally published as Green Lantern Superman: Legend of the Green Flame one-shot in 2000.

Collected editions

  • Superman Chronicles
    • Volume 1 reprints issues #1 - 13.
    • Volume 2 reprints issues #14 - 20.
  • Superman in the Forties reprints issues #1, 2, 14, 23, 64, 93 & 151.
  • Superman in Action Comics Archives
    • Volume 3 reprints issues #37 - 53.
    • Volume 4 reprints issues #54 - 68.


Action Comics #687 through 689 were part of The Reign of the Supermen storyline, which won the 1993 Comics Buyer's Guide Fan Award for Favorite Comic Book Story that year.

See also

External links

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