Action Comics made history this week as the first major American comic book series to see its 1000th issue released. The idea of a comic book lasting long enough to reach a 1000th issue is certainly something that never would have entered the mind of anyone in the world of comic books when Action was launched. Not a whole of companies were even turning much of a profit with their comic book titles period when National Publications released Action Comics #1 in 1938, let alone having a book sell enough to still be in print over 80 years later.
Still, despite it being the first comic book to hit #1000, Action was not the first successful comic book series, so it had other challengers to the throne. Not only that, but had Action Comics taken longer to re-number (after starting over with a new number following #904, returning to the original numbering with #957), then there are a few other titles that launched soon after Action Comics that would have had a chance at hitting the magic number. Plus, there are a couple of wild cards thrown into the mix that we’ll address. So, what other comic books could have hit #1000 before Action Comics? We’ll only count comics that were primarily released on a monthly basis that at least reached #100 on their own (as you can’t point to a book that only reached #20 and say, “It could have reached #1000!”).
The first major successful ongoing comic book series was the invention of Eastern Color, a color printing service that handled the color printings for the Sunday edition for the newspapers that they serviced. They realized that there was a high demand for color comics, so one of their salesmen, Max Gaines, came up with the idea of pitching companies on the idea of creating color pamphlets that they could use to promote their products. The most famous example was Gulf Oil Weekly. Four pages of comics, with one comic on each page. This would be given away to help promote Gulf Oil gas stations. It became a sensation and it ran for the next seven years or so.
This made Eastern Color think that an ongoing comic book that they actually charged people for might succeed and so they launched Famous Funnies in 1934, an ongoing comic book series that was mostly made up of reprints of newspaper comic strips (occasionally new stories ran, but they were mostly filler). It lost money at first, but within a year, it was turning a profit and it was the sign to others that ongoing comic books could succeed. Famous Funnies ended in 1955, having published 217 issues.
NEW FUN COMICS
After seeing the success that Famous Funnies was having, pulp magazine writer Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson (who had just recently started doing his own comic strip, which adapted Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island into comic strip form) decided to get into the comic book game, as well. He launched New Fun Comics #1 in 1935, as part of his new comic book company called National Allied Publications. New Fun soon changed its name to More Fun Comics.
It was mostly an adventure comic book series and when Superman turned superheroes into the thing that every comic book company needed, then More Fun Comics launched a number of new superheroes including one, the supernatural Spectre, created by Jerry Siegel himself! In one issue in 1941, they actually introduced both Aquaman and Green Arrow in the same issue! In the late 1940s, National Allied decided to switch content with another comic book series and turned More Fun Comics into a humor magazine. It folded after 127 issues.
Wheeler-Nicholson’s second title (launched in late 1935) was New Comics (apparently comic book publishing was like advertising, in that the word “new” is the most popular word of them all). Originally designed to be a humor title like New Fun Comics, New Comics soon switched to adventure features. With the twelfth issue, it changed its name to New Adventure Comics and by 1938, it was just simply Adventure Comics.
Like every other comic book series around, as soon as Superman became a success, Adventure Comics became a superhero title, with characters like Sandman and Hourman debuting in its pages. Eventually, it took over the superhero content from More Fun Comics (namely Superboy, Green Arrow and Aquaman) and Adventure Comics was one of the only non-Batman or Superman title to make it from the Golden Age into the Silver Age unscathed. However, anthology series have long been a difficult sell long term, so it had some hard times in the 1970s when it changed formats a couple of times. It folded after 490 issues in 1982, but then was briefly revived as a digest series (mostly reprints). Its irregular release schedule had already seen two other National Allied (later DC Comics) comics pass it in numbering.
In 1936, Wheeler-Nicholson tried to launch a third comic book title, but his company was in trouble. His distributor worked out a deal. They thought that his company had promise, so they cut themselves in as partners in National Allied and also created a new company, Detective Comics, just to publish this new title, Detective Comics. Wheeler-Nicholson, however, ended up getting pushed out of both companies right before the first issue of Action Comics was released.
Of all of the comics on this list, Detective Comics is the only real challenger to Action. Since it came out nearly two years before Action Comics, then logically it should be ahead of Action in numbering. However, Action Comics was a monthly series for much longer than Detective (which had a few notable bi-monthly spells), so by the late 1980s, Action Comics had moved ahead by roughly a year’s worth of comics. Then Action went weekly for a little less than a year. and left Detective Comics in its dust. Detective will be hitting #1000 some time next year.
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