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Action Comics #1: Revisiting the Comic Book That Started it All

DC Comics had Action Comics delay its release a bit so that Action Comics #1000 could also serve as the 80th anniversary of Superman's first appearance in Action Comics #1, back in April of 1938. The release of that comic book quickly launched a superhero boom, as Superman was so popular that every existing comic book company wanted to have their own Superman and everyone even tangentially connected to publishing wanted to get in on the ensuing boom. Some of the world's most famous comic book companies, like Marvel Comics and Archie Comics, owe their existence directly to companies forming up based on the success of Superman in Action Comics.

However, while know about the importance of Action Comics #1, the actual issue sometimes gets a bit lost in the shuffle. We know that Superman is an icon, but what about his first appearance? What made him so special right off of the bat? Plus, Action Comics #1 was 68 pages long (for just a dime!). Superman was only the lead feature in the magazine. Who else shares a first appearance with the Man of Steel?

RELATED: Action Comics: Celebrating the Greatest Covers of the First 1000 Issues

Action Comics was the fourth ongoing series launched by National Allied Publications (now known as DC Comics). Their previous series were More Fun (which told humor stories), Adventure Comics (which told adventure stories) and Detective Comics (which told crime stories). This fourth series was to be a companion to Adventure Comics, with adventure stories presumably with a good deal of "action" thrown in. Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster had been trying to sell their Superman character to newspaper syndicates as a comic strip and were having no luck. Finally, they agreed to sell the feature to National, who then cut the comic strips up to form the story.

First, though, Siegel and Shuster delivered a quick one-page story detailing Superman's origins and some basic explanations for his super powers...

It's interesting to note that initially, Siegel and Shuster's take on Superman's powers is that he simply came from a super-powered race of people. So they were just born that way.

Anyhow, since the first feature was a cut-up newspaper strip, it makes for a fascinating first story, since the editing is all over the place and the story opens up with Superman in the middle of a case (in Superman #1 the following year, Siegel and Shuster would add in a prelude, of sorts, to explain how Superman got to the point where he is when the story begins). Superman is breaking into the governor's mansion to get the governor to commute a dying man's sentence. The governor's butler tries to stop the Man of Steel and shoots at him and the bullets have no effect.

We then quickly establish that Superman is a newspaper reporter named Clark Kent (we did establish that his name was Clark Kent in the first page already). This is notable because we get to see why Siegel and Shuster initially described Superman as the champion of the oppressed. His whole deal was that he was basically acting outside the law. When he sees a domestic abuse situation, he just starts throwing the husband around...

The next page introduces us to Lois Lane (who is also celebrating her 80 year anniversary, obviously) and quickly establishes one of the basic set-ups of Superman's stories for years, which is that Clark Kent has to act mild mannered so that people will not suspect that he is Superman, but as a result, it makes the bold and adventurous Lois Lane think that he is a total drip...

When they are out dancing, Lois is accosted by some gangsters and Clark has to act like he can't do anything about it. Lois storms off on her own and the gangsters follow her and Superman follows them all and jumps into the fray and starts tossing the gangsters around, leading to the panel that was famously adapted into the cover of the issue...

Another sign that the story is just a mashed-up comic strip is that the story has a complete ending but then Lois and Clark are drawn to a new case involving political corruption. It is so plainly meant to be a new story, but instead it is tacked on at the end of the previous story and then the issue ends with a "cliffhanger" that is clearly just a case of them arbitrarily deciding that this was the time to stop the strip....

Still, this story was unlike anything anyone had seen in a comic book before and when the sales results came in, it was evident that Superman was the driving force behind the strong sales for the issue. However, Superman wasn't the only story in the issue...

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