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Superman, 1939 Series

Comic Book Values

Publisher: DC

Introduction to Superman

“Strange visitor from another planet…” We’re all familiar now the opening of first the radio show and later the television show featuring our favorite Kyptonian. Superman began in Action Comic #1 in 1938 and almost instantly became a hit. Copied by many and inspiration for many more, he helped launch the comic field we know and love today.

At first, Superman maintained the look and feel of its creator’s writer Jerry Siegel and artist Joe Shuster. So popular was the strip, Superman was drawn by over 20 unknown-at-the-time ‘ghost’ artists to keep up with the workload during the first ten years alone. The principal artist after Siegel and Shuster left were Wayne Boring, Al Plastino, and the longest-running artist on the strip, Curt Swan. Since the 70s, many writers and artist have taken their turns at the strip including Denny O’Neil, Gil Kane, John Byrne, Marv Wolfman, Jerry Ordway, Grant Morrison, Jon Bogdanove, Mark Millar, and Jim Lee.

Brief History of Superman #1

Superman #1 was published by DC Comics in the spring of 1939. Though the character of Superman had previously appeared in Action Comics the previous year, Superman #1 was the launch of his own series. At the time, it was almost unheard of to create an entire comic series that focused on one character who had previously appeared in an anthology. By the time Superman #1 was rolled out, the character was so popular that the first issue far outsold Action Comics #1. The story of Superman, a young space orphan raised as a human Clark Kent, newspaper reporter, had truly captured the public’s attention in the space of a year. The issue features artwork by Joe Shuster and scripts by Jerry Siegel.

Much of the content of the issue is Action Comics reprints, but it does contain new background information about Superman. The 1-page origin from Action Comics #1 is replaced with a new 2-page origin, mentioning Pa and Ma (Mary) Kent for the first time. Then four pages are added to the front of the story showing Kent getting his job at the Daily Star under George Taylor. From here, the book reprints the stories from Action Comics #1 through 4. It also features the first-ever comic book pin-up, Superman on the back cover.

How much is Superman #1 worth?

Due to its historical significance in the world of comic books, Superman #1 is an extremely sought-after collector’s item, and according to 2019-20, The Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide is exceeded in value by only two other comic book issues: Action Comics #1 and Detective Comics #27. It is currently valued in the 2019-20 Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide at $1,500 for a copy in 9.2.

What is the most expensive Superman #1 sold at auction?

In 2019, a copy in 5.0 sold for $456,000. It is the seventh highest unrestored copy certified by CGC. Two blue label books graded as high as 8.0. The next highest graded is 6.0. High-grade copies of Superman #1 do not appear to exist.

Other expensive Superman comics

Superman #2 takes up the second spot when a CGC 9.2 copy sold for $94,000 in 2013. Luthor’s first cover appearance on Superman #4 (he’s the one with the red hair) went for $56,122 in 2013 for the Central Valley CGC 9.2 issue. It is also the 1st issue with all new content. Moving away from strictly value, here are some prices for Superman key issues.

Superman #14

This classic patriotic cover has sold for $35,850 in 2015 for a CGC 9.2 copy.

Superman #17

Hitler and Hirohito were held in awe at the $31,200 paid for a CGC 9.0 copy sold in 2019.

Superman #24

This classic flag cover CGC 9.4, sold for $41,825 in 2011.

Superman #30

Mr. Mxyztplk burst onto the scene but not the cover. In 2017 a CGC 9.2 copy sold for $6,422.

Superman #53

Superman celebrated his 10th anniversary with an origin issue in 1948 that sold for $12,650 in 2004 for a CGC 9.4 issue.

Superman #61

The re-telling of Superman’s origin is not the key feature of this book. Superman learns he’s not an Earthman and sees his parents and himself as a child for the first time. This is also the first time kryptonite appears in comics. This issue changed everything and in 2011 and a CGC 9.0 copy sold for $2,629.

Superman #76

Although they met briefly in a couple of All-Star Comics, this is the first team-up of Superman and Batman, teaming up for a price of $8,500 in 2017 for a CGC 9.2 issue.

Superman #1 Cover Art

The leaping image of Superman was lifted from the splash panel of the Superman story in Action Comics #10. National staff artist Leo O’Mealia created the framing art for the cover. Any original art or production material doesn’t appear to exist any longer.

Other Superman original art

The most expensive art sold by Heritage Auctions featuring Superman can be found under Action Comics. The most expensive piece from the title Superman is the cover to Superman #12, a Fred Ray salute to the military, that sold for $77,675 in 2017. Going slightly off the label, the next piece would the splash from Superman vs. the Amazing Spider-Man, page #50, that went for $60,000 in 2020. Ross Andru and a host of inkers are responsible parties here. Curt Swan and George Klein produced the cover to Superman #186 which sold in 2014 for $53,775. The Bronze Age team of Curt Swan and Murphy Anderson produced the cover for the classic story “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?” from Superman #423 that garnered $52,800 in 2019.

Characters from Superman #1

Ma (Mary) and Pa Kent make their debut in a re-written 2-page origin to start the book and only Clark (Superman) Kent and Lois Lane are the only series regulars mentioned by name. At this point Kent works with an ‘editor’ back at his newspaper and when on an out-of-town assignment, Clark wires photos back to his paper in Cleveland. None of the usual troupes associated with the strip have been established.

Plot Summary of Superman #1

As previously mentioned, the book begins with a brief two-page origin which is significant in that it mentions Ma (Mary) and Pa Kent for the first time. At this point in time, Superman is the hero of the underdog. The stories reprinted here are uneven in several spots but are fun to read nonetheless for the enthusiasm these two young creators Seigel and Shuster pour into them.

The first is a case of saving a convicted woman from the electric chair with minutes to go with a confession from the killer presented to the governor in his bedroom. Along the way, Superman takes on a wife beater. When Clark is assigned to cover a South American war, as Superman, he first picks up munitions dealer and forces him to enter the army where he is selling his munitions. With the whole episode behind him, the munitions dealer is allowed to return and vows to make nothing more violent than fireworks.

Our next story has Superman pretending to be a miner and ‘falls’ down a shaft where he rescues miners from a cave-in. After seeing the terrible safety conditions, Clark confronts the mine owner who doesn’t care. Once again assuming his miner’s disguise, Clark is caught peering in at the lavish party put on by the mine owner. In a stroke of inspiration, the owner decides not to punish the miner but instead have him lead the party on a tour of the mine. Once in the mine, Superman surreptitiously causes a cave-in. The party-goers want to lynch the owner but the owner brags about the safety equipment he has. However, the equipment is useless and they are all left to dig their way out. Finally, exhausted and slumbering, Superman finishes the dig enough that the rescue party on the other side breaks through and save everyone. The owner now vows to make his mine the safest in the industry.

In our last story, Superman disguises himself as the bench-warmer on a football team to flesh out some thugs on the opposition looking to fix the game. Side note, the bench-warmer gets his girl back.

How rare is Superman #1?

Superman #1 is about twice as rare as Batman #1 which came out just a year later. But it is twice as common as Detective Comics which came out a month earlier. Just over 60 unrestored copies have been certified by CGC as of May 2020.

Why sell your vintage comics and original comic art with Heritage Auctions?

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Reputation can make or break your sale. Heritage Auctions has a 60% market share in comics and comic art - three times the volume of any other comic auctioneer, and our record-breaking comics and comic art auctions speak for themselves:

  • 2019 was a record year with $79 million-plus sold, topping $58 million in Comics and Comic Art sold in 2018; triple all other comic auctioneers combined!
  • World’s Most Valuable Auction of Comic Books, Comic Art, and Related Memorabilia: $15.121 million (May 2019)
  • World record for comic artist Robert Crumb - Fritz the Cat Cover, $717,000.
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