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Action Comics #1 the First Appearance of Superman: the "Million Dollar Comic Book"

How do I know if my copy is the "real deal"?

By David Tosh

While the comic book format as we know it actually began with 1933's Funnies On Parade , the first comic book to make a big splash was undoubtedly Action Comics #1, which launched the career of the Man of Steel himself, Superman. Recent sales of this historic comic have shocked the world with incredible record prices, and the news media has made much of this "million dollar" comic book which had an original cover price of ten cents. Naturally, people have begun to search their attics, basements, and closets, looking for a copy of this elusive treasure. Perhaps you too have run across a copy. However, before you start planning on how to spend all that money, please take a few moments to review a few details of this important item with us.

The problem with Action Comics #1 is that this comic book has been reprinted at least ten separate times, beginning in 1974. None of these were exact reprints, but all were close enough to be confusing to many who may have found a copy. Let's look at the original edition, and compare with the reprints.

Actions Comic #1 Original vs Reprint.
The original comic book, cover-dated June, 1938, hit the newsstands sometime during the late spring of that year. It was 68 pages long (64 interior pages plus the covers), and included stories featuring characters like Chuck Dawson, Zatara Master Magician, Pep Morgan, and cowboy Tex Thompson. Superman was the first story in the book, and was 12 pages long. The comic book measured approximately 7.5" x 10.25", with two staples holding the book together at the spine. Here's a photo of a copy, one that was graded by the Certified Guaranty Company (CGC) and certified as being authentic:

Action 1

There are some details on the front cover of this comic that we want you to look at:

Action 1 - 2A
The rocks on the right side of the book, near the car's smashed hood
Action 1 - 3A
The yellow running board of the car, where Superman is holding on
Action 1 - 4A
The two "drops of sweat" popping off the forehead of the man in the lower right corner
The first reprint of Action Comics was published as part of a series known as Famous First Editions . It was published with an outer cover, with the words "Famous 1st Edition" at the top of that outer cover. Here's a photo of that edition, showing the "extra" outer cover,...

Action 1 - 5

...and a photo of the comic opened to reveal an inside second cover.

Action 1 - 6

Content-wise, it's pretty much a page-by-page reprint of the 1938 edition, with one big difference: the size. This version is oversized, measuring approximately 10" x 13.5".

The second, inner cover is printed on slick paper and closely resembles the original 1938 comic, but with these differences:

Action 1 - 8
The rocks near the car's hood
are missing
Action 1 - 9
The running board of the car is all green, and there
are no white highlights on the front fender
Action 1 - 10
The two "drops of sweat"
are missing

The outer cover of this edition was on a heavier paper stock, and was held on by three staples along the spine (instead of two). The outer covers have often been removed, leaving only the slick paper "Action" cover, making it confusing for many. There were a number of Famous First Edition comics printed in the 1970s, including Detective Comics #27 (first appearance of Batman), Whiz Comics #2 (first appearance of Captain Marvel), Batman #1, Sensation Comics #1 (Wonder Woman), Superman #1, Flash Comics #1, Wonder Woman #1, and All Star Comics #3. All were in the oversized format.

Other Action Comics #1 Reprints

Other reprints of Action Comics #1 were smaller, closer to the size of modern comics. Most were issued as giveaways (marked "Free"), or sold with cover prices of 50 cents and one dollar. Some were priced at 10 cents, but only featured the Superman story, and were 16 pages instead of 64. These editions usually have either a picture of Superman, or the Nestlés Bunny, on the back cover. The actual 1938 edition had an advertisement for the Johnson Smith Company on the back. All carry the "June, 1938" date in the upper right corner of the front cover.

Here are some notes on the other reprints:

Action Comics #1: 1976 afeguard Editions

The 1976 Action Comics #1 10¢ and "Safeguard" Editions:

  • Has a "paper" cover (newsprint paper similar to interior pages) rather than a "slick" cover.
  • Either a ten cent cover price or "Free When You Buy Two Bars of Safeguard Soap" box.
  • 16 pages rather than the 64 pages of the original edition; includes only the Superman story.
  • Text box on the lower right cover, with "Reprint of the First SUPERMAN Feature."

Differences in the front cover image are similar to the oversized Famous First Edition version: no orange rocks in front of the car, no yellow running board or white highlights within the green on the car, no drops of sweat flying off the man's head in the lower left. An image of Superman appears on the back cover.

The 1983/87 Nestlés Quik Action Comics #1 Editions:

  • Both featured the Nestlés Quik Bunny on the back cover
  • 16 pages with paper covers.
  • 1983 version had a ten cent cover price;
  • 1987 version had a fifty cent cover price.

Action Comics #1: 1988 Newsstand/Direct Sale Edition

The 1988 Action Comics #1 Newsstand/Direct Sale Edition:

  • Has a slick cover.
  • The Newsstand version has a UPC price code rectangular box in the lower left corner.
  • The "Direct Sales" version replaces the UPC box with one marked "Fifty Years" and the Superman "S" logo.

Note that the "drops of sweat" man has been completely removed from the cover, replaced the rectangular box. Superman appears on the back cover.

The 1992 "Death of Superman" Action Comics #1 Edition came in a shrink-wrapped package with the Death of Superman trade paperback, and has a $1.00 cover price.

Action Comics #1: 1998 USPS Superman Postage Stamp Edition

The 1998 USPS Superman Postage Stamp Action Comics #1:

  • Half sheet overlay outer cover and First Day of Issue US Postage stamp featuring Superman.
  • 52 pages.
  • No price box on Action Comics front cover, $7.95 price on the overlay.

This one is probably the best Action Comics #1 reprint version to seek out. Prices are starting to climb on Near Mint copies of this edition, with examples offered online for over $100.

The 2000 Millennium Action Comics #1 Edition is the easiest to spot as a reprint; the cover adds a brown background and tilts the Action Comics #1 cover image, which has no price box; the actual price can be found above the UPC Price Code box:

2000 Millennium Action Comics #1

PLEASE NOTE that most of the reprints, especially the Famous First Edition version missing the outer cover, have very little relative value. Only the authentic 1938 version sells for up to a million dollars and more. Also, look very closely at the comic; color photocopy versions have been reported, created to fool unsuspecting buyers. So, if someone offers you a copy of Action Comics #1 for sale, be absolutely sure of what is being offered before you part with any money. Use a magnifying glass if needed --- are there tiny red, blue, and yellow dots in areas that should be solid white?

Still aren't sure which version you have? Give us a call, and have your comic handy --- we'll go over the telltale signs with you. And if the one you've found turns out to be the actual 1938 edition, we'll be happy to help make you a millionaire!