It’s probably one of the most important comics books in history, if not the most important. Odd to realize that when Action Comics #1 first came out it was probably considered just another really good comic. Superman was introduced here but nobody at the time could have known that this would be the debut of a huge part of our culture. He’s right up there with Mickey Mouse as legends of their respective genres. Numerous audio dramas, television shows and movies have been made about him. Kids love him. I saw a post on Tumblr once about a kid who needed a walker coming up to a man dressed as Superman just to say “thank you”. While he has his detractors (the no fun crowd mostly who thinks everyone needs to be dark and broody to be “relatable”) there is no denying Superman’s impact. And so many of these comics were thrown away.
Yesterday was Superman’s debut in comics, his home medium, but between Action Comics #1000 and the debut of SyFy’s Krypton (their answer to Gotham by making a story that ensures Superman can’t show up while Fox is at least showing proto-Batman…wrongly, so more like Smallville really) the only hype I saw for it was the actual day of the anniversary. I needed to do something to mark Superman’s 80th anniversary but I talk about the Man Of Tomorrow so often on this site, even currently reviewing the novelization of his death and return for Chapter By Chapter, that I’m not sure what to really do. And then I figured it out. It’s kind of obvious really.
For whatever reason I have never found a proper reprint of Action Comics #1, the debut of Superman. The best I’ve been able to do is find this posting by CGC (Certified Guaranty Company, LLC), the group who grades comics. Yes, there is a digital reprint on comiXology and I did get it to be legal (I had some money left over in my account from a promotion they did) but it’s only Superman’s story. They didn’t reprint the rest and even at 99¢ I feel jipped. So while I feel clear legally if I want to look at the FULL comic I’m going to use CGC’s posting. Because while this is Superman’s debut there is another important character to DC history showing up here and some other characters too. So at long last I’m going to look over every story here, not just Superman’s, and review the whole comic. A day late but we had important business yesterday. Let’s get started.
Superman (Jerome Siegel & Joe Shuster)
Originally intended as a comic strip in the papers, National decided to print it as a full-on comic. Get ready for the exciting, original origin of Superman!
Amazing, isn’t it? I’ve seen movies devote a half-hour to his origin, TV shows use full two-part episodes, and a whole series allegedly about Superman’s origin, and the first time we see it? One page, slightly more panels than All-Star Superman needed. What’s interesting are what we don’t see. I’m sure anybody who cares already knows that Superman didn’t have all the power he has now. He couldn’t fly, he had limits to his invulnerability (which we also don’t see here though it’s mentioned), but notice the lack of one detail: the Kents. Here a passing motorist finds the baby and brings him to the orphanage, which is the origin you’d later see in the Fleischer Studios cartoon. They don’t even find the baby, just one passing motorist. So originally Clark Kent was an orphan.
In Superman #1 we would get the addition of the Kents, who died after Clark reached adulthood but before he became Superman. At no point was tragedy added to his origin. He just decided to use his powers to benefit mankind, even without the Kents. I think this is the first time an orphanage was treated as something positive in media. And probably the last.
We also have the source of his powers. No flight, no special visions, no superbreath. He could jump high, run fast, lift amazing weights, and had limited invulnerability (although I wonder how they tested that bursting shell theory). And why did he have this strength? Advanced physical structure. No talk of gravity or yellow sunlight…just good genes. Also no mention of Jor-El or Krypton. Krypton wouldn’t be named until Superman #1 unless it was in one of the issues of Action Comics before it but you’d have longer to wait to meet the scientist responsible for sending him to Earth. Wow, three paragraphs on the first page alone. Let’s finally move forward. We have more than Superman to cover.
If you’ve read Superman #1 you know why Superman is carrying a bound woman to the governor’s mansion and after yesterday’s commentary you can make your own politician joke here. You don’t know why in this comic. The next page is just Superman carrying a woman and breaking into the governor’s mansion to prove she was the one who killed a man. From there it’s the same stories that’s in Superman #1 up to the point where he starts messing with a guy trying to corrupt a senator. We get the infamous scene where bad guys ruin Clark and Lois’s date, chase her down, and the infamous cover scene takes place. So really Action Comics #1 just gives you an altered origin and less story. Not sure it was worth 99¢ given my lack of income but still interesting. But this was an anthology so there are more tales to see.
Chuck Dawson (H. Fleming)
I wonder if “speed through the origin in five seconds” is going to be the trend here? Chuck Dawson’s father was killed in a range war and now bad guys have taken over the ranch. Now a manly man, Chuck decides to reclaim his birthright. Once arriving in his hometown he comes across a guy shooting into a saloon. The man orders Chuck inside but for some reason he doesn’t want to go into a building when it’s being shot through. Go figure. He takes the guy out in a fistfight (never bring guns to a fistfight after all) and the sheriff accuses Chuck of being a troublemaker. Apparently Notch Logan (no parenthesis, so apparently his parents named him Notch–I see why he turned evil) had every right to shoot into a saloon full of people? What? He also kicks Chuck out of town when he says he’s going after the 4-G gang to get his land back. Someone is bad at his job!
The boss of the gang is John Burwell, the only normal name here outside of Chuck, and that’s just a nickname for Charles Junior. He sends Trigger Holt and some guy named Butch (because every Wild West gang had to have at least one “Butch” by tradition) to take him down. I don’t know how they know what his horse looks like but they find him at a restaurant. Trigger “bumps” into Chuck to make it look like a fight, calling him a “geezer”. Geezer? The man’s younger than you are! They cheat to take him down but the sheriff comes by so they can’t kill him. Instead the sheriff arrests him because as demonstrated earlier he doesn’t arrest bad guys. Just the hero. Chuck tricks the deputy and escapes but someone is on the other side of the door. Who is it? Beats me. The story ends here so unless you can find a scan or reprint of #2 you better be really lucky checking the back issue bin. Too bad, because this was a good start to the tale. I’d like to know how it ends.
Zatara: Master Magician (Fred Guardineer)
I don’t know for sure if this is his debut, but Zatara is the father of DC legend Zatanna, the magical sorceress who is also a stage magician and a member of the Justice League. Can David Blane boast that? As you can see here Zatana, his assistant Tong, and their detective friend are dealing with “the Tigress” (the malicious one instead of the one that made sugar cookies for orphans like Clark Kent). When it looks like their murdered friend was part of the gang it’s up to Zatara to prove his innocents and stop the Tigress. Unlike the others this story has no origin and ends here. It’s actually a pretty good story.
What is interesting is the early days of Zatara. He can teleport people around, create first aid boxes and turn guns into a large bullet (although it looked more like a banana to me). While we do see him use the backwards-spoken spells his family is known for it’s only to take metal control of the thugs at two different points, including the real spy for the Tigress, the train inspector, who also confirms the detective’s innocence. It’s worth taking a look at.
South Sea Strategy (prose story by Captain Frank Thomas)
Another story ending on a cliffhanger! This story is about a freight captain I think and his loyal companion Cottonball…which from the name alone should tell you he’s a bad black stereotype of the period. They came upon a man who barely escaped the native, and they’ve kidnapped his daughter. That’s pretty much it.
Sticky-Mitt Stimson (Alger)
A thief escapes the police. Not all that interesting. Moving on.
The Adventures Of Marco Polo (Sven Elvén)
Marco, his father, and his uncle are called upon by the Pope to deliver priests, gifts, and a message to the Khan, and deal with an attack by Babylonian warships. The priests are scared off so the Polos decide to deliver the message and gifts themselves and end up dealing with marauders in the desert. This story just ends. Marco ruins a set trap by taking the high ground (his father’s plan) and dropping rocks on the enemy and then right into our next tale.
“Pep” Morgan (Fred Guardineer)
Short story. Boxer Pep Morgan deals with crooked boxing manager Doc Lowry, and chases him out of the state, but he returns with a new boxer. The Bushman, who is supposed to be from Australia (although Pep has heard he’s from New Orleans) has been fighting through everyone. Pep and his manager, Pop Burkett, see one of his fights as the man is strangely groggy. It happens when Pep fights him and he manages to just barely win. It seems Bushman had a hypodermic needle in his glove and both he and Lowry are arrested. At this point I’m just happy to see stories end in this issue. It was okay but nothing spectacular.
Scoop Scanlon: Five-Star Reporter (Will Ely)
Ace reporter Scoop Scanlon (and with a name like scoop you have to either be an ace reporter or an ace ice cream man) and his photographer Rusty James (a lot of parents hate their kids in this comic) go to report on a jewel thief being brought back by police. They end up helping the police stop his gang from rescuing him and end up taking the entire gang. This is why kids wanted to be news reporters in those days…to be crimefighters. I’m not sure that’s a good reason.
Tex Thomson (Bernard Baily)
In our final story we have one last obvious name. Texas oil tycoon Tex Thomson is on a world tour. He meets a boy named Robert who apparently thinks American cowboys are cool. They come across a dead body and as Bob goes for help a woman appears and accuses Tex. The sheriff happens to come by not because Bob went to get him but because he was…I don’t know, out for a walk or something, and continuing our other theme of sheriffs arresting the hero, believes her. (Spoiler: she’s with the baddies.) He knocks the sheriff out and has to prove his innocence and rescue Bobby because reoccurring themes is how this comic rolls. Also, cowboys who know ju-jitsu. Somehow they mixed up the page where Tex is captured and Bob releases Tex’s bonds after finding a little girl who knows him and sending her to the sheriff. And from the way the pages are folded I don’t think it was CGC’s fault. Tex pretty much just stays alive long enough for the Sheriff to arrive. And he gives all the money to the kids because they’re the real heroes today. Also he’s stinking rich. This was a good story to end on…and it ends in this issue!
The last two pages are just some trivia stuff so let’s wrap up. Action Comics #1 is known for Superman’s origin, but there are some good stories here beyond that. Plus Zatara, father of another DC hero, made his debut here. The other stories range from decent to pretty good. I wish DC has reprinted the entire story in their “Millennium” reprints like they did some of the others. Superman #1 isn’t the debut but you got the full Detective Comics that debuted Batman. It’s a shame to see these other stories disappear.