Action Comics #1: The World's Most Valuable Superman Comic Book

Action Comics #1 from June 1938 is the holy grail among comic book collectors, introducing the Superman character. One edition sold for a record-breaking $1.5 million.

In 1938 DC Comics published the now-famous Action Comics #1, introducing the Superman character to comic book fandom. The rare Action Comics #1 is one of the holy grails in collectible circles, with one outstanding edition selling for a cool $1.5 million.

Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster's Superman

Superman was created by Jerry Siegel (1914-1996) and Joe Shuster (1914-1992). The two men had originally tried to sell their creation as a newspaper strip, meeting with little success. But when National Periodical Publications asked the pair to submit something for their new DC Comics line, Siegel and Shuster duly obliged, converting their old Superman comic strip proofs into comic book format.

For their work on Action Comics #1, Siegel and Shuster were paid $10 a page, or $130 for the entire project. In their haste to get Superman into print, the pair literally signed away millions of dollars in future rights and royalties encompassing movies, television, radio and merchandising.

As originally conceived by his creators, Superman was a bald villain who employed his telepathic powers for evil purposes. That radically changed, however, with the Man of Steel – initially known by his Kryptonian name of Kal-El – later becoming a force for good.

Action Comics #1 June 1938 in CGC Very Fine+ 8.5 sold for $1.5 million

Action Comics #1 Debuts in 1938

Action Comics #1 hit newsstands in April, two months before its official cover date of June 1938. Priced at a Depression Era 10 cents, Action Comics #1 featured the brand new character Superman on the cover as drawn by co-creator Joe Shuster. The vaunted Man of Steel is pictured lifting a green car into the air, emptying the vehicle of its criminal passengers as they flee in terror.

Action Comics #1 enjoyed a first printing run of 200,000 copies. In addition to the fantastic color cover, the debut issue also featured a dynamite, slam-bang story inside. Pages 1-13 related Superman's origin, beginning with his journey to Earth as a baby tucked into a small space ship by his scientist father in order to escape destruction on a dying planet. Discovered by a passing motorist, the baby was placed in an orphanage where he astounded his caretakers with incredible feats of strength. Upon reaching adulthood, the extraterrestrial visitor, now known as Clark, made the decision to use his fantastic powers to help mankind.

In addition to Superman, the 64-page Action Comics #1 also featured stories on such characters as Chuck Dawson, Zatara Master Magician, Sticky-Mitt Stimson, Pep Morgan, Scoop Scanlon Five Star Reporter and Tex Thompson.

Action Comics #1: Rare and Extremely Valuable

At present, Action Comics #1 reigns as the world's most valuable comic book. On March 29, 2010, ComicConnect of New York City offered an Action Comics #1 for sale. This particular edition, graded CGC (Certified Guaranty Company) Very Fine+ 8.5, could be traced back to the late 1980s when it was discovered in a lot of old movie magazines purchased at an auction in Pittsburgh. It was then offered at a New York City comic book convention where it was bought and subsequently resold several times through the years. The comic's latest owner then sold his prized possession to ComicConnect, who in turn put the rare issue up for sale where an anonymous collector purchased it for a record-breaking $1.5 million. 

In previous offerings, ComicConnect had sold several other Action Comics #1 in lesser grades. An edition in CGC Fine 6.0 sold for $317,200 on March 13, 2009, while another issue in CGC Very Fine 8.0 fetched $1 million on February 22, 2010. 

Action Comics #1 has long been considered the holy grail among comic book collectors, but the stratospheric values for this super rarity have been an evolving phenomenon. The authoritative The Comic Book Price Guide #7 1977-78 by Robert M. Overstreet, for example, lists the estimated value of an Action Comics #1 in mint condition at $5,250. Of course, no editions in mint condition have surfaced to date and none ever will, with the highest grade recorded being the CGC 8.5 which garnered the $1.5 million price tag.  

Action Comics #1 Reprints

DC Comics reprinted several of its most famous Golden Age comic books in the mid-1970s as oversized editions, including Action Comics #1. In 1998, the United States Postal Service reprinted Action Comics #1 as a promotion for its commemorative Superman stamp. This shrinkwrapped version was offered for sale at a cost of $7.95.

To date, only about 100 copies of Action Comics #1 have surfaced, with an estimated 80 percent of those issues undergoing restoration. The vast majority of the 200,000 copies printed in 1938 were simply tossed away or consumed in the big paper drives of World War II.

But maybe, just maybe, an Action Comics #1 rests in your attic or basement, ready to be rediscovered and sold for another world record price. With Superman, great things are possible...

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