80 years of Superman comics: Why the superhero almost never existed | Books | DW | 01.06.2018
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80 years of Superman comics: Why the superhero almost never existed

When Action Comics No. 1 introduced Superman to the world, it marked the beginning of the superhero genre. The issue has become the most valuable comic book ever, but Superman's debut was actually a "pure accident."

Dated June 1938, Action Comics No. 1 featured Superman's very first appearance. It is considered the work that marks the beginning of the superhero genre, and the issue has become one of the world's most coveted pop culture collector's items.

In 2014, one of the first copies containing the debut adventure of original superhero Superman, which cost 10 cents in 1938, sold for $3.2 million (2.4 million euros) through an auction on eBay. The mint-condition copy fetched the highest price ever for a comic book.

It is estimated that only 50 to 100 original copies of the comic still exist.

Read more: Spider-Man celebrates his 'Homecoming'


Cover Action Comics Nr. 1, 1938 (AP)

The thrilling cover certainly contributed to the issue's success

Initially rejected

The Superman character was initially created in 1933 by Jerry Siegel in a short story titled The Reign of the Superman, illustrated by his friend Joe Shuster. They self-published the work in a science fiction magazine.

Their first pitch to get the idea transformed into a comic strip was, however, unsuccessful.

A few years later, National Allied Publications (which later became known as DC Comics) was looking for a lead feature for the fourth title in their adventure series, but a looming deadline meant there wasn't time to create something new.

They found the rejected Superman comic strips and decided to publish them. Comic book publisher Jack Liebowitz, who died in 2000 at the age of 100, said that the decision to pick up the Superman figure was "pure accident."

The successful businessman selected the cover image, which depicts the super-strong figure with a red cape lifting a car over his head. Liebowitz was also behind the idea to turn the comics into a TV series that started filming in 1951. 

The first issue of Action Comics had a print run of 200,000 copies and quickly sold out; sales of the series had reached a million just a month later. Creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster were paid $10 per page — a total of $130 for their work on the issue.

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