ACTION Comics ushered in the age of superheroes when its first issue hit the news stands in June 1938. On its cover was a curious character dressed in skintight blue and red lifting a green Chevrolet above his head, and the course of American pop culture was changed forever.
Action Comics number 1, featuring the first appearance
of Superman, is the Holy Grail of all comic book collectors.
Seventy-two years ago it cost ten cents: last month a collector
parted with $1m in a private deal for the privilege of owning one
of the best to survive.
Comics are all about condition, but even seasoned collectors of
comics from the so-called Golden Age (1938-1955) are prepared to
accept any number of flaws to own one of perhaps 100 surviving
copies of this issue. However, the $1m comic looked as if it were
Stephen Fishler, the co-owner of New York dealership
Metropolis Collectibles, who brokered the private
sale, was the creator of the ten-point grading scale that is now
used universally to evaluate the condition of comic books. He gave
it an 8.0, making it the second-highest graded copy known to exist,
and set its price way above the previous record-holder, another
Action Comics number 1 with a grading of 6.0, sold in 2009
It gives some idea of the escalating value of the best Golden
Age comics that Fishler disclosed he had first sold the $1m comic
in 1995 for $150,000.
The buyer, described as a well-known New Yorker with a pedigree
collection, already owned an Action Comics No. 1 but
wanted a higher-grade copy. Vincent Zurzolo, co-owner of the
dealership, described the sale as "the single most important event
in comic book history".
But Superman had a rival.
As news of the $1m private deal broke on February 23, an online
auction of comic books conducted by Heritage
Auctions of Dallas was approaching its endgame. And
already, with 48 hours of bidding remaining, a copy of
Detective Comics number 27 had reached $425,000.
If Action Comics number 1 is the most desirable of all
Golden Age comics then a close second is Detective Comics
number 27, featuring the first ever appearance of Batman. It was
innovative as a single-theme comic in the days when a variety of
features was the norm.
Alongside a May 1939 cover date is the striking cover by artist
Bob Kane who, with writer Bill Finger, is generally credited as a
co-creator of the character. 'The Batman' - who, like Superman has
been in continuous publication ever since - appeared in a six-page
story that also introduced the characters of Commissioner Gordon
and Bruce Wayne.
The second-to-last panel reveals that the mysterious caped
figure and playboy Wayne are one and the same.
Heritage called this copy "perhaps the most desirable comic book
we have auctioned to date," finding only inconsequential faults and
little signs of discolouration. It, too, was awarded 8 out of 10
and could claim to be the highest-graded unrestored copy to have
appeared on the market.
By the time the sale closed on February 25, bidding had reached
$900,000 - with the buyer's premium, that took the price to
$1.0755m, just above the private deal price for the Superman
We await the next instalment…