COVER STORIES for 09/24/2006
COVER STORIES INSTALLMENT #72
Greetings, Cover Stories fans, and those joining me for the first time! This week, we'll be doing a new kind of column, with a special theme which I call "1-10." What is 1-10? Well, it's the first ten issues of a selected comic book title. So, as you can imagine, there won't be an overall cover theme - unless you count the cover logos! I plan on doing one of these columns each month or so, or at least until enough of you readers write me and say you don't like them!
So, for the inaugural installment of 1-10, I present the most influential comic book of them all... Action Comics! Yes, Action Comics, which presented the Man of Steel to the American Public for the very first time, which led to every other super-hero in comics (as well as elsewhere)... and the series begins with the single most iconic cover image of all time (one that's been homaged many a time since then):
Imagine, if you possibly can, a world without superheroes in comics! The closest thing to a superhero is the Phantom, appearing on the newspaper comics pages (well, and perhaps an argument could be made for some other comics page heroes, such as Flash Gordon, Tarzan, or Mandrake the Magician, but bear with me) for some time. There were no comic book stores; instead, comics were sold on newsstands (and other businesses, including kinds of stores that are virtually nonexistent these days). And most comic books didn't feature original stories and art, but were instead mostly reprints of newspaper comic books. Oh, certainly there were books of all (or nearly-all) original content, such as Detective Comics... but still, no superheroes (well, I recall that the Crimson Avenger appeared before Superman, but he was doing mostly a Green Hornet/Shadow shtick at the time).
So, imagine you're a kid, and you're going to the local newsstand with a shiny dime in your pocket to buy a comic book... and you come upon this image. Now, we're all very familiar with this cover, but can you imagine what it must've looked like to someone who'd never heard of Superman or any superheroes before?
A fantastically-strong man in red and blue, smashing a car against a rock, cape flowing behind him... and that guy in the foreground running away, doing the "Home Alone" look years before that movie was ever conceived.
How would you have reacted to this image? I can only imagine that I would've been thrilled beyond reason, and would've happily plunked down my dime for this comic book. Inside its pages, I would've been introduced to Superman in the one-page origin story by creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, followed by a 12 page adventure leading into the next issue's story (originally prepared as newspaper strip pages, and cut up and pasted into comics pages). By the way, of course you know this entire book was reprinted in Famous First Editions #C-26 (which some people have been fooled into thinking was the actual original comic, believe it or not), as well as Millennium Edition: Action Comics 1 in 2000. The Superman story has been reprinted in Superman in Action Comics Archives #1, as well as other places, I'm sure (I think it was also reprinted in Superman: From the 30s to the 70s... the Grand Comics Database also has it reprinted in Secret Origins #1 and the Smithsonian Book of Comic-Book Comics).
Also in this issue were Chuck Dawson by Homer Fleming, Zatara by Fred Guardineer, the text story South Sea Strategy by Capt. Frank Thomas, Sticky-Mitt Stimson by Russell Cole, The Adventures of Marco Poly by Sven Elven, Pep Morgan by Guardineer, Scoop Scalon by Will Ely, Tex Thomson by Ken Fitch and Bernard Baily, a filler called Stardust, and the filler Odds 'N' Ends by Sheldon Moldoff.
Of the other characters... well, Zatara should still be familiar to all of us, him being Zatanna's father. Tex Thomson later become the costumed Mr. America (and later Americommando).
Oh, and yes, there are no titles on these stories. Back then, it was common to have the comics stories done so that they'd look like they were reprinted newspaper comics!
That first issue must've been a sensation, but believe it or not, the now-DC Comics had no clue that Superman was the selling point of the book! Check out the next three issues... here's a Leo O'Mealia cover with a guy skydiving with a blonde babe (a very nice cover, but still no Superman), followed by another O'Mealia cover with some guy brandishing a sword, and a dramatic O'Mealia cover with a Canadian Mountie!
Inside issue #2: Thrills, a 1 page filler by Terry Gilkison, Superman continues his adventure by Siegel and Shuster (reprinted in Superman #1, Superman from the 30s to the 70s, and Superman from the 30s to the 80s), Scoop Scanlon by Ely, Pep Morgan by Guardineer, an Elmer the Eel filler by Russell Cole, the Adventures of Marco Polo by Elven, the text story South Sea Strategy Part 2 by Capt. Thomas, Tex Thomson by Fitch and Bernard Baily, Inspector Donald and Bobby by Leo O'Mealia, Chuck Dawson by Homer Fleming, Zatara in "Haunted Farm" by Guardineer, and the one-page filler "Play Ball" by Moldoff.
Inside issue #3: Superman by Siegel and Shuster (reprinted in Superman #1 and Superman Archives #1), Scoop Scanlon by Ely, Pep Morgan in "Wins a Doubleheader" by Guardineer, Shifty Simpson by Cole, Adventures of Marco Poly by Elven, the text story Sports at Sea by Dick Lawlor, Tex Thomson by Baily, Chuck Dawson by Fleming, Zatara in "Death From the Air" by Guardineer, and a filler page, "Here and There" by Vincent Sullivan.
Inside issue #4: Superman by Siegel and Shuster (reprinted in Superman #1 and Superman Archives #1 - all these Superman stories were reprinted in Superman Archives #1), Chuck Dawson by Fleming, Pep Morgan in "the All-Star Athlete" by Guardineer, Bat Bill and the Menace of the Hills by Cole, The Adventures of Marco Polo by Elven, the text story "Legion Loyalty" by Capt. Thomas, Tex Thomson in "The Sealed City Pt. 3" by Fitch and Baily, Scoop Scanlon by Ely, Inspector Donald and Bobby by Leo O'Mealia, Zatara in "The Night Club Murder" by Guardineer, and the filler "Thrills."
Now, we're on to the next three issues!
It's more O'Mealia covers... starting with this Foreign Legion-styled cover on number 5, a jungle hero and a scary gorilla on issue 6, and then, finally, in issue 7... it's Superman again! One might even be tempted to say "Superman Returns," but that might be cheesy.
The story goes that at Detective Comics, Inc. (the name of the company at the time... I think they became National later on, but I could be misremembering), they were wondering why the first issue of Action Comics sold so well, but subsequent issues had a drop in sales. Contacting newsstand dealers, it was discovered that kids weren't asking their dealers for Action Comics... they were asking for that comic book with Superman!
And so, with this seventh issue, he got back on the cover to see if it made any difference. And just to hedge their bets, there's that blurb, "Superman appearing in this issue and every issue"!
Inside issue 4: Superman by Siegel and Shuster (reprinted in Superman #3 as well as that Archives book I already mentioned), Coyote Canyon Bill by Fred Schwab, Fantastic Facts by George Papp, The Diddle Family by Paul Gustavson, Chuck Dawson by Fleming, Pep Morgan by Guardineer, Phil the Floater by Cole, the Adventures of Marco Polo by Elven, the text story Valley of the Past by Richard Martin, Tex Thomson by Fitch and Baily, Sportettes (a filler), Scoop Scanlon by Ely, Zatara in The Egyptian Wizard by Guardineer, and the filler "Star Light" by Moldoff.
Yes, I'm sure you've noticed that some of the features got changed quickly in these first several issues, haven't you? Superman, Chuck Dawson, Pep Morgan, Marco Polo, Tex Thomson and Zatara were the only features to keep their spots so far!
Inside issue 6, we have Superman by Siegel and Shuster (guess where this story was reprinted?), Chuck Dawson by Fleming, Pep Morgan by Guardineer, Pilferin' Pete by Russell Cole (a filler), the Adventures of Marco Polo by Elven, the text feature Singapore Singeing by Gardner Fox, Tex Thomson in "Double Trouble Pt. 1" by Fitch and Baily, a Chuckles filler by Gustavson, the filler Odds 'N' Ends by Moldoff, Scoop Scanlon by Ely, and Zatara in "The Emerald of Cheops" by Guardineer.
Inside issue 7, once again there's Superman by Siegel and Shuster, Chuck Dawson by Fleming, Pep Morgan by Guardineer, the filler "Sport Data" by George Papp, Coyote Canyon Bill by Schwab, an ad for the Siegel and Shuster School of Humor, the Adventures of Marco Polo by Elven, the Diddle Family by Gustavson, the text story "Jungle Episode" by Richard Martin, Tex Thomson by Fitch and Baily, the filler "Now You Know" by Moldoff, Scoop Scanlon by Ely, Zatara in "Zulu Diamond Mine" by Guardineer, and the filler "WESThrills" by Gil Kesson.
It seems so obvious in hindsight, doesn't it, that Superman was the reason Action #1 sold so well... and yet, even after DC's people found out that he was the selling point, and put him on the cover of issue 7, they still went back to a generic adventure cover on issue 8, with the redcoat fighting a Native American (this one by Guardineer)! They must've realized something by the time they were preparing the cover for number 9, because even though it's another Guardineer cover (a really nice, dynamic one, I must admit), they still mention Superman on the cover!
With issue 10, Superman's got the cover spot again... but believe it or not, it's not until issue #17 that he permanently takes the cover spot (except for a few rare occasions over the years)!
Anyway... issue 8 features Superman by Siegel and Shuster, Chuck Dawson by Fleming, Pep Morgan by Guardineer, a Butch the Pup filler by Schwab, a Fantastic Facts filler by Papp, the Adventures of Marco Polo by Elven, the text story "Frozen Hazard pt. 1" by Martin, Tex Thomson by Fitch and Baily, an Odds 'N' Ends filler by Moldoff, Scoop Scanlon by Ely, Zatara in "The Indian Prince" by Guardineer, a filler "Sport Casting", and another filler, "Oscar the Gumshoe" by Bob Kane!
Inside issue number 9, we have a filler, "Sport Data" by Papp, Superman by Siegel and Shuster, Scoop Scalon by Ely, Pep Morgan by Guardineer, The Diddle Family by Gustavson, Adventures of Marco Polo by Elven, the text story "Frozen Hazard Pt. 2" by Martin, Tex Thomson by Fitch and Baily, a Sport Data filler by Papp, Chuck Dawson by Fleming, Zatara in "The Mad Lama" by Guardineer, the filler "Candid Comic Camera" by Bob Kane, and the filler ADVENTUREvents by Terry Gilkison.
And finally, issue 10 features the filler "Nevertheless It's True" by Moldoff, Superman by Siegel and Shuster, Scoop Scanlon by Ely, Pep Morgan by Guardineer, the filler "This Doggone World" by Schwab, the filler "Now You Know" by Moldoff, The Adventures of Marco Polo by Elven, the text story "Fighting Spirit" by Martin, Tex Thomson by Fitch and Baily, the filler "Film Oddities" by Papp, Chuck Dawson by Fleming, Zatara in "Treasure of Genghis Khan" by Guardineer, and the filler "Old West" by Gil Kesson.
Phew! That's a lot of data, isn't it? But not all installments of these 1-10's will be this long - the Silver Age and Bronze Age 1-10s should be shorter!
Join me next time for another installment of "Cover Stories," in we'll return to "Drive-In Movie Classics" for our monthly "Comics They Never Made," and in the meantime, you can check out my blog at http://waffyjon.blogspot.com for other musings and ramblings by me, or email me with comments about this column at !