It came in a big cardboard mailer, the first comic book that I’d ever sent away for, and my first experience with the Treasury Edition format. This was the FAMOUS FIRST EDITION reprint of ACTION COMICS #1, the first appearance of Superman.
Now, at this point I had only read something like half-a-dozen Superman comics previous to this. I also had all of the sophistication of a six-year-old. As such, while the work presented in this book was relatively crude and old-looking, I didn’t react to it in any different a manner than I did any contemporary comic book. It was this lack of sophistication that allowed me to be such a big fan of reprints in general–I didn’t consider those stories any less relevant to me than the new stuff.
I will say that I found it an odd choice to begin the Superman story in the middle of the action, and for the longest time I tried to figure out where this could possibly be continuing from. In retrospect, it’s a pretty brilliant choice: if Superman is the whole show, open with Superman. On this very first page, we get three super-feats. If that doesn’t define him for young readers, nothing will.
This first story really isn’t much of a story at all. Rather, it’s a collection of events in a linear form–evidence that it began life as a series of daily newspaper samples that were hastily edited together. But it does give Superman a chance to show off his stuff in vibrant fashion, as well as laying out the crux of the Clark Kent-Lois Lane-Superman triangle.
The one thing that did vex me about this first Superman story is that it ended in a cliffhanger, with Superman and the corrupt lobbyist he’s trying to break for information plummeting towards the ground below. It takes no imagination at all to work out how they survive–he’s Superman!–but nevertheless, I was intensely curious about it. The way the story was told, I feared that this early and less powerful version of the Man of Steel might be in actual trouble here. I wouldn’t read the resolution until years later, when DC reissued SUPERMAN #1 in this same format.
There were a number of other features in ACTION COMICS #1, as with typical Golden Age comics of this period–enough so that I’m not going to cover them all here. And really, apart from Superman, they’re all relatively dull stuff.
I did get to meet Zatara in this story, having previously encountered Zatanna and her quest for her father, so I understood the context of the character. The story was a very basic Mandrake riff, and Zatara didn’t yet have his classic mustache, but I still enjoyed it.
I also liked Pep Morgan, a Joe Palooka knock-off. But looking over these other strips, you can immediately see the appeal of Superman. They’re all sort of quiet and sedate. For all that some of them may have been drawn better than Superman, Superman moved! And it didn’t mess around!
It was also a bit of a shock to me that certain strips, like Scoop Scanlon, were printed in black and white as a cost-saving measure. There didn’t really seem to be any particular rhyme or reason to why certain stories were in black and white, but it definitely lessened their appeal.
The issue closed with Tex Thompson, a contemporary western strip by Bernard Baily (who would later work with Jerry Siegel on The Spectre) that would eventually morph into a super hero series. There was something I found appealing in the artwork here.