ACTION COMICS #80 – U.S. Navy Edition

Now here is an interesting oddity that we’ll talk about a little bit. During World War II, starting in late 1944 and running into 1945, DC/National Comics signed a deal with the United States Navy to provide them with Special Editions of a number of upcoming publications, to be used in the training of sailors in literacy. As the war mobilized young men of all backgrounds, the Naval Command had realized that they had enlisted in their ranks a large number of servicemen who couldn’t read well, if at all. As this was a detriment to training, the Navy intended to rectify this problem–and what better way than by providing comic books, the sort of portable lowbrow material that many serving in the armed forces used for light entertainment

But the Navy didn’t want the books without any alterations. Quite the contrary: as this message to the instructor from the inside cover of the issue indicates, the stories were simplified, using fewer words and with more repetition of certain terms so that they could more easily be comprehended and learned by the sailor-students.

Here’s an example of how the text was simplified for the U.S. Navy Special Edition. This particular story was written by Don Cameron and drawn by Shuster Studios artist Ira Yarbrough, though it still carried a Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster byline. This was still a few years before Siegel & Shuster would attempt to get the rights to their famous creation back, and consequently be exiled and excised from DC history for years to come.

In total, six different books were prepared over the course of a few months, and were put into circulation until the end of the war in mid-1945. Thereafter, the need for the program went away along with the many draftee sailors, and so the project was ended. There were six issues produced in total: three separate issues of ACTION COMICS, two issues of SUPERMAN and a single issue of DETECTIVE COMICS. From what I can tell, these books were printed at the same time as the regular newsstand run of each issue.

So they’re an interesting oddity on the collectors’ market, and often mistaken for Newsstand copies by unsuspecting purchasers, despite the notation on the cover and the lack of any cover date, price or issue number.

There were simple reading comprehension quizzes such as this one printed after each story, taking the place of paid advertising in the Newsstand version of the book.

Just one more way that Superman contributed to the war effort (and Superman Inc. made a tidy side-profit.)

3 thoughts on “ACTION COMICS #80 – U.S. Navy Edition

  1. This is great, I didn’t know about these navy comics! I love that the first ‘specially controlled and chosen vocabulary’ edition for easy reading was all about Mxyztplk. 🙂


  2. This is cool! I teach Native Americans who don’t read very well and might just share this out with them some day as a learning tool And I’m rather impressed that Pearl Buck was on the advisory board. (Is it no longer acceptable to state that the people-walking-out-of-the-screen bit made me fondly think of “Purple Rose of Cairo”?)


  3. Outstanding job! I had never heard of the U.S. Navy Editions. Any chance you will cover the other issues? Action Comics : #81 – (#2), #84-(#6) Superman #33- (#3), #34 – (#5)Detective Comics #97 – (#4)I see that the book contained 52 pages, any chance you know what was in the rest of Action Comics #80- (#1)? Thanks again, I get a big kick out of your articles!Don O’Malley


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