Action Comics #1 (1938)

Action Comics #1 (June, 1938)
“The Coming of Superman”
“The A-G Gang”
“The Mystery of the Freight Train Robberies”
“South Sea Strategy”
“Sticky-Mitt Stimson”
“It’s the Year 1271…”
“The Light Heavyweight Championship”
“The International Jewel Thief”
“Murder in England”
Writers – Jerry Siegel, Homer Fleming, Fred Guardineer, Captain Frank Thomas, Russell Cole, Gardner Fox, Ken Fitch
Artists – Joe Shuster, Homer Fleming, Fred Guardineer, Russell Cole, Sven Elven, Will Ely, Bernard Baily

Hey, we made it!

Happy Action Comics #1000 day… and the final day of our #Action100 Endeavor.  With today’s post, we will have officially discussed one-tenth of Action Comics‘ 80 year run!

I thought long and hard about what book to cover to commemorate the event… and first thought about just breaking protocol and discussing the book that’s coming out today… but, let’s face it… you’re likely going to see, read, and hear skatey-eight hundred different reviews and impressions of Action Comics #1000 today, tomorrow and in the near future.

Figured I’d give y’all a break, and still sorta “break protocol” by going alllllll the way back to the start and discussing a reprint of Action Comics #1!

This is the first straight reprint that we’ll be discussing… which actually gave me pause.  Wasn’t sure what (year) to put in the title (these are the things I worry about…).  Figured I should make it easier on everyone by just putting 1938.

This is a, according to the indicia, “Loot Crate Edition”… which I’ve been seeing pop up more and more in the 50-cent bins of my area.  Lends further credence to my theory that very few of those who indulge in comics-flavored “loot nerd geek fanboy box cube crates” actually give half-a-damn about comic books.  I’m sure they didn’t trade in their “superexclusive” Funko Pop for some used-bookstore in-store credit.  I suppose that’s a kvetch for a whole ‘nother time… today’s for celebrating!

And so… as I affix, for the final time, our “Action 100” icon… let’s jump back in time 80 years to the day!

We open with the (very) quick and dirty Superman origin… complete with a “scientific explanation” of his powers.  We then jump right on into the action.  Superman rescues a damsel, but hasn’t the time to untie her… because he needs to speak with the Governor.  The Guv’s butler refuses to let him in… so, he smashes down the door.

He makes his way upstairs, and finds that the Governor’s bedroom door is made of solid steel… a common build-option back in the late-1930’s.  Superman tears the door open and chats up the Guv about an innocent woman about to be put to death.  The Butler then pulls a gun… and fires!  The bullets bounce right off of our man’s chest.

Everything ends up hunky-dory… the innocent woman goes free.  The following morning, mild-mannered reporter, Clark Kent takes a look at the latest edition of The Daily Star.  He’s happy to see that his alter-ego didn’t get a mention in the Curry case.  We briefly pop in on the Governor… who isn’t so sure about the city’s new vigilante.

At The Daily Star, Kent is called into the office of… maybe Perry White?  Anyhoo, he’s given the Superman assignment.  As he leaves, he’s informed of a wife-beating in progress.  And so, Superman takes care of the domestic abuser.

Later, we meet Lois Lane.  Clark asks her out for a date… and she’s down with it.  That night as they dance, a mook named Butch tries to “cut in”.  Clark plays up his mild-mannered meekness, and steps aside.  Lois, however, ain’t feelin’ it… and she stomps off.

Butch decides to give chase to Lois’ cab… and runs it off the road!  Wow, dude’s persistent, I’ll give him that.  Unfortunately for him, Superman’s already on the case.

He chases the car down before doing something… ya know, iconic.

The next day, Clark apologizes to Lois… but she doesn’t want to hear it.  He’s called into the office and is given an assignment in San Monte, South America.  He instead decides to go to Washington, D.C.

In D.C., we see a Senator Barrows approached by a man who might as well be wearing a sign that reads “Villain” around his neck.  The Senator tells the baddie to back off… because they cannot be seen together in public.  Superman listens in, and gets the scoop.

We wrap up with Superman grabbing the villain-looking fellow, and attempting to scare him straight.  Then… the story just ends!

We next meet Chuck Dawson… son of the late Charles Dawson, who owned the Circle-D Ranch.  

The Chuckster has decided to follow up and track down the 4-G Ranch Gang (or maybe it’s the A-G Gang?) responsible for his father’s death.  We jump right on in, with Chuck arriving in town… and immediately getting into a fight with a bully.  Chuck wallops him and sends him packin’.

The Town Sheriff informs Chuck that they “ain’t wantin’ any trouble” and suggests he “mosey along”.  No can do, lawman… Chuck’s on a mission.  Meanwhile the owner of the 4-G, John Burwell learns of our man’s arrival… and so, he puts “Trigger” Holt and Butch (probably not the same Butch as in the last story… but I’ve been wrong before!) on the murderous job of putting poor Chuck down.

The pair track Chuck to a local waterin’ hole… but have to wait for him to finish eating.  Their boss insisted that this “look like an accident”.  And so, after Chuck drops the feed-bag, he is “bumped into” by… I think Trigger.

Trigger draws his gun, but he is no match for Chuck.  He’s disarmed and jiu-jitsu tossed before he even knows what hit him.  From around the corner, Butch peeks his little head out and fires a shot right into Chuck’s skull.

Fortunately (for Chuck) the bullet just grazed his scalp.  He wakes up later on in a jail cell.  He then, get this, tells the guard that he needs to tell him a secret… and when he draws near, Chuck chokes him out and steals his pistol!  I don’t even think Barney Fife would’ve fallen for that!

We leave ol’ Chuck as he’s about to leave the jail… but hears footsteps in the adjoining office.  My heart can hardly stand it!

Our next story is… probably the most boring one this issue (and that’s saying something!)  This is the Zatara story, and his first appearance.  Here, Zatara is tipped off by his officer friend, Brady that numerous attempts have been made for a great train robbery… and so, he assembles his crew of weirdos to investigate.

Atop the moving train, the foursome find themselves taking on gunfire… one of the detectives gets hit, to which, Zatara magiks up the cutest little first-aid kit.  Just then, his pal Brady is tossed from the car below… and Zee is taken unawares by the villainous “Tigress”.  She shoves him off the train, however, he uses his magical talent to make it so he gingerly floats to the soft underbrush below.  “Soft underbrush”?  Is that a thing?  I suppose it’s softer than concrete… more thorns though.

The State Police arrive to investigate… and they inform our magic man that all evidence point to buddy Brady being crooked.  So, Zatara now has to not only solve the case, but absolve his pal.  He looks at the car that Brady was tossed from and notices that it has been marked with a chalk (X).  He has… a plan.

He orders all of the valuables on the train be evenly distributed among the cars… then goes and backwards-talks some thugs into finding the Tigress.

Tigress, however, is just nearby… like literally right behind him.  She pistol-whips him, breaking his psychic control over the mooks… then binds his wrists and ankles until she can take him where he wants to dispose of him.

And so at the next stop, they bring Zatara to a shack… douse the place in kerosene… and set it ablaze.  I mean, I appreciate the theatrics, but wouldn’t a single-bullet have done the trick?  It should come as a shock to absolutely nobody (except Tigress) that Zatara manages to escape.

Our man then summons his faithful companion, Tong… who chokes out a Train Inspector that seems far too happy that Zatara very likely just burnt to death.  He is kayoed, and Tong spirits him away to give the police the facts about what’s really going on here.

From here, we get another train-top shoot out… and the crooks begin unloading boxes of valuables, tossing them to the ground below where some other crooks can snatch ’em up.  Then Tigress arrives… and Zatara, get this, changes her gun into a banana!  The comic actually says he changes it to a “bullet”, but c’mon… that’s a banana and we all know it.

By this point, the Train Inspector spilled the beans to the police… and the bad guys (minus Tigress) are arrested.  Oh yeah, in case any of us cared… Brady’s name was cleared as well.  Woof.

Next… a text-story!  Nobody reads these, but we’ll include it for completionists’ sake.

Then, Sticky-Mitt Stimson decides he’s going to steal some apples.  While the fruit vendor is preoccupied watching a beeg airplane overhead, he makes his move.  Unfortunately for him, he worked too slow.

The Vendor calls out to the police… and a chase is on.  Ol’ Sticky makes his way to… a field full of pipes?  It’s like a Double Dare event in here.  This bamboozles the officer long enough for him to get away.

Sticky sneaks into a construction site… and changes into some “laborer’s clothes”, which apparently comes complete with standard-issue “Laborer’s Mustache”.  Looks like he’s given the cop the slip.

He then runs right into a group of policemen… but… um, they don’t recognize him and let him go?  I mean, what’s the point of this?  Even as a “gag”, this is pretty lousy.

Oh boy, we’re not done yet… next stop, Marco Polo (circa 1271).  Polo and Company receive word from the Pope that he would like an audience.  They are sent East to meet with the Khan of Tartary, in order to impart their wisdom and culture onto his people.  What could possibly go wrong?

On the way, they are hailed by an aggressive fleet of ships… and many of Polo’s men are killed in the skirmish.  After a discussion with his peers, they decide to press on.

They come ashore, and travel through the desert for three months before arriving at the Port of Dora.  They then take a final boat ride to Bunder-Abbas (which is on the Southern Coast of Iran).  There, they meet with a man called Niko, who they will caravan with further inland.  Niko’s men are wary, however… since they’re about to enter the Karghar Pass, which is full of wild men.

Polo offers everyone handfuls of silver… which appears to do the trick.  We conclude this tale with Polo’s men about to be taken unawares by the bandits… who look to topple large stones onto the caravan.

Next story… yup, there’s still more… stars “Pep” Morgan, top contender for Sailor Sorenson’s Light Heavyweight Boxing Championship.  We jump right into the ring, where Pep just took a grazing shot to the eye… which renders him temporarily blind!  He responds by wildly swinging at his opponent… and manages to land a knockout blow!  Turns out he was blinded by a special liniment on Sailor’s gloves by his manager Doc Lowry.

Time passes, and we learn that Doc has a new charge in the form of the wild bushman known as “Boomerang”.  Pep and his manager “Pop” (or maybe it’s his father/manager) decide to watch the bushman’s bout against O’Rourke… because the winner will receive a match with the champ.  The bushman makes light work of O’Rourke.

Which takes us to the “main event”, Boomerang challenges Pep Morgan for the Light Heavyweight Title.  Early on, Pep takes a pop to the head… leaving him groggy and dizzy.  Despite this, he manages to land a kayo blow the following round… and it is revealed that Doc Lowry stuck… get this… hypodermic needles into the bushman’s glove.  He’s arrested, and everything’s fine.

Annnnnd, there’s more.  Scoop Scanlon, Five Star Reporter!  Scoop and his photographer, the sleepy-eyed (all the best shutterbugs are!) Rusty James are following up on a tip about a jewel thief (named Arnold) arriving in town.  They watch him deboard a train… and decide to follow him.  They learn that Arnold’s guards are armed with Tommy Guns… and so, he decides the smartest thing to do would be to leap onto them.

The baddies start rat-a-tatting at him, which gets the attention of some nearby officers… and before we know it, a chase is on.  Worth noting that sleepy-eyed Rusty has stowed away on the spare tire of Arnold’s car.

From here we get some hot-traffic action… like seriously, it’s just a driving scene where they try to avoid hitting a moving truck.  Then, Arnold pulls over… and is arrested.  It’s later revealed that the whole time Rusty James was holding on, he was jabbing holes in Arnold’s gas tank… wonk wonk wonkkkk.

In our final… yes, final… story, we meet Tex Thomson.  Wow, we get two, count’em… two western-ish stories today!  We open with Tex being approached by a boy named Bob.  For whatever reason, Bob wants to walk with him.  Okay.  As they walk, they stumble across a dead body!

Tex sends the boy to fetch the police… at which time, a woman passes by.  She and Tex chat for a bit before she notices the corpse.  She, of course, suggests that Tex is a murderer.  A murderer of joy, perhaps… but he sure didn’t kill that man.

The Sheriff arrives on the scene, and the gal is freaking out about Tex killing a man.  The Sheriff goes to grab Tex to take him in for questioning… which our man responds to with a punch to the face.  That’s prove yer innocence, I tell ya what!  He then runs off like the lily-livered varmint he is.

Well, not really… he just runs off to hide so he can see what happens next.  What he sees is, the lady smiling… as though she’s gotten away with something.  He follows her to a secluded shack… and waits.

Inside, we can see that Bob has been captured by the baddies.  Later that night, Tex rescues him… it’s really just that easy.

Just as quick as he’s rescued, however, he’s captured again.  Tex runs interference and even busts out that wild-west martial art jiu-jitsu to regain the advantage.

Off to the side, the lady and the big bad spend far too much time concocting a plan to kill Tex “in self-defense” (does it even matter at this point?  You’re living in a shack deep in the mountains… just kill the man already).

Elsewhere, Bobby runs into a girl named Betty… and asks her to get the Sheriff.  This poor girl seems to be afflicted with poor-perspective-itis… a very common malady in the old west.

Bobby returns to the fight… for whatever reason.  Betty gets the Sheriff, who has recovered from Tex’s kayo punch… then the police arrive to arrest the bad guys.  That’s like four stories this issue that ended that way!  We (finally/thankfully) wrap up with Tex being told that he’s “swell”.  I disagree, but we’ll allow it.

Well… that was rather a slog, wun’t it?

We’ve already talked about the Golden Age Superman origin here… in fact, Secret Origins #1 was our first anniversary piece last January.  This was, unsurprisingly, more or less the same exact story as the second half of that issue… even down to the “A Life Hangs in the Balance” clock in the corner of some panels.

Honestly, if I were to recommend one over the other… as far as for story, I’d tell ya to go with Secret Origins every time.  There, you’d get a blend of Kryptonian history along with the actual first adventure… also, no backups!

Because, lemme tell ya… these backups… woof.

Now, I’m sure back in the mid 1930’s nobody was expecting some dude in his 30’s to be “reviewing” these 80 years later… so, it’s hard to really “analyze” them.  But, ay yai yai, this was a slog… a true endurance test.  By the time I’d gotten to Marco freaking Polo, I was about spent.  I’ll say this much, you really got a bang for your dime back in 1938!

I considered for a second just covering the Superman feature and leaving the rest of the stories out completely… buuuuuuut, that’s just not how we operate here.  We’re building a resource, or something…

These stories… well, I don’t wanna be too negative, so I’ll just say they “weren’t for me”.  It actually took me several tries over the past couple of weeks to finally get through the whole thing.  Suddenly covering an issue of Action Comics Weekly seems possible (and preferable)!

The backups… while they overstayed their welcome, still feel like they didn’t have adequate time to “breathe”.  They all seemed to have these sudden endings.  They’d just build and build and then… ya know, wrap up real convenient and quick.  I think four of them ended with the police just arresting a guy/group of guys… who turned themselves over peaceably!  How weird.

Overall… I’d say if you come across this (reprint, naturally) in the wild… and it’s not too crazily overpriced (I’ve actually seen this Loot Crate version at the shop for $40)… I’d say grab it for the novelty.  They did a really good job with it.  Of course, if you happen across an actual first printing of Action Comics #1… and have a few hundred-thou to spare… well, maybe just buy a house or something.  This issue is available digitally… for a buck.

And with that… we successfully conclude our #Action100 endeavor.  I had fun with it… though, at times it proved to be quite the chore.  I want to thank you all for coming along with me for the ride.


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4 thoughts on “Action Comics #1 (1938)

  • Congratulations on reaching 100 days of Action, Chris!

    Those Joe Shuster pages are lovely. In my younger days, I used to think of Golden Age comics as being crudely-drawn prototypes for the Silver Age, but in recent years I've come to appreciate artists like Shuster, Joe Maneely, Bill Everett and the work these guys (and many others) done in establishing the comics industry.

    Got some Superman back issues in a shop at half-price today due to it being Action 1000 day, and am looking forward to reading them. Among them is Action Comics 571 which features one of my favourite panels of all time – a lady reading the Daily Planet which has the headline REPORTER CLARK KENT EXPLODES ON LIVE TV. I just love the matter-of-fact way the newspaper reports on one of their own staff exploding on live TV, and even includes a picture in case any of their readers can't visualize Clark Kent exploding. On live TV.

    • Thanks Dave!

      We had some swell sales out here too… one's I'd have gone nuts for before I filled in my post-Crisis collection. That's the thing I don't think about when I finish filling in holes… now I have less of a reason to even peruse the Superman books in the bins!

      Action Comics #571 was one I was *sure* I was going to cover during #Action100… and I'm completely shocked that I wound up overlooking it!

      Thanks again!

  • Jeremiah

    Congratulations on reaching #100, and what a fun journey. Your reviews have got me wanting to revisit the Geoff Johns issues. I've grown to really like his work and think I should have paid more attention to his run than I did when it first came out.

    • Thanks Jeremiah! It's been one strange trip!
      I'm glad you're wanting to check out the Johns run… it's one I kinda slept on the first time around, and really enjoyed using this opportunity to revisit it.


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