Action Comics #1

By Jacobus Dixon

People say to never judge a book by its cover. Well…in the world of comics, that saying tends to be thrown out the window entirely. Ideally, you buy a comic for the art as much as for the storytelling. However, since comics are a visual medium, the art tends to sometimes overshadow the writing in terms of appeal. As a result, it’s what draws crowds to the work in the first place if it’s a new series with a new creative team. And where’s the best place to showcase this art? Well, on the cover of course! The best covers are the ones that capture a purified form of what the story inside is about, and what ideas, events, and characters are featured. As time’s marched on, we’ve been treated to an amazing amount of incredible covers that have launched the franchises of several popular characters. These covers also helped defined popular culture and launched the careers of many artists and creators and made their niche in the pop world. I would like to take a look at some of these covers and figure out just what it is that makes them so famous (or infamous) in our minds’ eye.

To kick off this little series I figured I’d start with an issue that should be pretty familiar to most eyes. Yes sir (or ma’am), that image above is none other than “Action Comics #1”, released in June of 1938 by National Comics (which would eventually become DC Comics). Now what do we see here? Is this some monstrous being harassing these terrified people and trashing their car? Well, no, it just seems like some circus strongman with a wrestling cape. But hey, even strongmen can’t pick up cars like that! Probably why these guys (who I assume are the passengers of the unfortunate vehicle) are scared out of their wits (wouldn’t you be?). What’s this guy’s deal!? Who’s he to go around smashing other people’s cars?

These are some of the questions that are probably running through the viewers’ heads as they see this cover. The art from Joe Shuster is extremely simple, but very colorful. Like I said earlier, we have this circus strongman at the center. He’s got a shield on his chest though, what’s up with that? And to add further flair, this guy’s got a brilliant red cape. So there’s this great combination of drama and showmanship surrounding this main character (almost like a professional wrestler or gladiator of some kind). This isn’t the first time there’s been a strong guy smashing stuff on a cover. But it’s the costume that makes this guy stand out and memorable. I think I’m gonna get a great story out of this (I’d better for the ten cents I’m being charged!).

There is absolutely no confusion as to what’s happening on the cover, but we’re left to ask ourselves, “why?” As we open the book to that story (there were nine different short stories in the book) we find that this guy’s name is Superman (huh…guess that explains the big S on his chest), he’s from another planet, not to menace us, but here to use his might to fight for the oppressed. To hide among us, Superman disguises himself as a weak reporter named Clark Kent and tries to pursue a romance with his co-worker, Lois Lane. That car he’s totaling belongs to some thug named Butch after the gangster kidnaps Lois while she is on a date with Clark. In the aftermath, Lois chides Clark for not being manly enough to stand up to Butch and wishes he were more like this Superman stud who rescued her (to which Clark slyly chuckles to himself). Wow! What a story. Forget these other stories, I wanna read more Superman!

On this example, the cover and the story work hand in hand to deliver a memorable book and make readers thirsty for more. The cover does a great job of raising questions that prospective readers want to know the answers to. The questions are answered by the story, and answered succinctly. The only questions the readers are now left with is what’s next for this human juggernaut. But the real victory is in the design of this character that utilizes the grandeur of the arena and stage to fight the commonplace nastiness that the average urbanite has to deal with. Is it a wonder why this book was an instant sensation?


The views expressed herein are solely those of the writer, and not Midtown Comics.  Additionally, Midtown Comics makes no representations as to the accuracy of any of the information expressed herein.

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