By Jacobus Dixon

Although All-Star Publications wasn’t in a complete rivalry with National Allied Publications or Detective Comics Inc. (due to the fact that they were all owned by Harry Donenfeld) they still didn’t want to sit out on the superhero craze that was transforming the publishing industry.  They had some success with the Flash, Hawkman, and Johnny Thunder in Flash Comics. And naturally that taste of success led them to produce more superheroes. The spooky Spectre had promise, but he may have been a little too supernatural to attract more average readers. While most superheroes were defined by their phenomenal abilities, it was that human appearance that made them so appealing to readers. So you didn’t want to step too far away from that (at least not in the late 1930s/early 1940s) if you wanted your character to be successful. People do like supernatural stories though, so where do you strike the balance?

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Capture

By Jacobus Dixon

Why do they call it the Golden Age of comics? There were only three real big shot characters that anyone cared about. You got Superman, Captain Marvel, and Batman — what more was there? Well…actually there were quite a number of them. True, they may not have been as successful as Superman, but they were definitely hits. And like Superman and Batman, they belonged to Harry Donenfeld. Ol’ Donny had his hands in exactly three comic book publishers; Detective Comics Inc., National Allied Publications, and All-American Publications. He’d eventually combine the three into National Periodical Publications by the mid-40s, but for now they were separate companies run by separate guys (but all bankrolled by Donenfeld). While Superman headlined National Allied Publications, and Batman did the same for Detective Comics Inc., All-American would pitch its own superhero heavy hitters, and give Donenfeld a tight fist on the superhero genre.

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Batman

By Jacobus Dixon

While he still had a little ways to go in terms of reaching Superman levels of fame, Batman was still a pretty big hit for National Comics. But with the addition of Robin, that popularity doubled to the point where National thought it would be a good idea to give him his own title. Even with characters like Superman, there was always a little trepidation on giving a character their own magazine. Mostly because there was always the question of: “well, yeah…People like their individual stories, but will they read four consecutive stories with that character?” So far, Superman’s appearances in two magazines hadn’t hurt his image. But Batman wasn’t Superman…

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By Jacobus Dixon

With the arrival of Whiz Comics #2 (later renumbered to #1) and Captain Marvel, National Comics had some true competition against Superman, their star seller. What tipped the balance was a demographic that neither National Comics nor Fawcett Publications really paid much heed to, children. Ever since their onset, comic book magazines were really meant to be an all-ages form of entertainment. And all ages did indeed read them. From Little Lulu to Tarzan to Gasoline Alley, readers from a variety of demographics would indulge in the books to get some disposable entertainment while on the go or whenever they had a little downtime. As long as there was a demand for the comics, the publishers were happy to print them. As long as the profits came in, who cared who was paying for them? Although Captain Marvel was definitely not the first comic to feature a series based around a child or children, it combined the sensibilities of those previous comics with that of the superhero genre, and as a result swayed many children away from Superman to Captain Marvel.

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By Jacobus Dixon

By 1940, National Comics was sitting pretty. And why shouldn’t they have been? Superman and Batman were the highest selling comic-magazine characters, and they were both National’s. Superman alone was a sales powerhouse that just kept on chugging (they did say he was more powerful than a locomotive). He was the highlight of Action Comics, he had his own magazine, he had a newspaper strip (not actually published by National, but hey…market recognition), and an upcoming radio show to boot. The only real competition to Superman was the growing popularity of Batman, but since he was a National character too, it really didn’t count as competition. Timely had a niche audience with Namor the Sub-Mariner and the Human Torch, but not enough sales to really threaten Superman. Yes, other companies thought to churn out doppelgangers to the Man of Tomorrow (Superman’s first nickname for you kids out there). But none of them really stuck, due in part to National’s quick litigation team and just simply unappealing character designs that left readers with a “meh” sensibility. That is…until Captain Marvel came around in February of 1940.

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Superman #1

By Jacobus Dixon

Now what’s better than one story starring Superman? Try four. And that’s exactly what readers got with Superman #1 in June 1939. Ever since he exploded onto the newsstand scene in 1938, Superman was a big seller, and giving the guy his own book was the best way to honor that achievement. As great as his appearances were in Action Comics, fans just couldn’t wait a whole season for only one Superman story. So National gave their readers what they wanted: more Superman!

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