1 & 2. Action Comics #1 (June 1938) and Superman #1 (1939)
This is it, the comic book Holy Grail, the one that introduced the world to Superman. The cover bears the famous - if somewhat crude - drawing of Superman smashing a car against a rock. Written and drawn by Jerome Siegel and Joe Shuster, the comic introduced Superman as "Champion of the oppressed, the physical marvel who had sworn to devote his existence to helping those in need!" The last survivor of the doomed planet Krypton (duh), Superman could "leap 1/8th of a mile; hurdle a 20-story building ... raise tremendous weights ... run faster than an express train ... and nothing less than a bursting shell could penetrate his skin!" Superman was so popular, he became the first character to get his very own comic book. Superman #1 hit newsstands in the summer of 1939. The Man of Steel has held up pretty well, you could say.
Action Comics #1
3. Detective Comics #27 (May 1939)
Less than a year later, an artist named Bob Kane decided to create a caped superhero of his own, one much darker, more mysterious, and more "human" than the squeaky-clean Superman. His creation: Batman. Unlike the campy '60s TV version of the character, the Batman in this first issue was a dark, vengeful crusader who stalked the night (he watches as a bad guy plunges into a vat of acid), presaging the hero's reemergence in the 1980s in The Dark Knight Returns. Perhaps this darkness was a reflection of the dread of war looming on the horizon in 1939? The cover proclaimed, "Starting this issue: The amazing and unique adventures of THE BATMAN!" and promised "64 pages of action!"
Cover price in 1939: 10¢
4. Marvel Comics #1 (October 1939)
In 1939 a comic book house called Funnies Inc. approached pulp fiction publisher Martin Goodman with a proposal to provide him with ready-made comic book artwork. All he had to do was publish it. Seeing the kind of cash Action Comics and others were raking in, he agreed, and Marvel Comics was born. The first issue introduced three legendary Marvel characters: the Sub-Mariner of Atlantis, prince of the Deep; the Human Torch (a different Human Torch than the one that would become part of the Fantastic Four 22 years later - let's not get them confused); and Ka-Zar the Great, a man who lived in the jungle among apes (strangely similar to another popular ape man whose name had a lot of teh same letters).
Cover price in 1939: 10¢
5. Batman #1 (Spring 1940)
After appearing in 13 issues of Detective Comics, Batman and his new sidekick - Robin the Boy Wonder (introduced in Detective Comics #38) - were so popular, they got their very own comic book. Batman began as a quarterly, but that wasn't enough for fans. Neither was a bimonthly. So, before long, readers could get a new Batman adventure every month. The first issue introduces two of Batman's most legendary nemeses: the Joker and Catwoman. More than 63 years and over 600 issues later, Batman is still fighting villains - as well as his own demons - on the streets of Gotham City.
Cover price in April 1940: 10¢
6. All-American Comics #16 (July 1940)
How many times has this happened to you? Man finds alien metal lantern. Man makes ring out of lantern. Man presses ring to lantern. Man has incredible superpowers over everything. Except wood, obviously. That's the story in All-American Comics #16, a book published tangentially under the DC Comics umbrella. When regular guy Alan Scott made his ring, the superhero created was, of course, the Green Lantern. The idea of an everyday schmoe just lucking into superhero-ness proved incredibly popular. A similar idea struck gold in 1962 when a young nerd named Peter Parker got bitten by a radioactive spider (see below).
Cover price in 1940: 10¢
7. Amazing Fantasy #15 (August 1962)
The word bubbles on the cover say it all: "Though the world may mock Peter Parker, the timid teen-ager ... it will soon marvel at the awesome might of ... SPIDER-MAN!" And writer Stan Lee (pseudonym of Stanley Martin Lieber) and artist Mike Steve Ditko could not have been more right. Spider-Man was the first comic book hero to be a regular teenager, going through the same thigns his readers were dealing with: shyness, insecurity, a crush on a pretty girl, and trouble with the popular jock (Flash Thompson). No wonder people of all ages are still true believers.
Cover price in 1962: 12¢
From mental_floss' book Condensed Knowledge: A deliciously Irreverent Guide to Feeling Smart Again, published in Neatorama with permission.
[Update 3/15/07: Original article written by Christopher Smith]
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