There’s a fair amount of debate about the beginning of the Golden Age of comics. Some peg it to 1933, when the format of newsstand comic books was codified, but others place the moment in June of 1938, when Superman made his debut in Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster’s first issue of “Action Comics,” whose cover featured the red-caped superhero from the planet Krypton lifting a car over his head.
“Action Comics” number one is probably the rarest comic book in the world, easily commanding six figures for a clean copy. Issues two through six did not have Superman covers, but seven did, which is why it is also highly prized. Superman’s archenemy, Lex Luthor, came on the scene in 1940 with issue 23—naturally, that issue is also collectible.
By this time, Superman had his own comic book. The first issue of that comic from the summer of 1939 (the first five “Superman” comics were quarterly) is almost as sought-after as issue one of “Action Comics.” In it, the first four Superman stories from the early issues of “Action Comics” are reprinted, including four pages that never made it into issue one.
“Superman” number two is notable for its full-page ad for the New York World’s Fair, while the cover of number 17 from July/August of 1942 depicts Superman, flying high above the Earth, holding the terrified caricatures of Adolph Hitler and Emperor Hirohito by the backs of their uniforms. Also collectible is issue 53, which marked the 10th anniversary of the Man of Steel.
The “Superman” comic ran for 423 issues until 1986, when it became “The Adventures of Superman.” Comics from that series are considerably less valuable.