Comic Books

by Richard Potter

One of my all-time favorite comics is Giant Superman Annual #1.  I still remember the first time I saw this comic book.  It was 1960 and I was in Sioux City, Iowa with my family: my mother and father, my brother, and my two sisters.  Since shopping opportunities were rather limited where I grew up in the tiny town of Hartley in northwestern Iowa (whose population in its heyday was around 1,800), my family would make a twice-a-year- pilgrimage to Sioux City, the city closest to Hartley, to go shopping.  We had agreed to meet in the lobby of a hotel in the heart of downtown when we were finished shopping.  My mother and I arrived ahead of the others and as we sat down, I looked around and noticed that they had a newsstand right there in the lobby with comic books!  This was the first time I’d ever comic books on display outside a drug store.  I instantly spotted Giant Superman Annual #1 with its beautiful cover illustration by Curt Swan and went right over to look at it.  The problem was, this comic book was bigger than the usual comics -- it cost 25 cents!  However, I didn’t have a penny, let alone 25 cents.  I went back over to my mother and asked her if I could have a quarter so I could buy the comic.  Unfortunately, I had gone to the well once too often; I had already asked for 20 cents earlier in the week to buy a couple of comics at the drug store in Hartley.  And so, apparently in an effort to teach me fiscal responsibility (as well as the value of a quarter), my mother said no.  I was very crushed and I always wished I’d been able to buy that issue.

One of the things that fascinated me, as I held that comic book in my hands in the lobby of the hotel in downtown Sioux City, Iowa, was the back cover.  For there, reproduced in smaller size but in full color, were the covers of Superman #1, Superboy #1, Jimmy Olsen #1 and Lois Lane #1.  That was the first time I’d ever seen a picture of the Golden Age Superman (as drawn by Joe Shuster).  This blew my mind -- I had no idea that Superman had been drawn any differently than the way I was used to seeing him in the comics I bought.  Indeed, his S-shield on that cover was totally different!  Even the 3d lettering of the “Superman” logo was different.

Thus it came as a delightful surprise when one day, many years later, while I was visiting my sisters in Iowa City, Iowa, I walked into a comic book shop and there was Giant Superman Annual #1 for sale!  Needless to say, I immediately brought out my wallet and bought it.  (Only this time, they wanted a little more than 25 cents for it!)  My mother was still alive at that time and when I showed it to her, I couldn’t resist kidding her a little and so I said, “You see, Mom, you should have listened to me back in 1964 (or whenever it was published).  Look at how much this comic book is worth today -- if only you’d given me that quarter, we’d all be rich now!”

As I grew up, in addition to watching the Adventures of Superman every afternoon after school, Monday - Friday, I also read and collected comic books.  This was another guilty pleasure of mine.  My two favorite characters were Superman (naturally) and Batman.  Sadly, none of the comics from my childhood collection have survived.  I just read them too often -- their covers fell off, their pages got torn, etc.  Also, my older brother -- who sneered at me for reading comic books (but whom I frequently caught reading my comics nevertheless) had a nasty habit of using them as coasters for his pop bottles.  Nothing else more effectively ruins the cover of a comic book than to place a sweaty bottle of Coke on it.  The ring it leaves behind just does wonders.

The comic books I bought off the newsstand at my friendly neighborhood drug store are now classified as falling into the period known as the “Silver Age.”  Alas, I was born too late to be able to purchase comics printed during the “Golden Age” as they came off the press.  One of my fantasies is to imagine that I have a time machine and so I go back in time and buy a copy of  “Action Comics #1” off the newsstand.  Of course, I worry about the consequences of this seemingly insignificant action -- for who knows how it might change the entire course of history?

When I became an adult, I started to collect Golden Age and Silver Age issues of Superman and Action Comics whenever I came across one that I could afford.   None of the comics in my collection are very valuable -- Golden Age and Silver Age comics that are in “Mint,” “Near Mint” or even “Very Good” condition are extremely rare (or non-existent) and completely out of my price range.   So the only such comics in my collection are in “Fair” condition at best.  For those who are not versed in the arcana of comic book collecting, let me just say that there is an entire ranking system for the condition of collectible comic books, which determines their value.  For the most part, the criteria by means of which a seller judges whether, say, his comic book is in “Very Good” as opposed to merely “Good” condition are fairly well defined.  However, there is still some subjectivity involved and when there’s room for debate, I have found that the seller will invariably rank the condition of his offering as the best possible.  Go figure!  The Official Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide by Robert M. Overstreet is the “Bible” for such matters.   In case you are interested, here is a brief description of the “Grading Guide” for determining comic book condition provided by Pacific Comic Exchange.

In case you were wondering, I only own two of the Golden Age comics displayed at the top of this article.  (Showing all those Golden Age covers was just a clever ploy to get you to read this. :)  I wish those comics were in my collection, but sadly, they are not.  Maybe someday, if I ever strike it rich as a songwriter, I’ll be able to buy them.  But for now, I can only dream...

Nevertheless, here are two Golden Age comics that are in my collection and which are included in the montages at the top of this page:

Superman #8

Action Comics #26

Giant Superman Annual #1

(front cover)

Giant Superman Annual #1

(back cover)

I have always loved “origin” stories.  Thus, I had to collect Superman #53 which is touted on its cover as a “10th Anniversary Issue!”  featuring “The Origin of Superman.”  I have also always been partial to Wayne Boring’s version of Superman and this is definitely one of his best artistic renditions of the Man of Steel.  Yes, I know that I ought to love Curt Swan’s interpretation the most, since he tried to make his version look like George Reeves.  However, there was always something romantic about Boring’s artwork -- it was so retro and it took me back to a time just before my birth -- don’t ask me why this captivates me, it just does.

Superman #53

Action Comics #242

The other prized “origin” story in my collection is Action Comics #242, featuring the first appearance of Brainiac, one of my all-time favorite Superman villains.  Oh how I wish that just once they’d make a Superman movie featuring Brainiac.  It would be difficult to find a more interesting story than the one in this issue.  Before Krypton exploded, Brainiac blasted the Kryptonian city of Kandor with his infamous shrinking ray and preserved it in a bottle -- including its now miniaturized, living inhabitants.  Superman was able to rescue the bottled city and preserve it in his Fortress of Solitude, but he never found a way to restore its citizens to normal size.

Another comic book that I treasured and read over and over until it fell apart was Giant Superman Annual #2.  This one, too, cost 25 cents.  But this time, when it was published, I was ready with my quarter and I pounced on it.  This was one of the best of the series of “Superman annuals” which DC published over the years -- it featured several of Superman’s foes, most of whom I’d never encountered.  It introduced me to Brainiac by reprinting the story from Action Comics #242.  Another one of my favorite villains from this issue was Metallo, the killer with the kryptonite heart!

The comic book store in Iowa City where I found Giant Superman Annual #1 also had Giant Superman Annual #2 for sale and so I actually purchased both at the same time.   The moment I laid eyes on those two issues was like a dream -- it was as if I had rediscovered an old friend  and finally consummated a love affair with a long-lost love.

I came across Superman #72, while I was in Metropolis, IL in June 2007.  I considered this a good omen and simply had to buy it -- it’s one of the Superman comic books that was actually used as a prop in the Adventures of Superman.

Superman #141 features what is regarded by most experts as one of the best adventures of Superman ever to appear in the comics.  Through a freak of nature, Superman goes back in time and lands, as an adult, on Krypton.  He gets to meet his parents, view the alien wonders of Krypton,  and yet is filled with despair the entire time because he knows that Krypton will eventually explode and there’s nothing he can do to prevent it.  This story is very moving and extremely well written.

Superman #132 and Superman #149 are extra special, because I actually bought them off the newsstand when they were first published (of course, these are replacements for the ones I owned as a boy).  I really loved these two issues because they featured extremely well written “imaginary” stories.  As a general rule I didn’t care much for the “imaginary” stories that appeared (all too often, in my opinion) in the Superman line of comics.  After all, I’m a “reality based” guy -- give me the real stories about Superman, not some made up stuff!  But these two were exceptions.

In Superman #132, Superman (along with his pals Batman and Robin) get to view an alternate possible history of Superman through a weird device.  It’s the story of what Kal-El’s life would have been like had Krypton not exploded.  I’ll try not to give too much away, but suffice it to say that as things turn out, a super-hero named Futuro appears on Krypton.  (I always thought his costume was very cool.)  This individual turns out to have a special relationship with Kal-El and inspires him to become...well, I’d better not say any more.  I just know you’re going to want to run right down to your comic book store and buy this back issue.

Finally, Superman #149 features what is, in my humble opinion, the most moving Superman story ever written -- “The Death of Superman.”  Long before they decided to take the plunge and kill off their main character for real in 1992 (which caused a media sensation at the time), DC Comics (aka National Periodical Publications) published this great imaginary story in which Lex Luthor finally succeeds in killing Superman.  The ghastly image of Superman turning green as he succumbs to kryptonite poisoning on the cover is unforgettable.  And Luthor is never more diabolical.  Even though you know that this is an imaginary story and not about the real Superman, it is impossible to read this comic book and not be brought to the verge of tears.

Superman #72

Superman #132

Superman #141

Superman #149

Sometime between 1975 and 1980, in my younger years as a poor, struggling graduate student in philosophy at Brown University, I wandered into a comic book store on Hope Street in Providence, Rhode Island.  Much to my surprise, I saw copies of Superman #1 and Batman #1 for sale!  I had never even seen these two rare, extremely valuable comic books in the flesh, let alone found them for sale!  The proprietor claimed they were both in "Good" condition, but I had my doubts.  Still, Superman #1 in even less than "Good" condition was nothing to sneeze at!  And to find Batman #1 for sale and also in the same condition, why, I just couldn't believe it.  Of course, I knew before I even asked the question that they would be unaffordable, but I was shocked when the owner said, "$600 each."  Although I didn't have the Overstreet price guide memorized at the time, I knew this was a bargain -- even if they were in terrible condition.  I wanted to buy them so badly!  Even though they were expensive (at least they were for me given my finances at the time) the one thing I knew for certain was that they would only increase in value.  I don't know much about investing in real estate and even less about investing in the stock market but the one thing I do know -- and I knew it back then -- is that these two comic books are the Holy Grail of comic book collecting.  (Actually, there are even more valuable Superman and Batman comics; specifically, Action Comics #1, featuring the first appearance of the Man of Tomorrow, and Detective Comics #27, featuring the first appearance of "The" Batman as he was known in those days.)

A Couple of Comic Books That Are Not in My Collection

Or: The Ones That Got Away

Superman #1, 1939

Batman #1, 1940

Giant Superman Annual #2

At that time I had very limited financial support from Brown.  As a result, I had to work several odd jobs: I was a book store clerk, I mowed the lawn and served as a handy-man for my apartment building, and I even baby-sat for what would nowadays be called “latchkey kids.”

Needless to say, I simply did not have the money to buy those comics.   Nor could I ask my parents to help me with a loan.  They'd already paid most of my college expenses and they were not great believers in comic books in the first place.  (After all, they were from northwestern Iowa, where men were men and comic books were looked down upon as reading material suitable only for toddlers and drooling idiots.  Indeed, I know that my interest in comics caused them great embarrassment; it was bad enough that I kept watching that silly Superman TV show long after I should have outgrown it, but then on top of that,  I also read comic books!  "Oh, Lucile, what are we going to do with that boy?")  I knew they would not be able to understand how a mere comic book, which had once sold for one thin dime, could now be worth $600.  And I knew they would never believe that buying that old comic book for $600 -- on the speculation that it would one day be worth even more -- was a sane investment strategy.   And let's not forget my mother's reaction when I asked her to loan me that quarter to buy Giant Superman Annual #1!

No, it would have been easier to convince them to give me $600 to go play the slot machines in Vegas.

And so, I had to let Superman #1 and Batman #1 go.  It was a bitter pill to swallow, knowing that although they were expensive, it was almost a 100% sure thing that one day, they'd be worth a whole lot more!  (And of course, simply owning those comics would have been the ultimate high for any collector!)

According to the Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide, nowadays Superman #1 in "near mint" condition is worth $270,000 and Batman #1 in the same condition is worth $125,000.  Sigh...

Now, you might think that these prices are hypothetical only, since you probably assume (as I once did) that a “near mint” condition Superman #1 would most certainly be non-existent.  After all, how could a comic book that was published in 1939 have survived all these years and still be in “like new” condition?  And you can also forget about finding a “near mint” Action #1, which was published a year earlier, right?  Well, you might think that, but you would be wrong!

As a matter of fact, mint condition copies of Superman #1 and Action #1 still exist today!!!!  Indeed, there still exist, to this day, mint or near mint condition copies of just about every superhero comic book published from 1938 through the 1950’s.  How is this possible?  The amazing story of the discovery of the famous “Edgar Church collection” of mint Golden Age comic books (aka the “Mile High/Edgar Church collection”) can be found at the Mile High Comics website.  Chuck Rozanski, the proprietor of Mile High Comics, tells an almost unbelievable tale of how he came into contact with -- and how he saved from near oblivion -- what can only be described as the “Holy Grail” of all comic book collections.  I highly recommend Mr. Rozanski’s fascinating  article, "Discovery of the Original Mile High Collection."  Mr. Rozanski’s experience of stumbling across this amazing collection is nothing short of miraculous -- indeed, it’s the sort of thing that a comic book collector dreams of and fantasizes about his whole life and yet knows can never really happen.  But for Mr. Rozanski, it did!

I hope you’ve enjoyed this trip down memory lane!

Montage of early issues of Action Comics

circa 1938-1939.

Montage of early issues of Superman Comics

circa 1939-1940.

Superman #147

Did you ever have one of those days where it felt like everyone was against you?

Superman #102

Don’t you hate when this sort of thing happens?

Sometimes, the artwork on the cover of a Superman comic book made it simply irresistible.  You just had to have it, it was so cool!  Superman #102 and Superman #147 are memorable examples.

Unfortunately, the story inside didn’t always live up to the promise of the cover.  Occasionally, the cover depicted a scene that was very misleading when compared to the actual story.  Worse still was when the cover displayed a scene that never even happened in the story itself!

So, where are these mint condition Golden Age comic books right now?  Some of them are in the private collection of an individual known among serious comic book collectors as “the Dentist” (perhaps he’s known by this nom de voyage because he is, in fact, a dentist who lives in Virginia :).  Good luck getting a chance to see them!  Others, fortunately, are on display for the public to see in the wonderful, new Geppi’s Entertainment Museum in Baltimore, MD, which opened in September 2006.  Click here to get to the “Galleries” page of their website and then click on the thumbnails below the title “A Story in Four Colors” to see some pictures of the collection.

Inside the Golden Age comic book room at Geppi’s Entertainment Museum.

Note the copies of Action Comics #1 and #2 in the glass case in the foreground.  (At first, Superman did not appear on the cover of every issue of Action Comics.)  Also, there’s a copy of Batman #1 at the other end.  The comics displayed in that case are pictured below.  I can’t make out the last one in the case on the far right -- guess I’ll have to go there to find out what it is!

#48, March 1940

#40, July 1939

#1, June 1938

#2, July 1938

#3, Winter 1940

#16, July 1940

#1, Spring 1940


The thumbnail images of the Golden Age comics pictured above were obtained from the

Grand Comic Book Database.

The Birthday Letter featuring Superman #72.

A Ghost for Scotland Yard featuring Superman #83.

Superman #83

The Unlucky Number featuring Superman #101, Superboy #44  and  Batman #95.

Superman #101

Last but not least, Superman #132, Superman #141, and Superman #149 hold a special place in my collection because they contain some of my favorite stories.

Newsstand in Mystery in Wax featuring several comic books published by National Periodical Publications

(aka DC Comics).

Action Comics #160

Batman #66

Superman #72

Detective Comics #175

World’s Finest Comics #54

Superboy #44

Batman #95

Update June 2008: My wish came true!  Grace and I went to Baltimore and while we were there, I paid a visit to Geppi’s Entertainment Museum.  Sure enough, there they were: the first issues of every superhero comic book from the Golden Age!   Seeing them there all together made me feel like I’d died and gone to heaven!  Pictured below are some of them; I apoloigiize for the fact that the exposures are not very good.  The comics are all enclosed in protective glass cases and I could not avoid the glare off the glass when I took a photo.

What a fantastic place!  My only disappointment (and a minor one, at that) was that they had very little material related to George Reeves.  Here are the only two items I could find:

Original copy of TV Guide issue with George Reeves on the cover

newspaper ad for a double feature: Li’l Abner and Superman and the Mole Men

Postscript 2010: Well, they say you can never go home again, and I guess that’s true.  As it happened, Grace and I were spending the 2010 Christmas holiday in Baltimore and so I decided to pay another visit to Geppi’s Entertainment Museum, to see my old friends (i.e. the Golden Age comics collection).  Sadly, several of them were no longer there.  Although Action Comics #1 and Detective Comics #27 (first appearance of The Batman) were still there, Superman #1, Batman #1, Sensation Comics #1 (first appearance of Wonder Woman) and several others were gone!  When I asked one of the clerks what had happened to them, he informed me that to the best of his knowledge, they had never been part of the collection!  Sorry, buddy, but I beg to differ -- the photographs above prove otherwise.

Newsflash: Dateline March 2010: A near mint copy of Action Comics #1 (published in June 1938) sold at auction for $1.5 million, making it the most valuable comic book of all time.  For the story, see: Rare comic of Superman debut fetches $1.5 million -  The month before, another copy was sold for a mere $1 million.  Only 100 copies are known to be in existence.

Some other Golden Age Superman comics inside a glass case.

A wall of Golden Age comics