It’s always news when a copy of Action Comics #1 goes on the auction block, and that’s exactly what happened this past weekend when San Diego based collector John C. Wise put his collection up for sale to pay for his retirement. Wise is auctioning 175 mostly Golden Age comics, and bidding ends Tuesday June 3. The Action Comics title, graded a 7.0, has already reached six figures and together with the other titles in his collection, Wise expects to raise a tidy retirement fortune.
Action Comics #1, as most of our readers know, was the first appearance of Superman in 1938. (His label mate Batman appeared in 1939, and is celebrating his 75th anniversary this year.) In terms of content, Superman in that issue doesn’t fly (he jumps) and there is nary a supervillain in sight. Rather, he’s a social crusader fighting corrupt business people and landlords on behalf of the vulnerable, a cartoon manifestation of FDR. He was the hero the world wanted then, and also the hero they needed. But you don’t read Action #1 for the story.
Comics have that rare quality, like other books, of being valuable both for their content and for their cultural significance as objects. While some collectors might eschew the notion of sealing a comic in plastic and turning into some sort of collector’s commodity rather than a book meant to be read, there is no denying their economic importance. In 2011, a copy of Action Comics #1 sold for $2.1 million, in a near-mint 9.0 print. Someday, hopefully many centuries hence, these books will be significant historical artifacts from the 20th century. It’s not quite King Tut’s tomb, but it is a significant cultural legacy.