Batman! Superman! The Amazing Spider-Man! Ranking among the most famous and recognizable characters in entertainment history, this trinity of superheroes has generated monumental mounds of revenue via their comic book, TV, movie, video game (insert cash-generating mechanism here) escapades. Almost every form of merchandise has been exploited-when it comes to making money, these guys are legit pioneers.
Alas, the "real" people most deserving of (or even entitled to) portions of the profit aren't necessarily those left with fortified bank accounts...but that's a whole other story.
All three characters made memorable first appearances in the comic book world. Superman was the first of the bunch: Action Comics #1 saw the light of day on April 18, 1938 (cover date June 1938). Batman followed one year to the day later, with Detective Comics #27 hitting newsstands April 18, 1939 (cover date May 1939). Spider-Man's bow came some twenty-three years later, inside Amazing Fantasy #15 on August 10, 1962.
All three issues are rare and extremely valuable. Find one in good condition? You'll soon be diving into Scrooge McDuck-approved embankments of cash. In August 2014, a copy of Action Comics #1-graded at 9.0 by the CGC (as in, it looks freakishly close to brand spanking new)-sold on eBay for a wallet-walloping $3,207,852.
Each book was published in anthology format, with a selection of stories/genres complimenting the world-famous heroes' first venture into existence. Which (finally) brings me to the point of this feature-what were the other stories in these infamous issues all about? Exactly who were the characters that allowed Supes, Bats, and Spidey to hog global glory? Did any manage to establish their own legacy...?
Well, then. Let's take a look.
Detective Comics #27 (DC Comics, May 1939)
It's a surprise to many that the first 26 issues of Detective Comics-the series synonymous with the Dark Knight and source of the publishing company's name-were bereft of Batman. The first issue dropped in March of 1937, featuring stories of the "hard-boiled crime" inclination.
Prior to Batman's arrival, stars of the book included Slam Bradley (created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster two years ahead of their more notable concoction, Superman); Ching Lung (a "yellow peril" villain...and yes, it's every bit as racist/cringeworthy as it sounds); and Speed Saunders, Ace Investigator. Two of these guys featured in Detective #27; the heinously xenophobic "character of the times" was (mercifully) omitted from the landmark issue.
Following Batman's unveiling, Cyril "Speed" Saunders came up against the Veiled Prophetress in "Killers of Kurdistan". Alas, it was her one and only appearance in the DC Universe. Despite an ominous title, she was rather...rubbish. Even by 1939's standards.
Cyril, however, had a fairly durable career during the dawn of Detective Comics. A two-fisted private investigator (with the inexplicable authority to order around cops/detectives/random lawmakers), Speed Saunders was a regular through December 1941, when issue #58 seemingly closed out his tab with "The Cigarette Murder".
But you don't get rid of Cyril that easily. Oh no. He's hanging around for last orders...and beyond!
See, DC Comics decided to give the Ace Investigator a second lease of life in 1999, some 58 years after his previous appearance. Sensation Comics-the most one-shotted of one-shots-revealed Saunders to be Hawkgirl's cousin. Thus, he helped her (along with Hawkman) tackle more crime-fighting duties. Until he stopped. Again.
Last orders, folks. Cyril! Drink up. The taxi is waiting outside.
Samuel Emerson "Slam" Bradley, meanwhile, also fancied himself as something of a gumshoe. When not helping the loveliest of ladies, Bradley teamed with "Shorty" Morgan, his trusty sidekick. Starting out in Cleveland (likely owing to Siegel and Shuster's Ohio origins), he later moved to New York City for more fight-filled adventures.
Originally outlined by Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson in a letter to Jerry Siegel (which emphasized the need for "every opportunity to show him in a torn shirt with swelling biceps and powerful torso ala Flash Gordon"), Slam Bradley was another character who managed to remind readers of his existence after lengthy absence-Detective Comics' 50th Anniversary issue hosted his big comeback, hooking him up with Batman, Robin, Elongated Man, and (wait for it) Sherlock Holmes.
Not bad for an old timer, eh?
Despite a lack of Ching Lung, Detective Comics #27 was not bereft of racial stereotypes. Cosmo, The Phantom of Disguise starred in a story called "Illegal Aliens," wherein the pipe-smoking sleuth investigates a human trafficking operation. He learns to speak Chinese! Or rather, "Chinese" dialogue is presented as mindless, incoherent scrawling.
While talking to Chinese people, absurdities like "You know Chinatown very well, friend? Me want find good place live" provide his less-than-delightful choice of conversation.
Amazing Fantasy #15 (Marvel Comics, August 1962)
Spider-Man! Hurrah! Back in 1962, Marvel considered the web-slinger's first appearance a huge gamble. I mean, who wants to read comic books about normal, everyday teenagers with fortuitously acquired superpowers...? Fictional heroes should be mightily strong! Astonishingly fast! Downright bloody invincible--! A bespectacled high-school student battling everyday problems, just like his readers? Ick. Who could possibly relate to a character like that?
With Amazing Fantasy already scheduled for cancellation, the powers-that-be saw minimal risk including Stan Lee and Steve Ditko's masterpiece-to-be in issue 15 of the under-performing title's final installment. Little did they know Peter Parker would capture the imagination of kids across America, and soon afterwards, the world. Amazing Fantasy #15 sold gangbusters, Spider-Man was a massive hit, and mere months later, he boasted his own monthly book. Take that, nerd doubters!
Unlike Action Comics #1 and Detective Comics #27, each fable in Amazing Fantasy #15 was written and illustrated by the same creative team: Stan Lee and Steve Ditko.
Spidey's first backup story? The Bell Ringer.
Set on a small island, a volcano is all set to erupt. The story's bell-ringing lead firmly believes in his ding-a-ling-sounding ability-better yet, he's confident it'll nab everybody's attention and scurry them towards safety. Cue volcanic eruption! A mass exodus! And alas, red-hot lava consuming a church... Yep, you guessed it, the Bell Ringer was still tucked up inside. He likely melted worse than that dude in Robocop whose van was flooded by toxic waste. Yet a happy (ish) ending awaits: His spirit drifts towards the heavens, and...well, that's pretty much the end of that.
Chances of this throwaway fable stealing Spider-Man's spotlight? Slimmer than Tara Reid's Old Navy "Skinny" jeans.
Next: The Man in the Mummy Case. Rocco Rank, a devious ne'er-do-well, is on the run. Cops are closing in. He needs a hideout! That nearby museum? Sure. Why not. Rocco leaps through an open window, but once inside, a voice is heard...it's coming from inside a mummy's sarcophagus! Eek!
Luckily, the mummy has minimal respect for the law and offers the crook sanctuary from his pursuers. The bandaged baddie suggests Rocco hides inside his own designated resting place 'til the coast is clear. Cops, however, see through this ruse-the undead are not to be trusted!
They open the sarcophagus...only to find it empty. Where did the fugitive go? Spoiler alert: Ancient Egypt. Poor Rocco is seen pulling square stones across a desert floor, pyramids under construction in the background. Tricked by a mummy! (Who has the ability to send bandits hurtling back through time. And recognizes their potential skill/durability as mercilessly whip-thrashed craftsmen/slaves.)
Was Mr. Rank's bungled heist likely to snatch attention away from the studious Peter Parker? Nope. But at least his embalmed corpse-related antics were less repellent than those starring Brandon Fraser.
Last (and very likely least), There Are Martians Among Us, wherein a bunch of dudes find a crashed spaceship. And yep, there are aliens among 'em. They've got four arms. Spider-Man's long, glorious career, threatened by this 3-pager? Not on your Nelly.
Action Comics #1 (DC Comics, June 1938)
First appearance of Superman. Dawn of the superhero genre. World's most valuable comic book. Action Comics #1 is where it all started, people. The industry's Holy Grail.
Despite swift sell-out of a 200,000-copy print run and the never-before-seen Man of Steel gracing its unforgettable cover, it took time for people to realize Superman's debut was responsible for Action Comics #1's success. Sales skyrocketed, hitting close to 1,000,000 a month. Lucrative licensing deals soon followed. As for Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, the character's creators?
They earned $10 per page in payment, totaling a (not so) whopping $130 for their historic creative contribution. Publisher Jack Liebowitz later noted that Superman's inclusion in Action Comics #1 was pretty much an accident; a tight deadline forced him to pick Joe Shuster's "striking" artwork as a suitable cover.
The book's content? A one-page origin precedes Superman's attempt to save a soon-to-be-executed innocent woman. He then rescues a lady from an abusive husband, before taking out a mobster who's been pestering Lois Lane (also making a debut) since her shunning of his not-so-gentlemanly advances-this leads to the cover's "car-lifting" scene.
The trio of ladies' dilemmas (sort of) rectified, Superman investigates a Senator suspected of corruption.
Correction: Superman leaps between the tallest buildings in Metropolis-the petrified politician stuffed under his arm-and brutally forces a confession. And to think, Donald Trump complains about his "needlessly harsh" opponents.
There's an abundance of Superman-fueled action. But Action Comics #1 isn't done yet.
Lest we forget H. Fleming's Chuck Dawson, a rancher whose father was murdered by, well, ranchers. After reclaiming his dad's land, he finds himself a horse named Blacky.
Comic Vine lists Chuck Dawson's powers as "Attractive male, Marksmanship, and Unarmed Combat." Though dashing looks and being (in general) a badass are not qualities to be sniffed at, they're unlikely to capture a comic book reader's imagination after reading the exploits of a car-lifting, skyscraper-bounding superhero.
But in Dawson's defense, he appears in each of Action Comics' first 22 issues-a significant achievement for a cowboy whose most noteworthy "power" was being a fiendishly handsome bastard.
Pep' Morgan (by Fred Guardineer) tells the tale of a boxer putting his championship belt on the line against Boomerang, a "wild bushman" from (where else?!) Australia.
The names of 1930s comic book characters strike me as rather...on the nose. Dare I say, they pack the same amount of subtlety as a spiked object hurled gracelessly toward one's head.
Anyway. Pep' Morgan. A shyster boxing promoter/manager is behind the farcical title defense, willing to rummage the dregs of non-sportsmanship to boost the Aussie's brawler's shot at victory. Example: He provides Boomerang with a hypodermic needle (!) to sneak inside his glove.
Punching deep, meticulous holes into a noble protagonist's face-I doubt even 1938's impossibly angry Superman would approve of that.
Interestingly, Pep' Morgan's skills weren't restricted to boxing. The All-American athlete was clad with all manner of sporting abilities, showcasing them until December 1940-that's when Action Comics #38 designated him for assignment.
To this day, Pep' Morgan remains an unrestricted free agent.
There is one more notable debut in Action Comics #1. When not chronicling Pep' Morgan's sporting misadventure, Fred Guardineer was busy creating characters like Zatara Master Magician.
He encountered fleeting Golden Age fame, yet was ultimately undone (or more accurately, transcended) by his daughter, Zatanna.
More interesting, charming, captivating, and (above all else) cool, Zatara's reboot-in-the-form-of-a-daughter totally eclipsed her pops in terms of DCU noteworthiness.
But look on the bright side, mate. I hear some nutjob paid over $3 million to get his grubby mitts on your comic book debut!
The Star of the Show? That ain't nothin' but a measly matter of personal opinion.