Seventy-seven years ago today, Action Comics #1 introduced the world to Superman, the character who all but defined the superhero genre and launched comic books headlong into their Golden Age of the late 1930s to early 1950s.
This is a special day for me. I’m a comic collector, and Supes is my favorite character. I got started with Superman comics in middle school, back when all three (and later four) Superman titles–Superman, Adventures of Superman, Action Comics, and later Superman: The Man of Steel–retailed for a mere 75 cents, and you could buy them at the local grocery store. Guys like John Byrne, Dan Jurgens, Gerry Ordway, and above all Roger Stern defined a treasured portion of my youth.
(Incidentally, Stern is the cocreator of my favorite series of all time, a version of Starman that debuted in 1988 and ran for less than four years. The first 25 issues of that series are a textbook for how an all-ages comic title should be written and drawn. Stern is now a novelist, writing all-ages fiction for the Superman and Smallville franchises, among others.)
Today, I collect only one Superman title (Adventures) based largely on the talent of the writer (Greg Rucka) rather than the character. Comics have fallen hard since the speculator bubble burst in the early 1990s. Today, my one monthly Superman book costs more ($2.50) than all three of the regular Superman titles did in my youth (3 for $2.25), and I have to venture to a specialty shop to find it. Yes, the writing is stronger, the paper is nicer, and the art is far more elaborate, but I wonder about the next group of middle schoolers looking for a quick, colorful, disposable fantasy to capture their imaginations. Superman (nor Spider-man, nor Batman, nor Green Lantern, nor The Hulk) won’t be waiting for them at the grocery, and if they find him, he’ll cost as much as a gourmet coffee, rather than the price of a king size candy bar. I can’t help but think of that as opportunity lost.
But hey, he’s Superman, he’ll survive. He’s been through 77 years of ups and down, I’m sure he’ll persevere.