The 25 Most Awesome ‘Action Comics’ Covers of All Time
This week, DC is releasing Action Comics #900, a milestone issue for the comic that not only introduced the world to the Man of Steel, but kicked off the age of the super-hero way back in 1938. That’s why today, we’re celebrating along with Superman with a look back at a legacy that runs through the entire history of modern comics by going through every single issue and coming back with a look at the 25 Greatest Action Comics covers of all time!
The cover that kicked off the Golden Age isn’t just one of the best Superman covers of all time, it’s one of the best comic book covers, period. Joe Shuster’s iconic image of the hero he created brings an incredible sense of motion and… well, action to its subject: The car breaking apart as Superman smashes it,the lone wheel bouncing away from the force of it, and even that awesome dude in the lower left who is flipping out almost as hard as anyone who saw this one on the stands did. It’s unquestionably the most iconic image in comics for a good reason. The only thing I can think of that’s even in its league is Jack Kirby’s cover for Captain America Comics #1, and, well, that one has a man punching Hitler right in the face. That’s hard to beat.
Speaking of bad guys taking one right on the chin, Jack Burnley’s work on this one is just hilariously great. The giant cash register and the explosive lines around Superman’s fist and the crook’s jaw, give it a great impact, as well as a setup that’s so creatively cartoonish that you can almost hear the Looney Tunes “cha-CHING!” sound effect as the villain gets laid out. It’s one of the first great examples of Superman getting creative with his powers rather than just slugging it out with fists of steel.
Back in the Golden Age, Superman loved putting the fear into criminals almost as much as contemporaries like Batman — who mailed crooks a dead bat in a box a couple of times just to let them know he was onto them. Another Jack Burnley classic, I love how this one shows that Superman didn’t just interrupt a couple of safe-crackers, but hoisted them above the skyscrapers so fast that their tools are just now beginning to fall back down, and how the crook on the left is reacting like it’s the most terrifying thing that has ever happened, which, let’s be honest, it totally would be.
That guy on the right, though? Even though he’s scared, he still kind of looks like he’s trying to bust that safe open. Now that’s a professional.
Personally, I like to imagine that Superman’s unconquerable super-powers and tendency to scare the living bejeezus out of anyone who stepped out of line allowed him to completely eradicate crime in the DC Universe by the mid-40s, which freed up his schedule and allowed him to pursue new hobbies. Such is the case with this one, by Wayne Boring and Stan Kaye, where Superman takes up roller-skating.
First of all, Superman on rollerskates? Hilarious. Second, I love Superman’s reaction to Archie and Jughead there. That is a face that says “Wait, are you messing with me? Do you know who I am? GO GET TEN MORE BARRELS KID, YOU’RE ABOUT TO LEARN SOMETHING.”
Another great cover by Jack Burnley, who was clearly thirst for Kool-Aid. The combination of Superman’s ludicrous high-stepping and the cartoony exact-shape-of-Superman hole in the wall with the grim frown and the absolute terror on the face of a robber who knows he’s about to get socked so hard they’ll be picking his teeth out of drywall for a week.
Golden Age Superman: Both terrifying and hilarious.
Al Plastino’s cover for this one isn’t just a great example of the shift in styles in the ’50s that led to covers that asked why things were happening rather than just showing Superman accomplishing amazing feats, it’s also strangely prescient. The idea of a Superman who had to walk rather than fly because he’d been “Grounded” was one that showed up just last year in J. Michael Straczynski and Chris Roberson’s arc on Superman.
Of course, the actual stories don’t have much in common — In addition to completely omitting the ludicrously gigantic ball and chain, Roberosn has yet to include Superman suplexing a rollercoaster — and besides, it’s not like there were any other stories from the that same year that predicted recent storylines.
Oh. Well then.
Just in case you were wondering how Wayne Boring and Stan Kaye defined “evil” back in the mid-50s, here you go: You start with your standard red dress and high heels, then add tiger-print neckerchief and World Heavyweight Championship belt, crop that hair down to a buzz, add in a completely unnecessary eyepatch, and cap it all off with a cowboy’s six-shooter. Boom: Ace reporter Lois Lane is now Tiger Woman.
Forget “New Krypton” and “Grounded.” That is the story that should’ve come back!
I’m going to go ahead and guess that reading this issue was the single most disappointing event of 1957 for a lot of teenage boys.
This cover by long-time Superman artist Curt Swan — for many, the Man of Steel’s definitive penciller — introduced one of the most enduring elements in the Superman mythos. Before it was the Fortress of Solitude, though, “Fort Superman” was another incredible example of how much time the guy had to kill after bashing down walls and putting an end to crooks: a gigantic golden door and a key that — in its original form — looks an awful lot like a truly colossal bottle opener.
What can I say? When Superman kicks back with a cold one, he does it up large.
The best covers are the ones that tell a story beyond just what’s on the page, and this one — one of the most perfect examples of the kookiness of the Silver Age, by Swan and Kaye — does exactly that. Not only is superman rocking a lion’s head and paws, but Swan manages to make him look really sad about it, as he soliloquizes about how Lois will have to accept his new, monstrous form.
Lois, meanwhile, looks like she wants nothing more than to get the hell out of there until Superman’s back to his handsome, mane-less state. That is not the posture of a woman who wants to act out Beauty and the Beast. That is a woman wondering if she can afford to move to another state and legally change her name.
Considering how iconic it’s become, it’s often easy to overlook just how good the first apperance of Supergirl by Swan and Plastino actually is. Superman’s slack-jawed shock, Supergirl’s friendly but challenging smirk, and even the twisted curls of the rocket’s impact combine to make a cover that’s actually great even beyond just being a major turning point for the franchise.
Of course, an even better Supergirl cover would come around later that year, when we all learned that while he might be friendly and kind when it comes to protecting the Earth, if you disappoint Superman he will put you in a plastic bullet and straight up throw you to another planet. The dude does not play around.
As some of you may have heard, the mid-60s DC Comics were known to go just a little bit over the top with their stories. For example, this one, in which Superman doesn’t just meet Goliath or Hercules, but rather travels to another dimension to meet Goliath-Hercules, who, judging by his vaguely confederate-looking loincloth, may also be one of that universe’s Duke Boys.
Also I love how Superman himself thinks the weirdest thing about this situation is that Hercules looks like Goliath, and that he also totally knows exactly what Goliath looks like, having presumably flown back to Bible times when he got bored with learning to do rollerskate barrel jumps.
There is nothing I can add to this one that would even come close to describing what is unquestionably the most amazing hat in comics history. Bless you, Curt Swan and Shelly Moldoff.
You know, you saw a lot of things in Superman comics in the ’60s — ant heads, lion heads, bizarros, werewolf Olsens, and so on — but rarely did you see Superman get so mad that he cold flipped out and started swinging around a sword while yelling that he’s going to duel someone to the death. Say what you want about DC’s art being relatively stiff and unexciting compared to what Kirby & Co. were doing at Marvel in the ’60s — which for the most part is true — but that is a cover that makes me want to know what’s got that guy mad enough that the cops are holding people back so that he doesn’t accidentally decapitate somebody.
Spoiler Warning: It’s a robot. It’s always a robot.
Oh man. This one is almost too awesome. Not only do we have Hobo Superman eating beans at his Private Shack on the right, but on the left, he’s rocking a top-hat and diamond-tipped cane while clocking some jabroni right in the mouth — and his Rolls Royce has his own logo on it.
Even though it came out a full nine years before Dolemite, that left-hand panel should never not be accompanied by Rudy Ray Moore talking about how if you crave satisfaction, dig Superman in Action — guaranteed to put your ass in traction!
Who could ever forget the time that Neal Adams revealed how Superman shocked the world by joining the nWo and taking out Goldberg with the dreaded one-handed Walls of Jericho/Curb Stomp combo he called “Gold K?” Fa-fa-fa-fa life!
I’ve already mentioned how insanely over-the-top these covers often were, but the legendary team of Curt Swan and Murphy Anderson once again go all out with this one. Not only is it Superman as a ghost, but Superman as a headless ghost toting his own noggin around like a football, and also the ghost is haunting Superman himself. In England. All that, and they still had room for two other super-heroes in this book. The mind boggles.
Nick Cardy’s version of Superman getting a tooth pulled is just flat-out fantastic. The body language and Superman’s face twisting in pain as the world’s most muscular dentist tries to pry a tooth out of his head are pure comedy gold.
I’d go so far as to say that a full-size print of this shouldbe hanging in every dentist’s office in the country, but, well, “our procedures are so painful that even Superman can barely stand them” is probably not the message you want to send to a kid who needs a molar pulled.
Another one from Cardy that just cracks me right up every time I see it. Flash going for a handshake and getting punched across the street by an extremely casual Superman just seems like an awesomely jerky reminder that he didn’t really need to hang out with the rest of the Justice League, and how next time, maybe you shouldn’t run your mouth about how the Central City Picture News is better than the Daily Planet.
Terra Man — drawn here by the truly amazing Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez — is one of Superman’s most divisive foes. Some readers hate him for being the ultimate in silliness, a cowboy abducted by aliens who was sent back to earth after a hundred years with laser guns and decided to fight the most powerful being in the universe, but for others, that’s entirely why they love him.
There’s one thing we can gree on though: Boy howdy, is that ever a lot of subtext for one comic book cover.
He has a zoo at the North Pole full of animals you’ve never heard of. His chief romantic rival… is himself. He can fly under his own power… through time. He’s Superman — the Most Powerful Man in the World
“I don’t always fly in a rocketship, but when I do, I prefer a rocketship that has giant metal fists so that it can punch my enemies right in the face. Stay super, my friends.”
Up until now, I’ve only been focusing on Action Comics covers that actually featured Superman, but Alan Davis’s graceful, brutal image of Black Canary taking on three thugs — and backhanding one so hard that his feet leave the ground — is truly amazing. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that it has a good shot at being the single best cover of the Action Comics Weekly era, and considering that was a time that featured Mike Mignola drawing Green Lantern and the first and only Action cover by the legendary Jack Kirby — featuring the Demon — that’s saying something.
Gary Frank has been one of the best Superman artists in recent years thanks to an incredible talent and a knack for both exciting action and expressive character work, but his best Action Comics cover was the source of a small amount of controversy a few years ago. Despite originally being solicited with the image above, the issue that came out replaced the hand-drawn labels on the bottles with blanked out labels with “SODA POP“ Photoshopped on them in huge letters — which seems pretty unneccessary even if you don’t want Superman drinking alcohol, as a close look at Frank’s original label looks a lot like it says root beer, rather than the hard stuff.
Even so, it’s a great cover, and the image of Superman sharing a nice moment with his dad, blending the line between Clark Kent’s glasses and Superman’s costume while Lois and Ma Kent — and Brainiac — look on is an incredible humanizing image, and ranks as one of the best in a long, long while.
So there you go, ComicsAlliance fans: Our picks for the top 2.7% of Action Comics covers! But we’ve been on the Internet long enough to know that not everyone shares our opinions, so what’s your favorite? Let us know which ones you like and why in the comments!