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"SUPERMAN! Champion of the Oppressed! The physical marvel who had sworn to devote his existence to helping those in need!"

As a distant planet was destroyed by old age, a scientist placed his infant son within a hastily devised space-ship, launching it toward Earth! When the vehicle landed on Earth, a passing motorist, discovering the sleeping babe within, turned the child over to an orphanage. Attendants, unaware the child's physical structure was millions of years advanced of their own, were astounded at his feats of strength. When maturity was reached, he discovered he could easily: Leap 1/8th of a mile; hurdle a twenty-story building... raise tremendous weights... run faster than an express train... and that nothing less than a bursting shell could penetrate his skin! Early, Clark decided he must turn his titanic strength into channels that would benefit mankind. And so was created...
— The opening page of the story

Action Comics #1 is the first issue of DC Comics' (then known as National Comics) iconic Action Comics series, published around June 1938 at the start of The Golden Age of Comic Books, featuring writing by Jerry Siegel and art by Joe Shuster. While it was made as an Anthology Comic featuring multiple different stories and characters, it is notable for featuring the debut story of Superman, one of the world's first superheroes and one of the most iconic fictional characters of all time.

In addition, the magazine contains several other stories, including the Western tale "Chuck Dawson", "Zatara: Master Magician", the two-page text story "South Sea Strategy", a cartoony gag story "Sticky-Mitt Stimson", a comic based on The Adventures of Marco Polo, the boxing story "'Pep' Morgan", "Scoop Scanlon: Five Star Reporter", "Tex Thompson" (another western tale), with two more pages dedicated to caricatures and gag drawings.

An expanded version of Superman's debut story was later told in his self-titled magazine, Superman #1.

Ever since serious comic-book collecting became a thing (around 1970), Action Comics #1 has held the honor of being the Holy Grail of any collector: as of 2022, an original edition issue in good, unrestored shape with a nominal 1938 cover price tag of 10 cents may nowadays set you back well over three million dollars.

Tropes pertaining to Superman, Champion of the Oppressed:

  • And I'm the Queen of Sheba: When Lois relays her story of Superman rescuing her to George Taylor, the editor sarcastically retorts "Are you sure it wasn't Pink Elephants you saw?"
  • Anti-Villain: The governor's butler is a jerk who tries to kill Superman, but he's understandably spooked by Superman's powers and ruthless conduct (namely breaking and entering into his house in the dead of night) in trying to speak to the governor, believing him to be a madman trying to menace his boss. However, he quickly comes around after he realizes Superman is a force for good.
  • Artistic License – Law: Superman forcing the murderess to sign the confession likely wouldn't have stood up in court, especially as the expanded version in Superman #1 shows he threatened her into doing so. This is invoked in Secret Origins #1, where Superman thinks it's good she was so terrified she confessed again to the authorities.
  • Artistic License – Physics: The first page tries to use real-world science to provide a logical explanation for Superman's powers (while also claiming the inhabitants of his world had physical structures that were millions of years ahead of Earth's), likening Superman's strength and leaping ability as being proportionate to those of what an ant or grasshopper could do. Of course, none of that remotely factors in things like evolution or Square-Cube Law physics.
  • Asshole Victim: The domestic abuser Supes has to deal with later in the comic. While he doesn't die, Superman does give him a good walloping, and he faints from fear when his attempt at knifing him goes pear-shaped, getting across to him just how screwed he was.
  • Big Damn Heroes: When Supes gets word of a domestic abuse case going on, he immediately springs to action and comes to the rescue of a housewife, who is still being beaten by her husband at that moment. Superman wastes absolutely no time dealing with him—he flings the jerk so hard against a wall, it cracks!
  • Black-and-White Morality: Even accounting for Supes' more rough conduct here, he's still unambiguously a clear-cut good guy while the crooks he deals with are unquestionably evil.
  • Bound and Gagged: The very two panels of a Superman story show him carrying a bound and gagged woman, who is really the first villain he is shown apprehending, who has murdered someone for which someone else has been blamed.
  • Breakout Character: Superman's story, which Siegel and Shuster had spent years trying to sell to no avail, wound up being used out of desperation for this magazine as a potential filler, with the publisher figuring the cover art alone could catch people's eyes. The entire 200,000-issue run completely sold out shortly after publication. And for the next 13 issues, the cover didn't feature Superman at all—but the comic was still selling like hotcakes because it just so happened that people were buying the new issues just to see if more Superman stories were included! The sheer idea of reading a new Superman story was enough to drive sales of the comics, all on the strong first impression of his debut comic! From #15 and on, they wised up and gave Superman permanent top billing on the covers from then on out, and eventually just dropped the anthology format to make it a standalone Superman book, even though he ended up having his own self-named comic book published and running alongside it! The rest is history.
  • Bullying a Dragon: Even if the abusive husband wasn't aware of the full extent of Superman's super-strength, he really should have known better than to trash talk to the face of a man who had just effortlessly lifted him right up into the air in front of him.
  • Bully Hunter: When the story calls Superman "Champion of the Oppressed", it isn't kidding. For example, the moment Supes gets word of a wife being assaulted by her husband, he immediately springs into action to come to the ladies' rescue, and promptly mops the floor with her husband.
  • Car Fu:
    • Butch and his gang pull this on Lois' car as part of their plan to kidnap her. They unintentionally come close to pulling his on Superman as well, but he hurdles out of the way in time, not that it would have hurt him anyway.
    • Inverted soon afterward, Superman is the one smashing up the crooks' car with his super strength.
  • Cliffhanger: The story concludes with Clark being given the assignment to go to the war-torn San Monte, but first, he goes to Washington, D.C., where he spies a slick lobbyist, Alex Greer, trying to convince Senator Barrows to involve the U.S. in a war with Europe. As Superman, he goes and grabs Greer, and then demands to know who he's working for. Greer refuses to talk, so Superman jumps up to the top of the Capitol building and teases Greer by making a seemingly dangerous leap (that the reader knows they'll survive), with the story cutting off right there. The next issue of Action Comics would follow right up on this story thread.
  • The Cowl: Surprisingly, Superman was this before his evolution into the definitive Cape; a feared urban legend and a vigilante who mercilessly beat thugs, crooks, and wife abusers and cowed corrupt politicians and businessmen. He was also pragmatic and harsh, he caught criminals by surprise and left as soon as he solved the situation.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Superman had something of a wry sense of humor here. When Supes comes across a locked door made of steel blocking his way to the governor, his butler (who had previously seen Supes knock a wooden door off its hinges) sarcastically tells him to knock this door down. Supes does just that, and smugly responds to the stunned butler "It was your idea!"
  • Delaying the Rescue: Superman tells a tied up woman "Make yourself comfortable, I haven't time to attend to it!" and rushes after the villain instead.
  • Dirty Coward: Lois accuses Clark of being one for not standing up to Butch when he cuts in on their date, though the reader is tipped off that Clark was reluctantly holding back to prevent exposing his super abilities in public.
  • Domestic Abuse: Among the criminals, Superman deals with is a husband physically abusing his spouse.
  • Early Installment Character-Design Difference: While Superman certainly isn't unrecognizable in this tale, his costume has a more muted color to it, and his iconic chest symbol hasn't been set in stone yet.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness: While the story certainly establishes many of the series' iconic elements out of the starting gate, there are also some odd elements here that the series would shed over time.
    • For example, Superman, while still undeniably a force for good, is noticeably more ruthless in his conduct here, being perfectly willing to fling a normal human criminal into a wall like a ragdoll. The idea of using his powers to deliver crippling damage to non-superpowered foes, regardless of whether they deserved it or not, is a notion later incarnations of Superman wouldn't even entertain.
    • Superman rarely sticks around after he quickly comes in and takes care of the crime and is generally regarded as a Vigilante Man with a scary urban legend surrounding him. If anything, he functions similarly to the Terror Hero and The Cowl archetypes that most Proto-Superheroes are usually known for during the early-to-mid 1900s. This is in contrast to how Superman would develop into a world-famous Hope Bringer who always makes sure to clean up any messes he or his opponents make as best as he can.
    • Superman can't fly yet, instead literally leaping hundreds of feet through the air to get to places faster instead. Flight came about because the animators of the Superman Theatrical Cartoons found it easier to animate than the jumping, and it was later incorporated into the comics. In fact, aside from his super strength, speed, and durability, none of his other iconic powers (such as Heat/X-Ray vision) are shown or implied in his comic.
    • No member of his Rogues Gallery shows up here. Instead, Superman spends his time dealing with ordinary down-to-earth criminals instead. And because this was made at an extremely early point in the history of superhero comics, there isn't even an indication of other superheroes besides Supes existing in this world, much less a vast and sprawling continuity-heavy multiverse of them that became the norm for comics over the following decades.
    • In Superman's origin, the planet he's from (Krypton) isn't named, and it's claimed that it was "destroyed by old age" (when it's clearly established later on that the planet exploded). Ma and Pa Kent don't even exist as characters yet, with the unnamed motorist who found the infant Superman dropping him off at an orphanage instead, and it's unexplained how Superman got the identity of Clark Kent. The newspaper he works for is called the Daily Star, not the Daily Planet. Also, the editor Clark works under is George Taylor, as Perry White has yet to have been introduced.
    • In contrast with later stories, where Superman is well aware of his origins before beginning his career, Superman does not know he is an alien, or his powers' origins. He has not his iconic Fortress of Solitude, either.
    • Lois Lane is the only supporting character who would become a regular cast member. Prominent secondary characters like Jimmy Olsen, Perry White, Supergirl/Power Girl, Lana Lang, Krypto, Jor-El and Lara, Ma and Pa Kent...have not yet appeared.
    • While Superman is obviously the headlining story of the comic, it's not the only story—in fact, Superman's debut story only takes up the first 13 pages. Action Comics was planned as an anthology magazine after all, and thus several other unrelated comic stories come right after his—11 of them total!
  • Entitled Bastard: Butch, a local crook, tries to cut in on Clark and Lois' date and make a move on the latter because he can, and after Lois coldly rebukes him, he stoops to having his gang kidnap her.
  • Establishing Character Moment: The story proper begins with a series of these; it kicks right off with Superman soaring high through the air while carrying someone bound and gagged, who he leaves nearby as he rushes to a Governor's house, urgently asking his butler to let him in and talk away over a life and death matter. When turned away, Supes responds by effortlessly smashing the door right off its hinges, showing off his super strength for the first time. He then reiterates his strength further by effortlessly lifting the butler over his head. When he finds out the governor's room is sealed with a heavy steel door, he easily tears it loose, to the shock of the butler. Then the Butler tries to shoot him at point-blank range, and Superman doesn't even flinch. But what really makes all of this an ECM for Superman is the reason why he's doing all of this; to get a message to the governor to call off the execution of a woman who was framed for murder before it was too late, with the real murderer being parked right outside.
    • Likewise for Lois Lane during her date with Clark. When a gangster named Butch decides to cut in during their dance and starts getting pushy, Lois slaps the jerk across the face and, not long after, chastises Clark for his supposed cowardice. That firmly establishes her Action Girl tendencies, her "take no crap" attitude, and her dynamic with Clark Kent and his Superman identity. Even earlier on, she implies she wishes to advance in her career as a reporter and stop writing "sob stories", establishing her as an Intrepid Reporter.
  • Establishing Series Moment: The iconic cover art for the magazine serves as one for Superman, spelling out everything you need to know about him in one clear, action-packed image.
  • Excuse Plot: The story of the comic is basically an episodic string of events that end on a cliffhanger. The real reason for it is to introduce the world to Superman and work as a basic setup for Superman to go around fighting crime and showing off his incredible powers to the reader.
  • Experienced Protagonist: It's implied that Superman has already had some experience with superhero antics before the story of this comic, though not to the extent of him being a household name yet.
  • Faint in Shock: When the abusive husband tries to stab Superman with a knife, he's so horrified upon seeing the knife shatter upon contact with his skin that he faints on the spot.
  • The Future Will Be Better: Superman's powers have nothing to do with a yellow sun; it's because he's from a race millions of years in advance of our own, who apparently have these abilities naturally.
  • Gilligan Cut: A surprisingly early example can be found in this story. After Superman rescues Lois from Butch, he advises her "not to print this little episode." The next panel immediately cuts to George Taylor's office the next morning, with Lois blabbering off about what happened last night, to her boss' disbelief.
  • Hired to Hunt Yourself: When Taylor becomes convinced there's something to all these "Superman" stories, he assigns Clark Kent to investigate them.
    George Taylor: Reports have been streaming in that a fellow with gigantic strength named Superman actually exists. I'm making it your steady assignment to cover these reports. Think you can handle it, Kent?
    Clark: Listen, Chief, if I can't find out anything about this Superman, no one can!
  • In Medias Res: The story starts with Superman transporting the murderess Bea Carroll to the governor's mansion. Superman #1 would later show how he captured her, and how Clark Kent got a job at the Daily Star.
  • In a Single Bound: Superman's super-strong legs enable to him to leap 1/8th of a mile and, as the narration states, can help him leap over a twenty-story building.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: Every crime or misdeed committed in the story swiftly leads to Superman putting a stop to it.
  • Oh, Crap!: When Butch and his crooks see that Superman is able to keep up with their car on foot even when it's going full throttle, they're clearly terrified, with Butch himself screaming "IT'S THE DEVIL HIMSELF!"
  • Orphanage of Love: The orphanage that Superman grew up in has got to be this in order for him to become the "Champion of the Oppressed". This is later retconned in Superman #1 as he was actually raised by the Kents instead, as the orphanage actually didn't know what to do with a child with Super-Strength and gladly gave him up for adoption by his eventual foster parents.
  • Origins Episode: The first page of the comic quickly establishes the basics of Superman's origin, such as his being sent to Earth as a baby in a small rocket from his dying home planet, growing up, and figuring out how to use his incredible powers before deciding to use them for good.
  • Pre-Asskicking One-Liner: Superman gives one to the abusive husband before he flings him into a wall:
    Abuser: (while being held by Superman) Don't get tough!
    Superman: Tough is putting mildly the treatment you're going to get! You're not fighting a woman, now! (flings him at the wall so hard that it cracks)
  • Random Events Plot: The comic has a rather episodic structure, basically showing Superman dealing with several different crooks, and the story ends on a cliffhanger.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Lois angrily leaves Clark behind after their disastrous date and encounter with Butch, but not before telling him that the main reason she had always avoided him until then was that he was "a spineless, unbearable coward!"
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: While the governor is understandably annoyed by Superman breaking into his house, he's willing to call off the execution when presented with proof that the supposed murderer was actually innocent.
  • Rescue Romance: When Butch and his gang kidnap Lois in retaliation for humiliating him at the club, Superman gets involved and saves her, leading to the iconic car-smashing scene. Later on, Superman carries Lois and leaps her away, setting the stage for their relationship for the next 80 years.
    Superman: (to a fearful Lois) You needn't be afraid of me. I won't harm you.
  • Secret Identity: The dual identity of Superman and Clark Kent is established in this story. As Clark Kent, he feigns being a cowardly weakling when a thug named Butch tries to make a move on Lois in order to protect his superhero identity.
  • Shooting Superman: In the Ur-Example for the series, the butler Superman encounters early on tries to do this out of fear, but to his shock, the bullet doesn't even make him flinch, much less harm him. The abusive husband also tries to stab Superman with a knife, but the blade simply shatters upon contact with his skin, prompting the guy to faint out of fear. To be fair, this was before Superman became a household name in-universe, so it's understandable that they wouldn't know he couldn't be hurt by their weapons.
  • Shown Their Work: While the science used to explain Superman's abilities is total bupkis, the story does get one scientific fact right; when Superman is carrying Greer across telephone lines, Greer panics that they'll be electrocuted, but Supes candidly explains to him that they won't, pointing out that touching the lines on their own won't harm you; it's only if you're simultaneously touching the lines and a grounded conductor (i.e. the telephone pole itself) that it becomes a hazard.
  • Smug Super: Not his usual attitude but after ripping the steel door off, Superman gives a playful smirk toward the butler, telling him, "It was YOUR idea."
  • Super-Speed: Superman's impressive speed is established in the opening, showing that he's capable of outrunning a locomotive.
  • Super-Strength: If the iconic cover art and 80+ years of comics haven't tipped you off already, Superman is incredibly strong, being able to do feats like ripping a heavy steel door off its hinges, lifting a car over his head and smashing it, and flinging abusive husbands around in their house.
  • Super-Toughness: Superman's incredible durability is established out of the starting gate as well, with the story claiming "that nothing less than a bursting shell could penetrate his skin!" A gunshot at point-blank range doesn't even scratch him or make him flinch, and trying to stab him with the knife just makes the blade break.
  • Troll: Supes gets a kick out of scaring the bejeezus out of criminals, such as teasing Greer by "near missing" a telephone after explaining how touching it while running on landlines could electrocute them both.
  • Unbuilt Trope: As with other Golden Age Superman comics, this story has surprisingly more in common with modern Superman than his iconic Silver Age counterparts, in that Superman is portrayed more as a defender of the common man than the super-powered lawman he later evolved into, and the story has political and social themes weaved into it that are also more associated with modern Superman than the classic stories. The idea that maintaining a secret identity can cause trouble for the heroes' personal life is also introduced with Lois having a bad falling out with Clark for not defending her from Butch (which he couldn't risk doing without risking the exposure of his abilities).
  • Wife-Basher Basher: Seriously, it is never smart to abuse your spouse when Superman is around.
  • Working-Class Hero: The story also establishes that when he's not fighting crime as Superman, he's working under the humble position of a newspaper reporter under the name of Clark Kent.

And so begins the startling adventures of the most sensational strip character of all time: SUPERMAN! A physical marvel, a mental wonder, Superman is destined to reshape the destiny of a world! Only in Action Comics can you thrill at the daring deeds of this superb creation! DON'T MISS AN ISSUE!