For three-quarters of a century nothing has lived up to its name as hard as Action Comics #1. And you know that’s true because on Sunday it once again set the record for the highest amount ever paid for a single comic book.
The first appearance of Superman split the atom of the comics world: unleashing untold power, revolutionizing the industry, and leaving after-effects which would last for decades. This definitive superhero could only have changed history more heroically by smashing a single car if it had been a presidential limousine just before it passed a book depository.
Since then it’s been the most mocked, montaged and homaged comic book cover of all time. We’ve found the five funniest versions. Some are funny in appearance, others in their implications, but all were moved to emulate the most amazing car-jack in history.
5. Reaction Comics
Cracked get all Newton on Superman, a hero famous for a somewhat flighty relationship with the laws of physics, giving him an equal and opposite revengeful reaction.
They really turned the tables on this cover. In fact, you might say (energon-visor slides down from upper part of robot helmet) they’ve transformed it.
4. Captain Marvel / Shazam
Just like the original Superman, the original Superman cover displays more bizarre abilities the longer it’s in action. One of the strangest is how it forces honesty from those who copy it, acting like Wonder Woman’s truth-telling lasso.
Something about a rampaging Superman about to hurl a Plymouth Deluxe seems to motivate terrified confessions, even from the artist drawing the car. For example:
This Whiz Comics cover was truly the perfect introduction for Captain Marvel, because it announced that he was a rip-off before anyone had even opened the comic to read him. It’s already pretty ballsy to pretend that changing a violently superstrong lunatic’s color scheme makes them a different character (Mortal Kombat would later use this as their entire design process), but when you rip off the original’s cover too, you might as well have actually ripped the cover off Action Comics #1 and pasted it over your comic. Which would also have avoided the unfortunate urination parallels of a “Whiz” in speeding yellow.
The cover embodies Fawcett’s total lack of thought on multiple levels. Not only has their “hero” quite clearly just killed bunch of people who couldn’t possibly have threatened him, but his body language makes it clear that
- he knew that
- he didn’t even enjoy it.
Call us crazy, but if we’re going to be slaughtered by superpowered gods from beyond the stars, we’d rather they were at least laughing maniacally so that our deaths weren’t wasted.
The second level reveals why Captain Marvel was doomed to second-stringing. Where Action Comics #1 was a greater visual punch than Ant-Man uppercutting you in the eyeball, Whiz’s main cover focus is a bored man swishing to show off his cape. Only on closer examination do you see that, oh yeah, there’s a background of vehicular manslaughter. They knew what the original looked like, but had no understanding of why it worked. Which was Captain Marvel all over. The only thing this comic did right was make things easy for the judge in the resulting copyright case. Which Whiz lost harder than Superman punched Doomsday.
Another hero who revealed his most secret shame when he tried to enter the Cover-Car-lifting Super Olympics
Behold “Scorn,” a devil-horned super-tough totally sweet badass from the rad-to-the-max nineties. Check the bangin” X-tremely sharp and angled “S” logo and title font. Yes, it’s the ’90s, and this was just after Superman got swapped out for an electric blue energy being. It’s like were working through a checklist of all the things they had to ruin to erase Superman altogether. Scorn disappeared shortly afterwards, leaving behind a mysterious note not even characters in his own comics could be bothered to decipher.
So what’s the secret shame, the lesson we learn? Just because you’re copying something cool doesn’t mean anyone will ever give a $#!+ about you.
3. Action Comics #1, New 52
The New 52 Action Comics started off with an image which perfectly summarized the link between old and new …
… in that there wasn’t one. That’s just a smug guy desperately trying to look cool while a large population try to get him to stop. But the variant cover referencing the original Action Comics cover is an even better explanation:
There’s the same basic lifting idea as the original Action Comics #1, but the focus on grit loses any sense of energy. You can’t even clearly see what he’s lifting, and in fact need to know your Superman history to know what it could be a reference too. The red eyes and jeans complete the conversion from “amazing superhero” to “some guy trying to look tough.”
1. Bizarro World
After all these missteps, of course only Bizarro could get it right. The entire Superfamily have tried their hand at car-smashing, but they all felt like they were copying the original but failing to bring any individual spark.
But Bizarro Am Unoriginal Bad!
The cover for a collection of Tales of the Bizarro World, from the adoring bystanders to the square tyres, it embraces everything Bizarro, and it’s very rarely you can describe slamming tons of insane car into Superman’s head as a “finishing touch.” But when you can, it’s beautiful.
Luke McKinney writes about games, drink, science, and everything else that makes life amazing. He’s a columnist on Cracked and writes for several beer magazines. He’s also available for hire. Follow him on Tumblr and Twitter @lukemckinney.
Luke is something of an Action Comics cover expert, having established Man Of Steel Is Crap; THIS Is Superman.