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Origin story – just who was the world’s first superhero?

Origin story – just who was the world’s first superhero?

If you have a head for comics, you’ll know that the sale of a copy of Action Comics #1 has just been announced.

Without a doubt, Action Comics #1 is the most important comic book of all time, as reflected in its price

Without a doubt, Action Comics #1 is the most important comic book of all time, as reflected in its price

The comic is expected to be the first to make over the $3m mark, with another example – owned by the meme-mogul Nicholas Cage – selling for a staggering $2.1m back in 2011.

That’s the world record price for any comic book. So what’s so special about Action Comics #1?

Quite simply, Action Comics #1 is what started it all. Comic books captured the imaginations of the pre-war population, but until Action Comics arrived on the scene, it was all super sleuths and jungle-dwelling ape-men, not the laser-eyed, lycra-clad crime fighters we know today.

Then Superman appeared with his superhuman strength, invulnerability to harm, ability to fly, superspeed and x-ray vision, changing the game forever. He was the archetype for all others to come, the standard by which all others would be tested.

Yet there is an often overlooked hero that also lays claim to being the world’s first superhero. Devoid of any super powers, he instead gave rise to the classic superhero image – skin-tight suit, masked face and muscle bound.

The super camp superhero look is all down to The Phantom

The super camp superhero look is all down to The Phantom

The Phantom, real name Kit Walker, is the 21st in a line of crime fighters that originated in 1536, with his ancestor swore an oath to fight evil after his father was killed by a pirate.

While many believe he is immortal and his nicknames include, “The Ghost Who Walks” and “The Man Who Cannot Die”, The Phantom relies on his strength, intelligence and reputation to kick butt in the fictional African country of Bangalla.

What’s more, he debuted in 1936 as part of a newspaper syndicate, meaning he arrived two full years before Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster came up with Superman.

The Phantom could be considered the start of the "Golden Age" of comic books

The Phantom could be considered the start of the “Golden Age” of comic books

And for those collectors out there fascinated with the history of comic books, The Phantom couldn’t be a better buy. Currently, works from the early days of the Phantom’s long career sell for around $10,000 – a steal compared to Superman and some of the other early stars.

Even better, as The Phantom made his way through the decades, his looks was penned by some of the industry’s top artists, including Carmine Infantino, Steve Ditko and John Romita Sr.

And The Phantom set for his very own big-screen appearance, with the news announced in May 2014. Hopefully, Billy Zane (who starred in the awful 1996 movie effort) will stay well clear of this one.

The current hype surrounding any superhero blockbuster means prices are rising fast in the collecting market, and The Phantom could be a top-seller before long – you heard it here first!


The Comic Book Market: One to Watch

The news that three original comic book covers from the groundbreaking 1980s saga ‘Watchmen’ are coming to Heritage Auctions has set collectors buzzing.


Alan Moore and David Gibbons’ ‘Watchmen’ was a landmark series, a paradoxical examination of the superhero genre. Its publication heralded the dawn of the modern age of comic books and graphic novels, an era from which arose darker, more psychologically complex stories and experiments with narrative form.

Heritage Auctions described: ‘For many, the Watchmen mini-series represented a transcendent work of genius that showed how a comic book narrative could be constructed, as well as a revolutionary take on a post Cold War world that no longer worships superheroes. Watchmen was a turning point in comics history, one of only a handful of stories that shattered the limits of what the medium could achieve’.

Original David Gibbons artwork for this significant saga ranks among the most desired of comic book collectibles, and now, the chance to own several pieces has arisen.

The comic book market has been going strong for a while now, steadily increasing in both reach and respectability.

We reported in our 2012 Auction Review of Comics and the Comic Book Market that ‘following record-breaking successes in 2011, this year saw major auction houses accept comic books and art into the collectibles market, with Sotheby’s holding its first major sale in July.’

The lively market has triggered a reaction: some of the most important pieces are coming out of the woodwork, emerging into the auction spotlight, and becoming available to the public, often after a long seclusion.

This is evidenced by the appearance of these Watchmen covers, as well as sales of the past year, like the numerous original Todd McFarlane cover artworks for Marvel’s The Amazing Spider-Man that came up for auction at Heritage in July and November.

This is an exciting time for comic book collectors. Some significant works of original comic art are being shaken out of hiding, dusted off, and made available, resulting in a kinetic market and engaged collecting community.

By Louise

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