We all agree (hopefully) that the Golden Age of Comics began with Action Comics #1 (Ju'38) with Superman on the cover. And we all know that Superman didn't reappear on the cover until #7 (D'38). When I was researching one of those darn Twenty Questions, I was amazed to learn that in the same month, Detective Comics #22 featured the Crimson Avenger, a costumed hero albeit a non-powered one.

When Action Comics #12 (Jl'39) with its cover highlighting both Superman and Zatara, Detective Comics #27, of course, had the debut of Batman!

But it took Superman a few more months to be on every cover of Action Comics even with Superman #1 coming out in 1939. Nor was Batman on every cover of Detective during his first year! His second cover was in Detective #29 (Jl'39), the same time as the Sandman's debut in Adventure Comics #40.

By September 1939, Superman, Batman and Sandman were cover featured though the Sandman was not consistently promoted. All American Comics featured its early "superhero" with Gary Concord, Ultra-Man and in January 1940, Flash Comics arrived though it took several months until the Flash and Hawkman were the rotating cover stars.

The Spectre gave More Fun Comics a regular cover feature though he would share it with Doctor Fate and the Sandman got pushed off by Hourman in Adventure #48. When Green Lantern debuted in All American Comics #16 (Jl'40), all the books had super-heroes on their covers regularly, some two years after Action Comics #1.

So while the Golden Age began in 1938, it didn't fully thrive until 1940.This early expansion would culminate with All Star Comics #3 at the end of 1940.

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Eastern Color's Famous Funnies wasn't the first US comic, but it was the title that got the US industry going. It started in 1934.

The next player to enter the industry was Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson. His first title, New Fun, started in early 1935. New Fun was a tabloid. Famous Funnies used a half-tabloid size.

In late 1935 Wheeler-Nicholson started his second title, New Comics, as a half-tabloid. The other title was renamed More Fun. It went down to the half-tabloid size and became More Fun Comics in the new year. Siegel's and Shuster's first work appeared in the last tabloid issue, New Fun #6.

In early 1936 new publishers entered the industry. Dell,(1) David McCay and United Features imitated Famous Funnies and published newspaper strip reprints. Comics Magazine Company published original comics. It was formed by two men who had briefly worked for Wheeler-Nicholson, and its first title, The Comics Magazine, initially used a number of the same creators and some of the same features. Henle Publications published Wow - What a Magazine! for four issues. This mixed original contents and reprints, and Eisner and Iger met through the title.

Sheldon Mayer's "Scribby" first appeared in Dell's Popular Comics #6 (1936).

The first US comic book superhero might be the Clock, created by George Brenner. He first appeared in Comic Magazine Company's Funny Picture Stories #1 (1936), and appeared in other CMC titles.

The first genre title was CMC's Detective Picture Stories (1936). I think it was the model for Detective Comics.

David McKay published the first one-feature titles of the post-1934 wave,(2) in the form of one-shots featuring popular strips. Its first ones appeared in early 1937.(3) 

Somewhere along the way Harry Chesler founded the first comics shop. He commenced publishing comics himself at the start of 1937. The titles were quickly were bought by Ultem, which also acquired Comic Magazine Company's and had Chelser produce its line. The other new publisher of 1937 was Quality, which began as a newspaper strip reprinter, but mixed new material with the reprints in its title, Feature Funnies.

Detective Comics, Inc. was formed to publish Detective Comics, and the title started in early 1937. Shortly after the DC stable gave its three titles a uniform trade dress, based on the trade dress of More Fun Comics. New Comics had become New Adventure Comics on its covers at the end of 1936, and when the new cover style was adopted its indicia title changed too. The covers of Detective Comics and New Adventure Comics were now drawn by Creig Flessel.

DC's first superhero might be Nadir, Master of Magic, who was an Indian prince with knowledge of "the many long-forgotten secrets of the far East". He first appeared in New Adventure Comics #17 (1937). Possibly the feature was modelled after Chandu the Magician, although the original radio series had ended.

Eisner and Iger produced original material for the Editors Press Service comic Wags from 1937. This appeared in Australia and Britain.

Brenner took "The Clock" to Quality. It appeared in Feature Funnies from #3 (1937). The feature also appeared in this period in Wags. Whether the Wags stories were distinct ones I don't know.

Around the start of 1938 Ultem was bought out by Centaur.

In early 1938 Wheeler-Nicholson was forced out of Detective Comics, Inc. His other titles were acquired by his former associates.

When Action Comics #1 appeared the publishers active in the industry were Eastern Color, DC, Dell, David McKay, United Features, Quality, and Centaur. The only publishers specialising in original content were DC and Centaur. Centaur's new content was mixed with reprints from the titles it had acquired.

Zatara debuted with Superman in Action Comics #1. He was nakedly modelled after Mandrake, and initially had a big assistant named Tong, paralleling Lothar.(4) He didn't have a Mandrake-like moustache at first, but he quickly acquired one. The Tigress, who he fought in #1, was one of the first recurring villains.

Fiction House began publishing Jumbo Comics shortly after Action Comics started. It was initially a tabloid title: hence the name. Most of the contents were from Wags. Several of the Wags features continued after the Wags material was used up, and had long runs in the title. The title's hit feature, "Sheena", was one of those, so its heroine predates Superman. Whether she appeared in her leopard skin costume in Wags I don't know: it was introduced in Jumbo Comics when the title made the transition to the half-tabloid size.

"The Arrow" debuted in Centaur's Funny Pages v.2 #10 the same month Jumbo Comics started.

"The Crimson Avenger" started in Detective Comics #20 two months later. He initially used a gas gun, like the Green Hornet, but he he also used handguns like the Spider and the Shadow. His original look resembled the cover-version of the Spider.

The next month "The Phantom Rider" started in Centaur's Star Comics #16. This was a masked Western hero feature. Masked Western heroes were common into the Silver Age. The type goes back to the Lone Ranger.

Superman didn't regularly appear on the Action Comics covers until #19. But it wasn't that the other features were being featured instead: only "Zatara" was, on #12 and #14. Instead, the non-Superman covers were mostly generic images by Leo O'Mealia (#2-#6) and Fred Guardineer (the others, including the Zatara ones: he was the feature's creator).(5) The approach was of a piece with what the company was doing on Detective Comics and New Adventure Comics.(6)

(1) Dell had previously published an original comic called The Funnies in 1929-30 and the try-out one-shot Famous Funnies Series 1.

(2) The single-feature-per-issue approach had earlier been tried by Embee Distributing Co.'s strip reprint title The Comic Monthly in 1922. Three one-shots with original content had appeared in 1933. The GCD lists their publisher as Humor Publishing Co.

(3) After the first couple (Dick Tracy the Detective and Popeye and the Jeep) it published a one-shot series, Feature Book. Feature Book #16 (1938) had an original book-length Redmen story by Jimmy Thompson.

(4) Mandrake had actual magic powers in the 1930s. Zatara's use of backwards spells was original to him.

(5) The GCD also credits Guardineer with the Superman cover of #15. I could believe he drew the train on #13's too. 

(6) New Adventure Comics switched to using action images at the start of 1938. More Fun Comics mostly continued to use playful ones until early 1939. #30's cover was an exception.

To my knowledge, the next new publishers were All-American and Fox. They both started publishing in Mar. 1939.

Fox's first title was Wonder Comics. The lead feature was "Wonder Man", an imitation of "Superman". DC brought suit quickly, so the feature didn't appear again. Wikipedia notes the first Fox issues were produced by Eisner and Iger, but Victor Fox quickly broke with them and brought the production of his line in-house.

AA's were All-American Comics and Movie Comics. The latter was primarily a fumetti title. The former had a strip by Jerry Siegel ("Red, White and Blue"), but, initially, no superhero feature.

At this point DC's only superhero features other than "Superman" were "Zatara" in Action Comics and "The Crimson Avenger" in Detective Comics.(1)

The Clock was appearing in Quality's Feature Funnies, and the Arrow and the Phantom Rider in their Centaur titles.

(1) There are a couple of marginal cases. "Cosmo, the Phantom of Disguise" was a long-running series in Detective Comics. The hero was a detective who was a master of disguise. I figure that makes him a parallel to the Human Target rather than a superhero. "Rex Darrell"/"The Flying Fox" from More Fun Comics was about an aviator who wore headgear with fox ears.

Apr. 1939 saw the debut of Batman in Detective Comics #27. According to Mike's Amazing World it was also the month New York World's Fair Comics #1 was released. If that's right that was the Sandman's very first appearance.

Batman's chest symbol and exterior trunks indicate his skin-tight-costume-and-cape look was modelled after Superman's. Superman's costume may have been partly modelled after the Phantom's: he likewise wore exterior trunks, and his belt had a triangle device with a symbol.

The Sandman used a gas gun, like the Crimson Avenger. They both wore suits with capes, like the Shadow and the cover-version of the Spider.

The lead feature in Fox's Wonder Comics #2 was "Yarko the Great", about a turbaned magician. The GCD describes the story as "Partly adapted from a Mr. Mystic story in THE SPIRIT SECTION", but actually the sections didn't start until the next year.

The first issue of Superman appeared in May 1939. It was mostly a reprint issue, but it restored the opening sequences cut from Action Comics #1 and had a new version of the origin. It was the first regular star feature title.

The same month Centaur's Keen Detective Funnies v.2 #7 introduced "The Masked Marvel".

Fox's Wonder Comics was retitled Wonderworld Comics with #3. The issue introduced a new lead feature, "The Flame". "Yarko" continued behind it.

In Jun. 1939 the Sandman's feature started in Adventure Comics.

Quality started its second title, Smash Comics. This one had an all-new line-up.  The cover-feature, placed last, was "Hugh Hazzard and his Iron Man". Another feature was "Hooded Justice", about a robed vigilante called the Invisible Hood.

Centaur's Amazing Mystery Funnies v.2 #7 introduced "The Fantom of the Fair".

Fox started its second title, Mystery Men Comics. This had three superhero features: "The Green Mask", "The Blue Beetle", and "Zanzibar the Magician". The Green Mask was cover-featured.

The version of the Blue Beetle in the issue was evidently modelled on the Green Hornet. He pretended to be a criminal, and wore a suit and hat, a goggles-like mask, and shirt with a beetle device on the chest.

After this month's Detective Comics #29 the Crimson Avenger's feature went on hiatus. It returned in #37. (The GCD interprets #34's cover as a Crimson Avenger cover, and says this was verified by Creig Flessel. But it doesn't look like him and he wasn't in the title at that point, so I disbelieve it.)

Jul. 1939 saw the debut of "Speed Centaur" in Centaur's Amazing Mystery Funnies v.2 #8.

In Quality's Smash Comics #2 the Invisible Hood's feature was renamed "Invisible Justice". His outfit was treated with a chemical that turned it into an invisibility robe. (Hat-tip: Wikipedia.)

Fox's Mystery Men Comics #2 introduced the Blue Beetle's chainmail outfit. The domino mask was only added in #3. I've long believed his look was based on the Phantom's, but since the maskless chainmail came first, that doesn't seem to be the case.

As I said, when Flash Comics debuted in January 1940, the Flash was on the cover of #1 and Hawkman on #2. Then it was Cliff Cornwall, Special Agent on #3, the Whip on #4 and the King on #5. With #6, the Flash and Hawkman started alternating covers. Surprisingly Johnny Thunder who replaced the Flash in the Justice Society and outlasted the three heroes who did, never got his own cover.

Here's a quick and dirty list of DC/All-American superhero (ish) first appearances (and some villains). I didn't add Quality and Fawcett characters, which DC now owns, which may be an artificial distinction. I will leave to the group to determine. Feel free to add, y'all.

1935

Dr. Occult (October, New Fun Comics #6)

 

1937

Nadir, Master of Magic (July, New Adventure Comics #17)

 

1938

Superman (June, Action Comics #1)

Zatara (June, Action Comics #1)

Americommando (June, Action Comics #1)

Crimson Avenger (October, Detective Comics #20)

 

1939

Batman (May, Detective Comics #27)

Ultra-Humanite (June, Action Comics #13)

Sandman (July, Adventure Comics #40/World’s Fair Comics #1)

Ultra-Man (November, All-American Comics #8)

 

1940

Hugo Strange (January, Detective Comics #36)

Flash (January, Flash Comics #1)

Hawkman (January, Flash Comics #1)

Johnny Thunder (January, Flash Comics #1)

The Whip (January, Flash Comics #1)

Hawkman (January, Flash Comics #1)

The Spectre (February, More Fun Comics #52)

Hourman (March, Adventure Comics #48)

The Joker (Spring, Batman #1)

Catwoman (Spring, Batman #1)

Lex Luthor (May, Action Comics #23)

Dr. Fate (May, More Fun Comics #55)

Robin (May, Detective Comics #38)

Clayface (June, Detective Comics #40)

Congo Bill (June, More Fun Comics #56)

Green Lantern (July, All-American Comics #16)

The Atom (October, All-American Comics #19)

 

1941

Starman (April, Adventure Comics #61)

Sargon the Sorcerer (May, All-American Comics #26)

Hawkgirl (July, All-Star Comics #5)

Star-Spangled Kid & Stripesy (September, Action Comics #40)

Shining Knight (September, Adventure Comics #66)

Scarecrow (September, World’s Finest Comics #3)

Aquaman (November, More Fun Comics #73)

Green Arrow (November, More Fun Comics #73)

Vigilante (November, Action Comics #42)

Wonder Woman (December, All Star Comics #8)

The Penguin (December, Detective Comics #58)

 

1942

Wildcat (January, Sensation Comics #1)

Dr. Mid-Nite (April, All-American Comics #25)

Two-Face (August, Detective Comics #66)

The Shade (September, Flash Comics #33)

1943

Brainwave (February, All Star #15)

Toyman (September, Action Comics #64)

Cheetah (September, Wonder Woman #6)

Thinker (October, All-Flash #12)

Vandal Savage (December, Green Lantern #10)

 

1944

Giganta (June, Wonder Woman #9)

Mr. Mxyzptlk (September, Superman #30)

Solomon Grundy (October, All-American Comics #61)

 

1945

Black Adam (December, The Marvel Family #1)

1947

Wizard (April, All Star Comics #34)

Black Canary (August, Flash Comics #86)

Gentleman Ghost (October, Flash Comics #88)

 

1948

The Riddler (October, Detective Comics #140)

Sensation Comics #1 also had the first appearances of Mister Terrific and Little Boy Blue & the Blue Boys.

Technically it was Tex Thompson who debuted in Action Comics #1 as a non-costumed adventurer. He became Mister America in Action # 33 (F'41) with Bob Daley becoming Fatman. Tex then was redubbed the Americommando in Action #52 (S'42).

Also there was a weird cyclops called the Goombah (I think) who fought Tex in those early Actions. He was dropped because he voted the second most popular character in the book after Superman!

I was a bit shocked when I saw that the cover of All American Comics #19 (O'40) mentioned the Atom. As far as I can tell, this was the only time that happened but it put him one up on Doctor Mid-Nite who was never mentioned!

Green Lantern, of course, was the only cover feature after his debut, usually with his pal, Doiby Dickles with him. Sometimes there would be a blurb for Hop Harrigan or Red, White & Blue!

Philip Portelli said:

Also there was a weird cyclops... who fought Tex in those early Actions. He was dropped because he voted the second most popular character in the book after Superman!

The Gorrah. He was a Fu Manchu-style supervillain.

Tex and Bob were sometimes assisted in that period by a mystery woman they knew as Miss X.

I figured you would know, Luke!

Here's the charmer from Action Comics #28!



Luke Blanchard said:

Philip Portelli said:

Also there was a weird cyclops... who fought Tex in those early Actions. He was dropped because he voted the second most popular character in the book after Superman!

The Gorrah. He was a Fu Manchu-style supervillain.

Tex and Bob were sometimes assisted in that period by a mystery woman they knew as Miss X.

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