Superman made his debut in Action Comics, which may seem confusing, but the Man of Steel actually once explained the reasoning for the name.
Superman is mostly widely hailed as the first superhero ever to grace the pulp pages of a comic book, but he did not appear in Superman #1. The Man of Steel's debut in Action Comics #1 may seem odd to some fans. However, the Man of Steel explained the real meaning of the famous title during DC's Infinite Crisis.
Action Comics was originally an anthology comic book that debuted in 1938 with Action Comics #1 containing ten stories in almost seventy pages. Superman’s debut and origin was only the first story of the first issue, written and drawn by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster after the pair did work for the company's other anthology series Detective Comics. The publisher was so impressed they chose to make Superman the cover issue, despite the company's owner, Harry Donenfeld, ruling the hero never again grace the cover in such ridiculous art. The sales sent a different message, and as early as the 1950s National Allied Publications had unofficially branded itself as “Superman-DC” until it was officially changed to DC Comics in 1977.
Over the years (and thanks to cost-cutting) Action Comics stopped being an anthology and became exclusively a Superman series, with its title increasingly becoming a relic of the past. That was until Infinite Crisis #7, by Geoff Johns, Phil Jimenez, George Pérez, Ivan Reis, and Joe Bennett, in which Superman gives a new meaning to the famous title. He says that being Superman is “not about where you were born, or what powers you have, or what you wear on your chest, it’s about what you do… it's about action.”
The words carry weight, especially given the moment in which they are delivered, adding to the tragic story of Superboy-Prime on a mission to restart the universe and become its sole Superman. Depowered, surrounded by shattered remnants of Krypton, and fighting under a red sun, the two versions of Kal-El duke it out, literally battling over the title of 'Superman.' At this moment of crisis for the DC multiverse, Kal-El explains what his fallen reflection has missed: it's not about the powers, or the origin, or the symbol, but simply the Action of doing what’s right.
There are plenty of Superman-inspired characters, from The Boys’ Homelander to Invincible's Omni-Man, to a variety of Marvel's and other publishers' heroes with the same powers (and even origins) as DC’s Last Son of Krypton, but they all lack his unbreakble will to act. Much like Superboy-Prime, they miss the point—either purposefully or otherwise—because being a Superman is not about being the biggest or the toughest, and the very comic in which Clark Kent debuted wore that idea on its cover.
The title is about being a good person and doing what is right, and in that moment of rebirth for DC continuity Superman reframes the meaning of Action Comics, not just for Superboy-Prime, but for readers everywhere.
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Last son of a dying world, Adam Brunner is a comic news writer for ScreenRant, and an author of the book series: Friday’s Bar for Supervillains. With a masters degree in comparative literature he is uniquely qualified to argue why comic books are the highest form of literary canon. Brunner works as a writer, designer, and educator in the New York City area, and has an enduring love for Superman, Captain America, and the Oxford Comma. These days he spends his nights working furiously on novels and his days showing his son how to be a good nerd. Check out his books on Amazon, or say Hello to him on Twitter @AdamJBrunner