Superman #1 Modern Printings
During some research through some late 80s Superman books I stumbled across an advertisement for the Superman Archives hardcover. One thing that stood out for me was the note that the issues were “Completely recolored”.
In hindsight it’s obvious that an issue from 1939 has been touched up, but until this I never realized the colors may have been changed. I pulled out some different printings of the issue to compare. From left to right we have the aforementioned Superman Archives, a single issue reprint from 1999, the Superman Chronicles trade paperback, and the Superman Golden Age Omnibus. Subtle differences across them.
We know for sure that the Archives edition is recolored, “faithful to the originals.” Jim Steranko wrote the forward and in a parenthetical says the “pages [are] exactly as they appeared then. Retouching is minimal, and only to restore artistic detail. Coloring, including airbrushing and color-holds, duplicates that of the original books.” But there isn’t quite the same information available on the other reprints. The 1999 reprint says it is an “exact reprint” to warn readers that the advertisements aren’t valid 60 years later. The Chronicles reprint doesn’t talk about the source and reprints the Steranko forward, but leaves out the parenthetical about recoloring. The Omnibus and the Chronicles are identical besides the paper stock.Comparing the fourth panel between them, the first thing I notice is Ma and Pa Kent’s jackets. Interestingly the 1999 reprint has Pa Kent in purple and Ma Kent in a jacket with a contrasting collar color compared to simple brown and red in all the other versions. We can also see the curtain is colored differently and the adoption employee is wearing blue rather than green. Just looking at this one panel, I’d assume the archive edition is the most accurate. It’s billed as being faithful and it matches two later reprintings.
But looking at panel one I’m less sure. The three different color versions each have differences. From the obvious color of the title and the credits bubble to the explosion of Krypton and the Saturn-like planet in the bottom corner. If the Archives edition was the most accurate wouldn’t subsequent printings stick with all of their changes? Or maybe the Chronicles and Omnibus are based on the Archives version and are subsequent tweaks to bring it even closer in line with the original? Subsequently, the digital version matches the two newest printings (Chronicles and Omnibus). Maybe that’s the most accurate? Where does that leave the 1999 version?
Before jumping to the internet to try and find a photo of the original let’s look at a detail on the cover.
Digital versions, the Archives, the Chronicles, and the Omnibus are all missing the blue in the building behind Superman. Why would just the 1999 reprint add something that wasn’t there? The text on the 1999 reprint has SUPERMAN at the bottom in red along with “64 pages of action!” and “all in full color” whereas all the other reprints have the text all black.
Note: there are two major reprints I do not own: the Millennium Edition and the Famous 1st Edition—which I should hunt down because the Famous 1st Edition of Action Comics #1 is my favorite reprinting. Looking at pictures of those versions online I see the cover has the blue building and the red text. Looks like they match the 1999 version. Seems less likely that the “faithful” version and the two most common modern reprints are the most accurate. Maybe they are modern interpretations that have been tweaked and updated, but the 1999 is the real deal.
Now to the original. All of the pictures of the original copies of the cover I’ve found across the internet look closest to the 1999 reprint. Blue building, red text. But I wanted to see the interior. I was able to find this auction for an original copy missing the cover. Showing us the first page:
Purple and red jackets, red text, yellow bubble, green planet, etc. 1999 wins as the most accurate. I’m willing to bet the Millennial and Famous 1st editions match this as well. Now to hunt down a Famous 1st…