Action Comics #1. The "Big Bang" of superhero comics, right? The cover image that singlehandedly kicked off the fascination with superheroes, rippling out over six decades (and counting).
However, despite Superman landing the cover slot on the debut issue of Action, it's no secret that the character wasn't universally liked at DC Comics in the spring of 1938. The Superman character was almost reluctantly purchased from Siegel and Shuster, with no clear sense that DC knew what they wanted to do with him. As the story goes, publisher M.C. ("Max") Gaines was desperate to keep his new printing presses running with more comic book jobs, but filling the comics with a steady stream of new material was a constant challenge for his editors. Editor Sheldon Mayor suggested the Superman strip, to which Gaines (no fan of Superman) replied "Well, it's better than nothing."
So, Superman made it into Action Comics #1 and the rest, as they say, is history.
But wait a minute.
What if Max Gaines' dislike of the character had prevented Superman from appearing on the cover, and, instead, only appeared in an inside story? On top of that, what if one of the other half-dozen characters appearing in the anthology title had won the cover slot instead...such as Zatara, DC's knock-off of Mandrake the Magician?
Since adventuring magicians were hardly a novelty (Mandrake had been around since 1934), chances are an Action Comics #1 cover starring Zatara would not have grabbed the public by the lapels like the audacious Superman cover did. Likewise, would the superhero craze ever have been sparked without the "Big Bang" of Superman's presence on the cover? Would the comic book fad of the 30's have simply died out without the novelty of superheroes to fuel it?
My guess is that the comics field would have either been radically different, or even non-existant if Superman had not appeared on the cover of Action Comics #1. What do you think?