ACTION COMICS #309: The Issue That Sums Up SUPERMAN in the Silver Age

SUPERMAN AT 85: A classic that encapsulates an era…

Superman turns 85 on April 18 — the date Action Comics #1 was released in 1938. To celebrate the Man of Steel, we have a lineup of groovy new material and a couple of favorites from the vaults that we are running across several days through the anniversary. Check the links at the bottom of this column. Up, up and away! — Dan


You know that scene in a murder mystery where the detective is perplexed, unable to solve it until he happens to spot a framed photo on the wall or on a desk… and grins because he now has the answer? Well, that was me, trying to solve how to tell the entire story of Superman in the Silver Age in just this one article. And then I happened to glance over at a framed Action Comics #309 on a bookshelf… and I grinned, because I now had the answer.

Curt Swan pencils, Sheldon Moldoff inks

Action Comics #309 (Feb. 1964) features a cover of all of Superman’s friends, including Clark Kent (!), lined up to congratulate him on being selected as “America’s Greatest Hero.” 

DC was definitely in a celebratory state of mind when they put together this issue. The comic book was published a few months after Superman’s 25th anniversary and writer Edmond Hamilton and preeminent Superman artist Curt Swan (with inking by George Klein) told a story that managed to sum up the entire Silver Age Superman mythos in just 14 pages. It had Superman, Clark, Lois, Lana, Perry White, Superboy, Pete Ross, Supergirl, the Super-Pets, the Legion of Super-Heroes, Police Chief Parker, Lex Luthor, Jimmy Olsen, Lori Lemaris, Gold Kryptonite, Kandorians, Batman and Robin, and reminders of Ma and Pa Kent. 

There was no action, no supervillain fights. Action Comics #309 was just a warm and affectionate salute to the greatest superhero of all time. And it was also to be a tribute to someone else… someone who, just when the completed and printed comic book was sent to the distributors, would be taken from us suddenly and tragically.     

“The Superman Super-Spectacular!” story starts out with Perry White and a TV producer keeping Superman occupied doing multiple super-tasks. Even President Kennedy was in on the ruse. All to make Superman think he was helping the producer with things needed for upcoming episodes of a new television series, “Our American Heroes.” 

It wasn’t until he flew into a TV studio and saw a host, orchestra, and audience that he realized that he was live on television and he was to be the subject of the first program. (The premise was similar to the popular real TV program of the time period, This is Your Life.)

However, not all is wonderful for Superman, as an undercurrent of tension is introduced that will soon take over the entire event:

Now, let’s get on with the show:

After Chief Parker, the guests are brought out in turn and it is a rich cast of Silver Age Superman regulars. Naturally, the next in line had to be someone whose initial is “L” but Superman says that could stand for Lois Lane, Lana Lang, or Lori Lemaris… any one of them. 

When Lois and Lana are a fair distance away from them, Lori quietly tells Superman that they are doing their best to shield their thoughts from her mindreading ability — but they are up to something! Though rivals for Superman’s heart, they both want to prove Superman and Clark are the same person, and Lois has come prepared with a gadget to do just that:

Meanwhile, the show goes on and Supergirl and the Super-Pets perform, followed by members of the Look-Alike Squad from the bottle city of Kandor, Pete Ross, and Jimmy Olsen (with his fan club).

Even the Legion of Super-Heroes makes the trip, which Superman realizes could help him:

Suddenly, Superman thinks of his longtime friend and master of disguise, Batman:

And just when you think Superman has run out of options and that Lois and Lana will be triumphant:

That finale is a memorable moment that fans still discuss.



— 13 REASONS Warner Bros. Discovery Needs to Stream ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN. Click here.

13th Dimension contributor-at-large PETER BOSCH’s first book, American TV Comic Books: 1940s-1980s – From the Small Screen to the Printed Pagehas just been published by TwoMorrows. He has written articles and conducted celebrity interviews for various magazines and newspapers. Peter lives in Hollywood.

Author: Dan Greenfield

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  1. DC should do a remake of this story but with Joe Biden pitching in to play Clark Kent.

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  2. What you didn’t mention was that this issue appeared in December, 1963…days after President Kennedy was assassinated. I remember my shock when I read it.

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    • It is implied not once, but twice in the article…yeah they didn’t give the date…but it’s meaning is heavily implied TWICE.

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    • Hi, Murray. Thanks for posting. Please check the fourth paragraph. I wrote, “And it was also to be a tribute to someone else… someone who, just when the completed and printed comic book was sent to the distributors, would be taken from us suddenly and tragically.” I did not mention President Kennedy by name there because I did not want to spoil the last page’s surprise ending. And my last line, “That finale is a memorable moment that fans still discuss” was written because at the time that both Superman and DC felt that the then-alive President Kennedy was a very special man to head our country and to be trusted with a secret like no other, and it was a “memorable moment that fans still discuss” also because the assassination of President Kennedy was one of the worst events in American history that we have never gotten over. But we still have that moment forever between Superman and President John F. Kennedy.

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  3. I have never read the story, but was well aware of the infamy of its bad timing.
    Your start of the column reminded me of virtually every Perry Mason episode, except in Perry Mason, the picture is Della Street. Della always has a line that goes “ what I don’t understand is.. “ and that’s always the piece of the puzzle Perry didn’t have.

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  4. President Kennedy also appeared in Superman #170. Published a couple of months after his death by request of President Johnson after DC was going to shelve it.

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