First appearance of Lex Luthor

agreeI don’t believe there is currently any real debate regarding the first appearance of Lex Luthor in DC Comics. However, I’d like to see how collectors feel about it as some evidence points to another possibility. Vote based on how you feel the rules of first appearances should work.

Before I go on, this is not a debate about cameos versus full firsts. Both issues in question contain multiple pages of the character with color images, speaking and named.

This is the most widely listed information in the market:

action_comics_023Action Comics #23
1st appearance of Lex Luthor
supes4Superman #4
2nd appearance of Lex Luthor

Numerous online sources claim that Action Comics #23 is the first appearance of Lex Luthor including CGC and CBCS. The only source I can find that states otherwise is Comic Vine. Comic Vine states that it's Superman #4.

Here are my findings:

  • Action Comics #23 has a cover date of April 1940 (shelf date Feb 22, 1940)
  • Superman #4 has a cover date of Spring 1940 (shelf date Feb 15, 1940)

The Grand Comics Database lists the following:

Action Comics #23 – The on-sale date (1940-02-23 listed on the webpage) is the publication date reported in the U. S. Copyright Office filing in the Catalog of Copyright Entries, Part 2, Periodicals, New Series, Volume 35, 1940, Number 2. Second class permit. Copyright number 449540. The filing states that Detective Comics, Inc. is the publisher and copyright holder.

Superman #4 – The publication date of January 23, 1940 was reported in the U. S. Copyright Office filing in the Catalog of Copyright Entries, Part 2, Periodicals, New Series, Volume 35, 1940, Number 2. Second class permit. Copyright number 452451. (However, a house ad in Action Comics DC 1938 series #22 states the issue would be on sale on February 15, 1940.)

Superman #4 hit the shelves at least a week earlier although the events take place after Action Comics #23. If Superman #4 was on the shelf before Action Comics #23 should it be considered the first appearance of Lex Luthor?

Let your votes decide!

[socialpoll id=”2393337″]


  • misfit138

    I like that Lex is on the cover of Superman #4 also.

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    This is the exact same situation with Uncanny X-men # 266 and Uncanny X-men annual # 1 . The annual came out first, but the events in #266 come first in continuity. The big difference here is that the Market decided that #266 is the first appearance because it’s a cover appearance, its part of the main line, and lastly not many people knew about the appearance in the annual, and most that did, did not know it was actually released first.

    This situation is actually the same minus one thing. Superman # 4 has the cover appearance. Which should tilt everyones opinion right? Right? I mean, that’s what people keep saying on forums about UXM266.

    Looks to me like Superman # 4 is the first appearance of LL, with a Cover appearance. If you were reading comics back in 1940, which book INTRODUCED you to Lex Luther? Superman #4 end of story.

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    People may have been confused until Action Comics 23 came out the following week but either way you met LL first in Superman #4

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    That’s not Lex on the cover to #4. Lex originally had hair and an artist screwed it up.

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    I have to vote Superman # 4 here…I actually own this comic…and am biased…lol……

  • Luc Sabourin

    For me the first appearance is when it happens in the timeline of Supeman. In Superman 4 it is the first time WE see him but not Superman. He saw him for the first time in Action Comics.

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    Action 23, the much scarcer of the two books, is Lex Luthor’s first appearance according to DC comics itself, and has been the consensus of every single comic book establishment for at least 40 years. The distribution faux pas that may (or may not) have happened-a possibility that the market has also been aware of for a very long time- where a book with “Spring 1940” on the cover hit the shelves a mere week before the book with the obviously intended first appearance (with April, 1940 on the cover) is a trifling and irrelevant point.

    And no, that is not Luthor on the cover of Superman 4.

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    Simple rule for figuring out whether a book is someone’s first appearance: Did they appear first in that comic? Not in continuity, not in the storyline. In REALITY.

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    Poppycock. The intention of the creators trumps all. In this case, not only does the Action 23 have the earlier copyright , but the fact that Superman was only printed quarterly back then gave the publisher wide latitude for distributing the book on a very flexible schedule and letting it sit on newsstands. The fact that the book “might” have hit newsstands a few days ahead of its intended timeframe doesn’t mean squat. Let’s not forget that comics are a storytelling medium first.

    But if you really want to create a groundswell of support for the preposterous notion that Superman 4 is the “real” “first” appearance of Luthor, feel free to forward the results of this poll along with the copyright data to DC comics and await their response. I’m sure they will be glad to be alerted to that crucial 75 year old information. 🙂

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    I think as a fan and a collector, both books should be equally as important. They both have historical “key” interest.

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    As the book containing multiple “firsts”, Action 23 is certainly the more “important ” book (as also reflected by the massive difference in values between the two books), but agreed, a Superman/Lex fan would also want a copy of Superman 4, as it is a single digit issue in a long , historic run, and still contains early appearances of both Superman and Lex.

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    The massive value discrepancy comes from the logical fallacy that Action 23 is the first appearance. It is NOT. Superman 4 was published first, hit newsstands first, and was first seen and read by the public. Miss me with the whole intent argument. If Superman 4 was the first comic book available to see Luthor in, it’s his first appearance. Cut and dry. How would anybody consider action 23 his first appearance if he’d already appeared for public consumption? Nope.

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