The Promise Collection 1944: Superman v Captain Marvel

"It is estimated that 20 million copies of 135 different titles of comic books are sold every month in this country," reported a column in the Decatur Herald in February 1944, reflecting on news from a recent gathering of educators and parents on the subject of comic books.  "Seventy percent of that volume goes to children, with adults — that is, persons of legal voting age — accounting for the other 30 percent. The consensus was that the comics, in general, are not the menace they were believed to be a couple of years or so ago. There are, of course, good comics and bad but there the question of taste enters the picture. Miss Josette Frank of the Child Study Association of America declared that conflicts between parents and children over the subject of comic bocks might be far more harmful than the poorest comic book ever would be."  The young fan who assembled the Promise Collection would've been about 13 in 1944.

Superman #26, Captain Marvel #18.
Superman #26, Captain Marvel #18.

Around this same time, Fawcett Publications released a survey conducted on its behalf about the comic book market to newspapers and magazines, which reported comics market data in more detail. "Comic magazines are read in three out of four American homes," the Market Research Company of America survey declared. "It is called the first national study of the market that comprises the vast comics audience. The survey, conducted for Fawcett Publications by the Market Research Company of America, covers readers of all comic books,  a field which now totals a 25,000,000 monthly circulation. In the 6 to 11 year age group, 96% of the boys read an average of 14 comic books per month, and 94% of the girls read 11 books. Ninety-one percent of 12 to 17-year-old boys read 14 magazines each month, while 87% of the girls in the same age group average 11 magazines. Of men 18 to 30 years old, 55% read comic magazines, averaging 7 books per month. Forty-three percent of the women are comics fans, averaging 9 books per month. Men and women above 30 years of age show a readership of 29% and 22%, reading 8 and 6 books per month, respectively."

The Market Research Company of America data concludes with something that seems outright unbelievable from our current day perspective on this Golden Age history: "Comic books have the approval of parents, 82% of all adults considering them good clean fun for everybody. Seventy-two percent feel the magazines teach a good moral lesson, and 61% consider them of educational value."  It's difficult to know how seriously to take this survey data without knowing something about how it was conducted.  It would appear that Market Research Company of America was widely used by various industries for decades for this sort of purpose.  This survey itself was cited by the media for a decade or more after the fact, countless times in scholarly articles since then, and is generally taken at face value.  It's pretty difficult not to be skeptical of that 82% "good clean fun" number, but even if it's a significant exaggeration or the result of leading questions in the survey, the data as a whole is a remarkable reflection of how the industry was able to evolve and deflect criticism during the World War II era.  It also helps explains why people like the young fan who put together the Promise Collection kept expanding his collecting interests throughout this period.

Welcome to Part 7 of the Promise Collection series, which is meant to serve as liner notes of sorts for the comic books in the collection. The Promise Collection is a set of nearly 5,000 comic books, 95% of which are blisteringly high grade, that were published from 1939 to 1952 and purchased by one young comic book fan.  The name of the Promise Collection was inspired by the reason that it was saved and kept in such amazing condition since that time. An avid comic book fan named Junie and his older brother Robert went to war in Korea.  Robert Promised Junie that he would take care of his brother's beloved comic book collection should anything happen to him. Junie was killed during the Korean War, and Robert kept his promise.  There are more details about that background in a previous post regarding this incredible collection of comic books.  And over the course of a few dozen articles in this new series of posts, we will also be revealing the complete listing of the collection.  You can always catch up with posts about this collection at this link, which will become a hub of sorts regarding these comic books over time.

Superman #26, DC Comics 1944.
Superman #26, DC Comics 1944.

January through June 1944 in the Promise Collection

While we can't be completely sure about the data behind that highly-publicized Market Research Company of America comic book survey on behalf of Captain Marvel publisher Fawcett Publications, we do know that Junie purchased around 180 comic books in all of 1943 and about 125 comic books in the first six months of 1944.  His purchases had increased from about 15 comic books per month to about 21 comics per month over that period.  Among publishing lines, Junie liked Fawcett Publications the best by this time, purchasing 30 Fawcett comics over period, compared to 25 DC Comics issues and 16 from Marvel in the first half of 1944.

Lots of other comic book readers agreed with Junie's preference for the Captain Marvel family around this period.  This is worth calling out because Fawcett Publications claimed that Captain Marvel Adventures was the top-selling book in comics around this time, and this claim has been widely repeated ever since.  These claims have been notoriously difficult to unravel because Audit Bureau of Circulation data is available but is typically reported by publishing "groups", where publishers group several of their titles together for the purposes of selling space to advertisers.  But Captain Marvel Adventure's individual sales data is available for 1944. The title peaked at around 1.35M in early 1944.  While we don't have head-to-head data for Captain Marvel Adventures vs Superman over this period, we do know that Superman hit 1.5M by July 1945, and pulled away from the Big Red Cheese thereafter.  Based on everything we know about the rest of the Fawcett and DC Comics data, (Note: I believe the data charted is only from monthly group units based on what we know from other sources, which makes the picture murkier. Further note that the monthly groups also factored staggered bi-monthlies into the mix for their monthly totals). I would suspect that Captain Marvel Adventures and Superman were likely neck and neck in late 1943 / early 1944, and it is perhaps not unlikely likely that Captain Marvel Adventures beat out Superman occasionally over this period.  However, it also appears unlikely that Captain Marvel Adventures had any period of sustained dominance at any time. Of course, National Comics Publications, Inc. v. Fawcett Publications, Inc., the long-running litigation over DC Comics' claim that Captain Marvel infringed on the copyright of Superman had begun in 1941 and would continue through this period and beyond.

Paper rationing continued to be one of the defining factors of the comic book industry in 1944, and this is reflected in the Promise Collection comics from January to June of that year.  With some special exceptions that we'll get to shortly, this is again reflected in a comparatively modest number of new series launches in the collection over this period, which includes Major Victory Comics #1 from Chesler and Terrific Comics #1 from Frank Z. Temerson.  Page counts per comic book also continued to plummet over this period and varied wildly from January through June. About half of the comic books in the collection of this period are 56 pages, but a large number had settled at 48 pages as well, and some Fawcett comics from this June had dropped to 40 pages.  DC Comics' World's Finest and Comic Cavalcade had dropped down to 80 pages from the original 96 pages by this time.  Despite the significant overall drop in page counts by this time, there are also a number of new square-bound edition comics appearing in the Promise Collection in 1944 with page counts of up to 128 pages — but these comics are from a single obscure publisher which operated under unusual circumstances.

Complete Book of True Crime Comics, Wm. H. Wise & Co., 1945
Complete Book of True Crime Comics, Wm. H. Wise & Co., 1945

The Big Books of William H. Wise & Co.

William H. Wise & Co was for much of its history a mail-order publisher of a variety of material including history books, encyclopedias, recipe books, how-to books, and the like.  They are known to have dabbled in newsstand sales by the mid-1940s and to have sold to a huge variety of other outlets ranging from book clubs to various types of wholesalers who themselves likely resold to a variety of retail outlets.  In the mid-1940s, they had coveted access to paper and perhaps to somewhat different markets that comic book publishers did not reach.  William H. Wise & Co., worked with the likes of DC Comics, Victor Fox, Lev Gleason, and others to produce high page-count (compared to most other comics on the stands) comic books at a higher price point.  Some of these comic books present in the Promise Collection like Big All-American Comic Book consisted of new material.  Others like Complete Book of True Crime consisted of rebound copies of returned or undistributed individual copies with their covers stripped.

While very little has been pieced together about this publisher to date, a lawsuit between William H. Wise & Co and Rand McNally in the next decade describes one type of business arrangement they were involved in: "Plaintiff, Wm. H. Wise & Co., Inc. (hereinafter referred to as "Wise"), is a publishing concern. The defendant, Rand McNally & Co., is a printing establishment. Under an agreement dated on or about July 19, 1955, Wise engaged Rand to print 25,000 copies of plaintiff's book entitled "Complete Book of Home Decorating." Under the agreement, Wise was to furnish the paper stock and to pay the defendant $8,050 for making positives, color separations, engravings, and press plates for printing. In addition, Wise was to pay 16 cents per copy for press work and 41.1 cents for binding. Wise furnished the manuscript and artwork, drawings, photographs, linotype composition, cover dies, and jackets Rand printed the work in accordance with the agreement."

Perhaps more to the point, a June 1945 Writer's Digest piece about William H. Wise & Co's pulp Mystery Book Magazine provides a closer-to-home operational data point about this extremely obscure publisher:  "A newcomer to the stands this past month, promises to be a good market for top-notch detective story writers. Leo Margulies is editing this for William H. Wise, the publisher, This is outside of his regular job as Editorial Director of Ned Pines' pulps, and, I understand, has no connection. Only original material is going to be used in Mystery Book. And payment is going to be three cents a word and up—better than any of the pulps in almost every case, and right up elbowing the slicks."

Prominent among the William H. Wise & Co. released from the first half of 1944 is Complete Book of True Crime, which includes in its rebound contents the notorious Crime Does Not Pay #22, a 1942 release which is considered the first crime comic book.  Complete Book of True Crime is also the first crime comic book in the Promise Collection, but it would not be the last.  This trend would lead the comic book industry into controversial territory again in the months and years ahead.

Title # CGC Grade / Auction Links Cover Date Prices Realized
Air Fighters Comics v2 #4 January 1944
Air Fighters Comics v2 #5 February 1944
Air Fighters Comics v2 #6 March 1944
Air Fighters Comics v2 #7 April 1944
All Select Comics 3 All Select Comics #3 The Promise Collection Pedigree (Timely, 1944) CGC NM/MT 9.8 Off-white to white pages Spring 1944 $66,000.00
All-Winners Comics 12 All Winners Comics #12 The Promise Collection Pedigree (Timely, 1944) CGC NM/MT 9.8 White pages Spring 1944 $96,000.00
America's Funniest Comics 1 1944
America's Funniest Comics 2 1944
Four Color (Andy Panda) 54 1944
Batman (1940) 21 Batman #21 The Promise Collection Pedigree (DC, 1944) CGC FN/VF 7.0 White pages February-March 1944
Batman (1940) 22 April-May 1944
Batman (1940) 23 June-July 1944
Boy Comics 14 Boy Comics #14 The Promise Collection Pedigree (Lev Gleason, 1944) CGC VF/NM 9.0 Off-white to white pages February 1944
Boy Comics 15 Boy Comics #15 The Promise Collection Pedigree (Lev Gleason, 1944) CGC VF+ 8.5 Off-white to white pages April 1944
Boy Comics 16 Boy Comics #16 The Promise Collection Pedigree (Lev Gleason, 1944) CGC NM/MT 9.8 Off-white to white pages June 1944
Boy Commandos 6 Boy Commandos #6 The Promise Collection Pedigree (DC, 1944) CGC NM+ 9.6 Off-white pages Spring 1944
Four Color (Bugs Bunny) 51 1944
Captain America Comics 34 January 1944
Captain America Comics 35 February 1944
Captain America Comics 36 Captain America Comics #36 The Promise Collection Pedigree (Timely, 1944) CGC NM 9.4 Cream to off-white pages March 1944 $204,000.00
Captain America Comics 37 April 1944
Captain America Comics 38 May 1944
Captain America Comics 39 June 1944
Captain Marvel Jr. 15 January 1944
Captain Marvel Jr. 16 February 1, 1944
Captain Marvel Jr. 17 March 1, 1944
Captain Marvel Jr. 18 April 1944
Captain Marvel Jr. 19 May 1, 1944
Captain Marvel Jr. 20 June 1944
Captain Marvel Adventures 31 January 1944
Captain Marvel Adventures 32 February 1944
Captain Marvel Adventures 33 March 1944
Captain Marvel Adventures 34 April 1944
Captain Marvel Adventures 35 May 1944
Captain Marvel Adventures 36 June 1944
Clue Comics 7 March 1944
Comic Cavalcade 6 Spring 1944
Comics on Parade 44 March 1944
Complete Book of True Crime Comics nn Complete Book of True Crime Comics #nn The Promise Collection Pedigree (Wm. H. Wise & Co., 1945) CGC VF 8.0 Off-white to white pages [circa 1944] $3,840.00
Crack Comics 33 Spring 1944
Daredevil Comics (1941) 21 January 1944
Daredevil Comics (1941) 22 February 1944
Daredevil Comics (1941) 23 April 1944
Daredevil Comics (1941) 24 May 1944
Daredevil Comics (1941) 25 June 1944
Detective Comics 83 Detective Comics #83 The Promise Collection Pedigree (DC, 1944) CGC VF 8.0 Off-white to white pages January 1944 $4,080.00
Detective Comics 84 Detective Comics #84 The Promise Collection Pedigree (DC, 1944) CGC VF- 7.5 Off-white to white pages February 1944 $2,040.00
Detective Comics 86 Detective Comics #86 The Promise Collection Pedigree (DC, 1944) CGC VF+ 8.5 Off-white to white pages April 1944
Detective Comics 88 Detective Comics #88 The Promise Collection Pedigree (DC, 1944) CGC NM 9.4 White pages June 1944
Fight Comics 31 Fight Comics #31 The Promise Collection Pedigree (Fiction House, 1944) CGC VF+ 8.5 Off-white to white pages April 1944 $12,600.00
Fight Comics 32 Fight Comics #32 The Promise Collection Pedigree (Fiction House, 1944) CGC NM+ 9.6 Off-white to white pages June 1944
Four Color 58 1944
Hit Comics 31 Spring 1944
Joe Palooka 3 1944
Joe Palooka 4 1944
Kid Komics 4 Spring 1944
Major Victory Comics 1 [1944]
Major Victory Comics 2 1944
Master Comics 46 January 1944
Master Comics 47 February 1944
Master Comics 48 March 1944
Master Comics 49 April 1944
Master Comics 50 May 1944
Master Comics 51 June 1944
Military Comics 25 January 1944
Military Comics 26 February 1944
Military Comics 27 March 1944
Military Comics 28 April 1944
Military Comics 29 May 1944
Miss America Comics 1 Miss America Comics #1 The Promise Collection Pedigree (Timely, 1944) CGC NM- 9.2 Off-white to white pages 1944 $16,800.00
Miss America Comics 2 Miss America Magazine V1#2 The Promise Collection Pedigree (Timely, 1944) CGC NM 9.4 Off-white pages 1944 $9,600.00
Mutt & Jeff 13 Spring 1944
Police Comics 26 January 1944
Police Comics 27 February 1944
Police Comics 28 March 1944
Police Comics 29 April 1944
Police Comics 30 Police Comics #30 The Promise Collection Pedigree (Quality, 1944) CGC NM+ 9.6 White pages May 1944
Police Comics 31 June 1944
Prize Comics 38 January 1944
Prize Comics 39 February 1944
Prize Comics 40 March 1944
Prize Comics 41 April 1944
Prize Comics 42 June 1944
Rangers Comics 15 February 1944
Rangers Comics 16 April 1944
Rangers Comics 17 June 1944
Scoop Comics 8 Scoop Comics #8 The Promise Collection Pedigree (Chesler, 1944) CGC FN- 5.5 Off-white to white pages 1944 $3,840.00
Sensation Comics 25 January 1944
Sensation Comics 26 February 1944
Sensation Comics 27 Sensation Comics #27 The Promise Collection Pedigree (DC, 1944) CGC NM 9.4 White pages March 1944
Sensation Comics 28 Sensation Comics #28 The Promise Collection Pedigree (DC, 1944) CGC VF/NM 9.0 White pages April 1944
Sensation Comics 29 May 1944
Sensation Comics 30 June 1944
Sparky Watts 4 1944
Star Spangled Comics 31 Star Spangled Comics #31 The Promise Collection Pedigree (DC, 1944) CGC VF- 7.5 White pages April 1944 $840.00
Star Spangled Comics 32 Star Spangled Comics #32 The Promise Collection Pedigree (DC, 1944) CGC NM- 9.2 White pages May 1944
Star Spangled Comics 33 Star Spangled Comics #33 The Promise Collection Pedigree (DC, 1944) CGC NM+ 9.6 White pages June 1944
Sub-Mariner Comics 13 Sub-Mariner Comics #13 The Promise Collection Pedigree (Timely, 1944) CGC NM+ 9.6 Off-white to white pages Spring 1944 $50,400.00
Superman (1939) 26 Superman #26 The Promise Collection Pedigree (DC, 1944) CGC NM+ 9.6 Off-white to white pages January-February 1944 $57,600.00
Superman (1939) 27 March-April 1944
Superman (1939) 28 May-June 1944
Superman's Christmas Adventure 1 1944
Terrific Comics 1 January 1944
Terrific Comics 2 March 1944
USA Comics 11 USA Comics #11 The Promise Collection Pedigree (Timely, 1944) CGC NM 9.4 White pages January 1944 $37,200.00
USA Comics 12 USA Comics #13 The Promise Collection Pedigree (Timely, 1944) CGC NM+ 9.6 Off-white to white pages Spring 1944 $31,200.00
Whiz Comics 50 January 1944
Whiz Comics 51 February 1944
Whiz Comics 52 March 1944
Whiz Comics 53 April 1944
Whiz Comics 54 May 1944
Whiz Comics 55 June 1944
Wonder Woman (1942) 8 Spring 1944
World's Finest Comics 13 Spring 1944
Wow Comics 21 January 1944
Wow Comics 22 February 1944
Wow Comics 23 March 1944
Wow Comics 24 April 1944
Wow Comics 25 May 1944
Wow Comics 26 June 1944
Young Allies 11 March 1944
Young Allies 12 Spring 1944

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About Mark Seifert

Co-founder and Creative director of Bleeding Cool parent company Avatar Press. Bleeding Cool Managing Editor, tech and data wrangler. Machine Learning hobbyist. Vintage paper addict.
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