Fans have been having this debate about Batman vs Superman for a long time. Long before the characters actually met in comics, film, or any other format, in fact. The first record I can find of it is a note that the Superman team had won the school soccer league in Coudersport, Pennsylvania, in May 1940. The Batman team settled for second place, and in fact was tied for second with another team called "Silver Arrow".
In a 1941 article in the Saturday Evening Post, DC Comics owner Harry Donnenfeld is quoted putting the Superman series circulation at 1,300,000 per bi-monthly issue, while Batman sat at 800,000.
In the first Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide in 1970, the first appearance of Superman in Action Comics #1 was listed at $300, while Batman's first appearance in Detective Comics #27 listed at $275.
It's mostly been like that throughout the past 80 years of comic book history. Fans have largely considered Superman the most important comic book character, with Batman usually coming in a close second. We could quibble about Fantastic Four, X-Men, and so on throughout various historical periods, but let's not. The Golden Age DC Comics characters are foundational and iconic in a way that most others are not.
Serious collectors, the people who can afford Action Comics #1 and Detective Comics #27, have come to think of their relative values as a measure of those two character's importance in the pop culture and media landscape. That's a complicated issue, but that idea is more right than wrong. Detective Comics #27 claimed the top spot over Action Comics #1 for awhile in the wake of the release of Batman '89 directed by Timothy Burton — which truly was a game-changer for comic book characters in the eyes of the mainstream.
And when an Action Comics #1 CGC 8.0 became the first comic book to hit the million dollar mark in 2010 — only to be surpassed days later by a Detective Comics #27 CGC 8.0 hitting $1,075,500.00 (immortalized on Law & Order a few months later with a comic-centric episode which noted that "Batman beat Superman", by the way), it's no coincidence that the character was riding high on Christopher Nolan's acclaimed Dark Knight Trilogy. Batman's lead didn't last long, but the Nolan trilogy helped enable it.
Which brings us to this week's Comic Connect, and an Action Comics #1 CGC 5.0 sitting at $717,000.00 as I type this, and a Detective Comics #27 CGC 6.0 at $606,000.00 currently. Both those numbers will change a lot as we get closer to hammer time, but a glance at recent sales history suggests that the Action Comics #1 will beat out the Detective Comics #27 fairly handily.
But I think I'm going to play contrarian on that one. I think if that holds true, it will end up being quite a bargain for the buyer of the Detective Comics #27. We've got a Batman film coming up from critically acclaimed director Matt Reeves (Planet of the Apes), and he's a stellar choice for it. Meanwhile, WB has had a hard time getting Superman right on film in the eyes of many fans in recent times (though I personally liked Batman v Superman, and it's an issue we debate often around the Bleeding Cool watercooler), there was that thing with Superman's mustache in Justice League, and we're three weeks away from the character's 80th anniversary and besides Action Comics #1000, very little has been made of it.
It just feels like it's the right time for Batman to take that lead again. All the underlying conditions are right. If I had to choose between these two books, I'd go with the Detective Comics #27 for sure — and I'm a pretty big Superman collector.
There's no formula for calculating these things, however (though some of us construct very complicated formulas about it in our heads attempting to do so, I assure you), and certainly if you have the money, you're going to be pleased with either purchase for a long time to come (but I would absolutely take that Detective Comics #27).