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Up Next:EC Era (1949-1955) - Overlapping the Golden Age
The Golden Age of comics is considered by most fans and comics scholars to have started with the first appearance of Superman in Action Comics #1 (June 1938) and ran through 1956. Action Comics #1 changed the landscape of comic book from that point all they way to today. Batman soon followed, debuting in Detective Comics #27 (May 1939) and then a host of other super-heroes who would ultimately form a team, The Justice Society of America, in All-Star Comics #3 (Winter 1940). Super-Heroes became very popular and soon dominated the majority of the titles that were being produced. DC Comics (known as National in the Golden Age) is often thought of first when people think of the Golden Age because of iconic characters like Batman and Superman.
The third major contender in the Golden Age super-hero market was Fawcett Comics. Their most iconic super-hero was Captain Marvel, debuting in WHIZ Comics #2 (Feb 1940). Fawcett created a number of other heroes over the years, but none had the endurance of Captain Marvel and the "Marvel Family". Their adventures dominated the comics at Fawcett, they would guest star in a number of other comics and even introduce new characters to the Fawcett fans. There were certainly other publishers during the Golden Age, dozens, but the 3 spotlighted here created the most enduring super-hero characters.
By the early 1950s, with the exception of Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman, the Golden Age of Super-Heroes was over. DC's "Big 3" would keep the lights on until the super-hero resurgence that became known as the Silver Age.
When it comes to back issues from this time period, as you might expect, they're getting older and tougher to find. Action Comics #1 for example: it's estimated that only 50-100 copies of this book still exist and with that rarity comes value. In 2011 a copy of Action Comics #1 in really nice condition sold for over $2 million dollars! If you're looking to buy or collect back issues from this time period, just understand what a challenge it could be, especially in higher grades.
Timely Comics (that would eventually go on to become Atlas and finally Marvel Comics) burst onto the scene not long after the debut of Superman and Batman, offering up Marvel Comics #1 in October 1939, debuting the iconic characters of the Human Torch and the Sub-Mariner. Captain America joined them in March 1941 and the Golden Age had another strong stable of super-heroes for the young fans to buy.