How do Action Comics/Superman & Detective Comics/Batman differ and relate to each other?

Hi all,

Apologies if this is has been asked before and apologies if I’m posting this in the wrong section. I’m really not sure how to even search for this kind of question. I’m relatively new to comics, and I’m confused about the Action Comics/Superman & Detective Comics/Batman titles. Currently and historically, DC has published Superman and Batman (respectively) stories in both simultaneously. From a quick glance, it appears that they tell different stories despite being published at the same time, so what is the difference between them, and how exactly do they relate to each other? Do they both take place in the same continuity/reality or in different ones? Is one considered the main “legitimate” canon title and the other an alternate, or are they both separate but equal canons? I’m aware that occasionally there will be stories that cross over between both titles, so how does that work?

I’m also interested in going back and reading older comics and in the '90s, it seems there were 4 Superman titles being published simultaneously at one point: Action Comics, The Adventures of Superman, Superman, and Superman: The Man of Steel. So what was the difference between those 4 titles and how did they relate to each other? Did they each tell their own separate stories, or were they all telling parts of the same story? Could I just pick one and read it straight through, or do all 4 need to be read at once?

This is all probably basic comic book knowledge for most of you, but like I said, I’m new to this and more than a bit confused, so please bear with me as I dip my toe in. Thanks.

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Way back when Detective Comics was the flagship comic for National Periodic Publications. For the 26 issues it was just different crime and suspense titles. Everything changed with issue #27 and the first appearance/story of “The Batman.” However a year before that National wanted to launch another title to piggyback off the success of Detective. Instead of crime dramas, this book would focus fast paced action stories, ya know, cowboys & indians , pirates, cavilers etc. With it’s first issue and unbeknownst to them, it would also showcase a brand new genre that would quickly become known as Superhero. This is of course Action Comics #1 and the first appearance of Superman.
Due to the success Detective Comics brought NPP they began using its name as the unofficial brand name (Hence DC ). Later in the 1970’s National officially changed it’s name to DC Comics.

… Due to the major popularity of Superman & Batman, both characters became the official faces of the titles which birthed them.

Hope this helped. :slight_smile:

With Batman/Detective, the difference has usually been that the Batman stories tend to be more standard superhero fare, whereas Detective would focus more on, well, detective stories.

Detective also had moments where Batman wasn’t the sole central character. Back in the 70s or so, there was a time where Detective, in a move to keep the title afloat due to poor sales was merged with the Batman Family 100 Page Giants and had full stories not just with Batman, but with Robin & Batgirl and others. During the time when Dick Grayson was Batman, the Detective title was headlined by Kate Kane/Batwoman. Most recently, at the start of the Rebirth Era, Detective was actually a team book, where Batman and Batwoman were set up a team consisting of Cassandra Cain/Orphan, Tim Drake/Red Robin, Stephanie Brown/Spoiler, and Basil Karlov/Clayface (yes, you read that last one right), with other characters coming in over the run.

Now, Superman/Action, from what I’ve read, has never had that much of a distinction. Only very recently has there been more of one during the Brian Michael Bendis runs on both Superman and Action Comics. His Superman has been the big, broad, superhero action, whereas Action has been more about Clark being an investigative reporter.


It really depends on the era. Sometimes multiple titles starring the same character are intricately tied together, and sometimes not.

In the early nineties, for instance, when there were four Superman titles, they were all telling the same ongoing stories (and even had numbers in triangles on the covers to indicate in which order they should be read).

Currently, Action and Superman are both in continuity, but generally tell separate stories. I can’t speak to the bat-books, but I assume it’s a similar situation.

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