WHAT’S it like, holding what might be the most valuable comic book on the planet? For a former 12-year-old comic-book nut like myself, giddy is what I felt when Darren Adams of Federal Way let me hold his.

Finding a copy of Action Comics No. 1 at a garage sale is the dream of any kid who spends too much time reading about costumed superheroes. Holding a copy is about as close as I’ll come.

Superman made his first appearance in the June 1938 comic book — one of the rarest ever published. Fewer than 100 are thought to survive. Three years ago, one sold at auction for a record $2.16 million. Adams, a Federal Way comic-book and sports-card dealer, expects to set another record when this one goes up on eBay Aug. 14 for a 10-day auction.

“It’s the Mona Lisa of comic books,” he says. “It’s the finest known copy.”

Among comics fans, Action No. 1 is an object of wonder. In the lead story, a baby is rocketed to Earth from a dying planet, and finds upon adulthood that nothing less than a bursting shell can penetrate his skin. Superman later grew more powerful. Bless his soul, he even takes a job as a newspaper reporter.

“This is really the Holy Grail of comicdom,” says Paul Litch, primary grader at CGC, the Sarasota, Fla.,-based firm that over the last 15 years has standardized the evaluation of investment-grade comic books. He describes it as in “amazing condition.”

How is it possible for a 76-year-old comic book to survive without a crease or a smudge, with pages as white and supple as today’s newspaper? Adams volunteers little about the book’s pedigree, but says a West Virginia man purchased it on the newsstand and kept it for 40 years. Adams paid “well over seven figures” within the last few years and has turned down a private offer of $3 million.

But I’m less impressed with that price tag than the idea that Adams owns the world ‘s coolest comic book.

“It’s cool, it’s really cool,” Adams says. “I couldn’t tell anyone I owned this comic book. I didn’t want word to get out. It sucked. But now I can say that I owned the most valuable comic book in the world.”

Erik Smith