In Too Deep: Were There Superheroes Before Superheroes?
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Hello and Welcome to In Too Deep, where I over-analyse a certain section of pop culture.
Superheroes. As I said in yesterday’s blog, they’re the Greek Gods of the modern-day and age. But I also said that one presenter claimed that Popeye was the first superhero and that got me thinking: were their superheroes before there were superheroes? Were there characters that were superhero is all but name? Well join me as I try and justify the few I came up with.
Popeye: Lets start off with Popeye, who first appeared in 1929. His superpowers were that he could gain super strength every time he swallowed a can of spinach (and he had to be pretty strong to begin with, considering he managed to crush the can open with one hand). So here we have someone that gains superpowers through the use of an almost magical object. A similar example of this is Captain Marvel, who went from boy to superhero with the use of the word Shazam. Popeye even had his own arch-nemesis, Bluto, who would constantly try and steal his love interest from him. So Popeye did lay the foundations when it came to characters using outside sources to gain their superpowers, in this case super strength.
Sherlock Holmes: Before there was Batman there was Sherlock Holmes, the World’s Greatest Detective. His ability to analyse the world so closely is pretty much his superpower (if super-analysis can be classed as one). He is a Victorian Batman that doesn’t dress up like a Bat and beat people up. No instead he just beats people up in his normal clothes. His amazing memory for criminal cases also shows off his superpowers, namely his great intellect. He’s almost like the Professor X of the Victorian world, except without the mind reading and wheelchair (although him being able to read minds would explain so much). Again, he too had an arch-nemesis, Professor Moriarty to battle with (who appears in canon a lot less then you’d think).
Tarzan: First appearing in 1912 (the novel came out in 1914) he was every bit a superhero akin to someone like Wolverine. Raised by apes, he was at the peak of physical condition in order to survive living with them. Sort of like if Captain America hadn’t been injected with super solider serum and instead spent all his time at the zoo. He has all sorts of skills, from climbing to being really fast. Also his reflexes are top notch. So if Batman had decided to train with monkeys instead of ninjas then he’s probably have come DC’s version of Tarzan.
Robin Hood: The man they based Green Arrow on, we all know the story of Robin Hood. Rob from the rich, give to the poor, split arrows and do other physic-defying feats of archery. While he was just a man with a bow and arrow, he was also really skilled with said bow and arrow. Just like Hawkeye, another character based on Robin Hood. Need I say any more?
Peter Pan: A boy that was raised by the fairies, with the ability to fly (and not being to bad with the old sword). Do I need to list all the superheroes that can fly in both the DC and the Marvel universe? Needless to say that Peter Pan was probably the originator, something that inspired the two boys that created Superman. He would fight against Captain Hook, since all good superheroes need good arch-nemesis. He even had the youthful aspect that Marvel would pick up and run with in terms of Spider-Man. So Peter Pan was an early prototype of superheroes.
Beowulf: The earliest non-religious example I can think up of (although I wouldn’t be surprised if there are earlier examples), he is a professional monster-hunter that does what he does out of boredom. He is similar to a normal human, but adding onto the fact that he’s also pretty darn brave. A lot of traits that people look for in superheroes (bravery, willingness to help others etc) can be traced back to this guy. But since I’ve never actually read the poem, I could easily be talking a load of bollocks.
John Carter: Somebody I missed off the original list, but after reading John Carter of Mars the answer is yes, he truly is a superhero. In fact he’s probably the source most easily attributed to both the creation of Superman and Mario. Capable of super-strength and super-jumping due to the moon’s low gravity (does that remind you of anything?), he fights on Mars and saves a princess. He’s written by the same guy as Tarzan, so it’s no surprise they’d be similar. So John Carter was doing it long before Mario could.
So there you have it. A run down of super-heroic characters that would be called superheroes if they were published today. If you have anything to add, or anything you disagree with, feel free to leave a comment. Till next time.