Before Superman entered the scene and mesmerized the readers with his incredible sets of abilities, there existed a world with a different superhero genre. This genre relied not on comic books but radio audible, newspaper strips and novels to do the storytelling. The adventures of these superheroes may have been lost to time but their legacy continues for they were the ones that inspired the template that would soon give rise to the present-day superheroes as we know it. Many think that Superman was the first-ever Superhero. Technically, he is the first-ever comic book superhero. The concept of masked vigilantes fighting for good had existed for a long while. And many of them were pop culture phenomena of their time. Presenting 10 Superheroes that came before Superman – the first ever superhero of the comic books!!
1. Conan the Barbarian
Conan was created way before Superman came in 1938. Conan first appeared in Weird Tales, a pulp fiction magazine and was created by the legendary Robert E. Howard. Conan is a Cimmerian. He belongs to a proud and long caste of warriors that have been all but extinct. Conan’s adventures took place in the Hyborian Age, an era of blood and massacres. Conan was known throughout the land to be a brave and courageous fighter. He was also a pretty popular character of fiction. Conan’s rights were handed down from one publication to another. After Arnold Schwarzenegger portrayed Conan in the Conan the Barbarian movie, the character’s fame grew even more than it was.
2. Domino Lady
The story of Domino Lady would sound like the origin story of Robin Hood, had he been a lady and grew up in Suburban California. Domino Lady’s real name is Ellen Patrick. She is a highly learned socialite whose husband was murdered in cold blood. To avenge her husband and ensure no such harm befalls any other innocent person she puts on a domino mask and a white dress. Using her bewitching beauty as a weapon, Domino Lady goes hunting around the city looking for people who wrong others. She steals their money and then distributes it to the people in need (only after taking her cut of course coz Lady got needs!!!). She would leave a card at the crime place which would read “Compliments of the Domino Lady”.
3. Tarzan the Apeman
Tarzan was only a child when the ship he and his parents were traveling in sank and they were left to fend for themselves in the jungles of the Dark Continent. Soon, his parents were killed and Tarzan was adopted by a gang of Gorillas. Life in the jungle made him extremely strong and agile like a monkey and he soon became Tarzan, King of the Jungle. After meeting Jane Foster, Tarzan would rediscover human civilization and would soon return to the cradles of humanity. But the lust for a simpler life would keep forcing Tarzan back to Africa, back to his family of apes whom he too was sworn to protect. Tarzan was created by Edgar Rice Burroughs and is said by Jerry Spiegel, creator of Superman to be an inspiration for Man of Steel.
Just like Tarzan was the inspiration for Superman, many believe that Zorro was the inspiration for Batman. Don Diego de la Vega was a Spanish aristocrat living in Spanish occupied California. The region was abundant in corruption and violence perpetrated by the ruling elite. Diego saw the error of their ways and donned the mask of Zorro. With his trusted horse Tornado and his sword fighting and skills with the whip, Zorro became the savior of the public. He had a tendency to laugh out loud while fighting his enemies, who would be no match for his skills.
5. The Shadow
Long before Adam Baldwin played the character in a solo movie of the same name, The Shadow was a superhero that was created out of a top of the head ideas of a radio talk show host. The catchphrase “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow Knows!!” became wildly popular. The Shadow was one of the first superheroes to have actual superpower. He could use hypnosis to control people and make them do things against their will. The Shadow was also a very skilled ventriloquist and used his voice to defeat his enemies by masking its origin when he spoke, making it sound like the Shadow was everywhere and nowhere at the same time.
6. John Carter of Mars
The first superhero that could be considered an inter-planetary adventurer, John Carter was a regular soldier who fought in the War against the Indians. Carter would soon become an Noble Lord. But nobody apart from a select few would know his secret. Carter would fake his death to travel to a planet called Barsoom, where he fought alien creatures and crazy beasts and protected the Barsoomians from planetary level threats. Barsoom’s gravity was lot less compared to Earth. So with heightened bone density and musculature more powerful than any Barsoomian, John Carter was blessed with added strength in Barsoom, which he would use to fight his foes.
7. The Phantom Magician
The Phantom Magician was one of the first-ever superhero characters to use magic and sorcery in super-heroics. First debuting as a side character in the pages of The Adventures of Patsy, the Phantom Magician soon resonated with the reading masses who wanted a sense of adventure in their reads. Many consider the Phantom Magician to be the one that would inspire the legendary Mandrake the Magician (soon on that on a bit) character. The Phantom Magician was also a very good swashbuckler and sword fighter. Don Markstein, a renowned authority on the history of superheroes claims the Phantom Magician to be the world’s first-ever true superhero.
8. Mandrake the Magician
Created by Lee Falk, Mandrake the Magician debuted in a newspaper strip in 1934. That strip ran till the next century – that is 2013. Mandrake was a famous sorcerer who would start out as a hypnotist. He would soon go on to show other abilities like telepathy, teleportation and the power of flight. Mandrake’s alter ego was that of a street magician that did shows around the world. Together with an African Prince blessed with invulnerability as an ally, Mandrake the Magician would fight aliens, gang lords, and corrupt politicians.
9. The Green Hornet
The Green Hornet Radio Program was the brainchild of Fran Striker and George W Trendle. The Green Hornet’s real name is Brett Reid. He is the owner of a popular Newspaper called the Sentinel. Brett got fed up with just reporting on people who would always get away by finding loopholes i8n the system and decided to become the Green Hornet. Together with his trusted sidekick, the martial arts expert Kato, the Green Hornet would take down entire criminal empires with his cunning and intellect. There was even a TV Show on the Green Hornet. It featured Van Williams as the titular character and the legendary Bruce Lee as Kato. According to legends, the director ha to slow down the camera rolls to ensure they could catch the lightning-fast moves of Bruce Lee when he was doing his action choreography during shooting.
10. The Phantom
The Phantom is a superhero that resides in the forest of Bangalla and protects the natives from tyrants and dictators that try to exploit the rich lands of the region. If you could get past the ‘White Man-Ultimate Saviour stereotype’, the Phantom was a comic strip that was quite ahead of its time for the genre. It featured Kit Walker, who descended from a long line of people that took over the mantle of the Phantom. The Phantom had a purple skin-tight costumer and a lot of accessories to aid him in battle. He was called the Ghost who walks. Some people also claimed he was a warrior that could never die and is destined to live and protect Bangalla forever. The Phantom even has live-action adaptations to his name.
Do I really look like a guy with a plan? You know what I am? I’m a dog chasing cars. I wouldn’t know what to do with one if I caught it! You know, I just… do things