Sunday, August 14, 2016

Sorry, girls didn't invent superheroes—Jews did. On Superman, the Phantom, and the Scarlet Pimpernel.

This has been making the rounds for obvious reasons:

I shared it on Facebook because it's fun, but it's not true. When someone proposed Hercules as the first superhero, I replied,
The canonical superhero has three things:

1. A unique codename.

2. A distinctive costume.

3. Special abilities.

Hercules had one of the three. The Scarlet Pimpernel had two. The first superhero was probably the Phantom, who had all three, but they really came together with Superman, who is the reason we call them superheroes.
The Phantom appeared in 1936. He has a special name, but he doesn't quite have a secret identity—a secret identity traditionally is a superhero's daily self, which can take two forms. The Scarlet Pimpernel established one version: Sir Percy uses his real name, but a false persona—his real character is only revealed when he goes into action as The Pimpernel. The Green Hornet established the other version: Britt Reid runs a newspaper, but to fight crime, he becomes the Green Hornet. The Phantom is in the tradition of the Lone Ranger (created in 1933), a hero who gives up his previous identity to take on a new role.

And the Phantom had special abilities, but they are not unique. He pretends to be supernatural.

So I give The Pimpernel one point on the superhero scale for his unique codename. If you insist fencing and espionage count as special abilities, I'll give him half a point more, because those special abilities are no more special than the abilities of any human hero.

The Phantom gets two points, one for a codename and one for a costume. If you want to say pretending to be supernatural is a special ability, he gets another half a point.

But all the things that make a superhero came together in 1938 with Superman, the creation of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, two Jewish New Yorkers who gave the world something new.

ETA: Defining "superhero" and why Fantomah isn't quite one

Interracial romance in comic books