Have you ever wondered who the first real superhero was? Or the first kid sidekick? Well, so have we! Welcome to Ten Things: Ten Firsts!
Whooshman-Bicarbonate Films, in conjunction with An Amateur Comics Historian and a lot of asterisks, arguments and counterpoints to be had with these picks, Presents:
TEN THINGS: TEN FIRSTS!
10) THE FIRST SECRET IDENTITY (1905)
First appearing in a novel by Baroness Orczy (based on her earlier stage play), The Scarlet Pimpernel is secretly Sir Percy Blakeney, feckless fop. Of course, that’s all a facade, as he’s actually a master swordsman, tactician and a master of both disguise and escape, using the perception of Sir Percy as a dim-witted dandy to cover for his masked activities. The same dodge would be adopted by Don Diego de la Vega a few years later, eventually becoming the standard for superheroes. Sir Percy is thus the model for rich idiot Bruce Wayne and milquetoasty Clark Kent and all the secret identities to follow.
9) THE FIRST CYBORG (1911)
A pulp hero with an artificial heart that gives him more-than-human abilities, Léo Saint-Clair alias La Nyctalope, is an important step in the journey to superhero-dom. It’s also interesting to see a man-machine hybrid character in fiction years before the heyday of Colonel Steve Austin, Steel The Indestructible Man or even 8-Man. La Nyctalope battled mad scientist, would-be world beaters and aliens years before even Superman (who will not be appearing on this list.)
8) THE FIRST MODERN SUPERHERO (1931)
Originating in kamishibai street theatre, where paper puppet cutouts were used to tell stories with illustrated board backgrounds, Ōgon Batto (The Golden Bat) hails from ancient Atlantis. Sent forward in time to battle evil in the modern day, he checks all the boxes that I need to call someone a superhero, even rocking a cape and the full suite of Kryptonian “flying brick” powers. Even if one wanted to discount him as the first real superhero in the world, he’s certainly the first superhero to come out of Japan.
7) THE FIRST COMICS SUPERHERO (1934)
Another situation with a few caveats involved, Mandrake The Magician (full name never revealed, to my knowledge) uses his powers of hypnosis and misdirection to create magical illusions that he uses to fight criminals, spies and various first-class jerks. His comic strip debut actually had him using real magical powers, but they were phased out, and his stage attire became one of the default super-costumes in the early days, even for characters who had no reason to wear a tuxedo, white gloves and tails.
6) THE FIRST COMIC BOOK SUPERHERO (1936)
Case in point, Brian O’Brien, aka The Clock, a pulp-style masked adventurer who wore a tux in his early appearances. Not only does he predate The Spirit, whom he resembles in later appearances, he predates Golden Age comic publishers Centaur and Quality, where he plied his crime-punching trade. That Quality connection means that The Clock is part of the DC Universe, though he is said to have died in that continuity, and it seems curious that he is so seldom revived, given his (arguable) status as the first actual masked superhero in comic books.
5) THE FIRST SUPERHERO ARCHER (1938)
A stone-cold, ruthless killer, Ralph Payne, The Arrow was not only the first superhero archer, but the first costumed hero to make his debut after the appearance of Superman. Unlike many later archer types, he needed no boxing glove or gimmick arrows, instead shooting his foes with broad-head tips. The Arrow appeared SO early in the Golden Age that he enjoyed nearly a half-decade of adventures before Centaur Comics went out of business… in 1942. The Arrow serves as a precursor to every non-superhuman superhero, from Batman to Shang-Chi to Shaft of Youngblood.
4) THE FIRST FEMALE SUPERHERO (1940)
A policewoman by day, Peggy Allen, The Woman In Red is an expert detective, combatant, markswoman and more. She often relies on her mastery of disguise to access crime scenes undercover, switches to her crimson alter-ego to bring killers to justice. Though her status has an asterisk due to the existence of The Magician From Mars, a super-powered character who made four appearances circa 1939, and Fantomah, a super-powered jungle heroine, The Woman In Red is the first to wear a mask and fit the true superhero mold.
3) THE FIRST KID SIDEKICK (1940)
Though some opine that Dick Grayson, aka Robin The Boy Wonder was created to pander to the children who bought comic books, creator Bill Finger had a different reason in mind: To give the hero someone to talk to! Serving as a Watson to Batman’s Sherlock Holmes, Robin was an immediate success, leading to a flood of sidekick characters, including Pinky The Whiz Kid, Sandy The Golden Boy and Spunky, who assisted the Golden Age Blue Beetle in the field. Though accounts differ, his name is generally considered a nod to Robin Hood but started a mini-trend of sidekicks who just used their real name, including Bucky, Dusty and TWO different boy buddies called Tim.
2) THE FIRST ASIAN-AMERICAN SUPERHERO (1944)
As previously discussed here at Major Spoilers, the status of The Green Turtle (real name unrevealed) is difficult to assess, and may have to fall into the realm of Personal Continuity. Created by Chinese-American artist, Chu F. Hing, The Green Turtle’s five appearances go to great lengths to hide the hero’s face from readers, as Chu intended the Green Turtle to be Chinese. This image, from the cover of Blazing Comics #2, is one of the rare exceptions, making it clear that the publishers weren’t on board with his vision. Because of the limited number of appearances (and the fact that only this one seems to overtly contradict the creative vision of Chu), I am willing to count him.
Mileage, as always, may vary.
1) THE FIRST BLACK SUPERHERO (1966)
Though there are notable Black characters to precede T’Challa, The Black Panther, including Lothar, seen in today’s #7 with Mandrake, and Lion-Man, a Tarzan-style adventurer from 1947, but The Panther is the first character to check ALL the boxes. (Dell Comics’ Lobo, a cowboy adventurer, had his own title the year before T’Challa’s debut, but he was not a superhero character.) The king of the hidden nation of Wakanda, he uses a combination of incredibly advanced technology and folk magic to make himself a superhuman powerhouse on a par with Captain America himself. He currently leads the Avengers.
Thanks to Faithful Spoilerite Vistapaplus for this week’s topic, Ten Firsts! Feel free to follow along @MightyKingCobra for more Ten Things madness on Twitter or check out the full Twitter archive here! As with any set of like items, these aren’t meant to be hard and fast or absolutely complete, especially given how difficult it is to figure some of these things out and how many firsts have already occurred. Either way, the comments section is below for just such an emergency, but, as always: Please, no wagering!