In 1938, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster unleashed Superman upon the world. With a secret identity, strange powers, and a costume, Superman is perhaps the quintessential superhero. But was he the first of his kind?
Who was the First Superhero?
Superman was certainly not the first fictional character to exhibit powers. Long ago, ancient civilizations told stories about gods and goddesses who exhibited “superpowers.” For example, Zeus from Greek mythology liked to toss the occasional thunderbolt at his enemies. He also resided in a palace on Mount Olympus with the other deities, in what could rightly be called a predecessor to the Justice League’s Watchtower or the Avengers Mansion.
Superman wasn’t even the first comic book character to have superpowers. Popeye, for example, was showing spinach-derived super-strength as early as 1932. Going back in time to the pulp magazines, Doc Savage and the Shadow displayed some of the traits that we currently identify with superheroes.
Superman also wasn’t the first hero to don a secret identity. That honor may belong to Robin Hood or the masked adventurer The Scarlet Pimpernel. As for costume, well, Superman wasn’t the first in that department either. So-called penny dreadfuls, dime novels, and radio programs featured costumed heros such as Zorro and Spring Heeled Jack long before Superman. And one could easily argue that this tradition extends far back in time. Hercules, for example, wore the hide of a lion. Heck, Superman wasn’t even the first comic book hero to wear a costume. That honor, according to the Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide, belongs to the Clock.
Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis
Although he wasn’t the first fictional character to have super powers, a secret identity, or a costume, one could make the case that Superman was the first one to combine all of these elements. So, maybe Superman was the first Superhero.
Or maybe not.
Still, Superman’s stories launched the superhero genre and popularized the comic book as a form of storytelling. He may or may not have been the first superhero. But he might just be the most important one of our time, if not of all time.