Now, since the term "superhero" originated really because of Superman in 1938, they weren't really meant to apply to anyone created before. For this post, we'll define them as adventurers who have a desire to do good and help people, and if they have special abilities while they do that as well as a distinctive look/costume, the better.
An Honorable Mention to Terry and the Pirates. Milton Caniff's work was very influential to many generations of superhero creators. But as much as I may already be stretching the definition of the term "superhero" with my number five pick, he at least resembles one on the superficial level, while Terry does not.
Here we go!
5. Prince Valiant
|Art by Hal Foster|
I originally considered Tarzan for this spot, but he was disqualified due to not having originated in comics.
4. Mandrake the Magician and Lothar
|Art by Phil Davis|
More importantly, Mandrake had a crimefighting partner named Lothar, an African prince who chose to go adventure with Mandrake. Although Falk characterized Lothar as having broken English and made him subservient to Mandrake, one must take into account the times (please refer to my Ebony White article) and give credit to Falk that Lothar was neither drawn in blackface nor portrayed as incompetent. In fact, he was Mandrake's ace in the hole, as he was the strongest man in the world.
Mandrake and Lothar are widely accepted as the first interrarcial crimefighting duo.
3. Dick Tracy
|Art by |
2. The Phantom
|Art by Dave Gibbons|
Kit Walker is the 21st Phantom, created by Lee Falk in 1936. He is, really, the first legacy hero, which is pretty much the foundation of DC Comics (and even Marvel, to an extent) these days. When one Phantom dies, his son takes his place.
More than that though, the Phantom is the archetypal action/adventure hero, with his adventures taking place in Africa and lore surrounding the Phantom, with old jungle sayings like "The Ghost Who Walks can never die," or "Those who see the true face of the Phantom will surely die a horrible death." He was also the first to wear a skintight costume and a mask that covered the pupils, setting a precedent for many, many superhero costumes.
There is a Phantom comic book being published today, and the rights for him are always hotly contested whenever the expiration date comes up.
1. Flash Gordon
In 1934, Alex Raymond changed the comics universe by unleashing into it the space adventure strip known as Flash Gordon. Raymond's figure work, still emulated and imitated (but never duplicated) today, drew readers in, giving it an insanely high readership. The title character and his true love, Dale Arden, along with a scientist named Hans Zarkov, are transported to a far-off planet called Mongo, a world ruled by the tyrannical Ming the Merciless.
As Alex Raymond's style is still copied today, Flash Gordon is continually held in high esteem, with revivals and reprints upon revivals and reprints. Alex Raymond and Flash Gordon is the reason a lot of comics look the way they do, and they are also partly the reason why there is a large section of comics and other works that take place in space. In fact, Flash Gordon is the direct inspiration for a little movie franchise called Star Wars. You may have heard of it.
Interestingly, in 1986, Flash Gordon was the leader in the animated series Defenders of the Earth, where the other members were the Phantom, Mandrake, and Lothar - all updated (especially Lothar) for the 80s. All four characters are distributed by King Features Syndicate, as is Prince Valiant (who showed up in the show as well!).
|The Defenders of the Earth, and their kids.|
Did I miss anyone? Do you agree? Disagree? Let me know!