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This week’s entry is kind of jumping off something my friend Kurt remarked about last week’s Lone Ranger column, when he used the expression “prototype super-hero.”

I’m sure he had no idea I would latch on to that, but I did, because it touches on something that has always fascinated me — tracing the ancestry of pop culture figures. Where do these things COME from? Who ARE the ‘prototype’ characters for the marquee comics characters of today? Are any of them still around?

I don’t mean ancestry in the Wold-Newton-geek way, though I’m a huge fan of that stuff too, don’t get me wrong. But I’m talking mostly about influences, first appearances, things like that. Now, of course, when you are talking about superheroes there’s always somebody that’s bringing up Greek mythology or Norse mythology or something like that, and Lord knows there is a whole raft of THOSE characters in comics…

…But I’m not going to go there today. Mostly because I’m writing a column and not a book. I’ll grant you Hercules and Thor and Mercury and the whole mythology bunch, okay? I’m more interested in the ones from popular fiction — what Denny O’Neil once called “post-industrial folklore.” For us I think that means our starting point is probably the early part of the last century if we’re looking for the prototypes that became Batman and Superman and so on.

Let’s look at Batman for a minute, since I brought him up. What’s his line of ancestry? Who’s the “prototype” Batman?

The most common one that people name is the Shadow, and hell, Batman even MET the Shadow a couple of times in the 70’s (and geeked out over him — honestly, I’m not making it up. Total fanboy. It was rather endearing.)

Get a load of Bat-Fanboy!

But really, if you look at them, they’re actually not very much alike. We hardly ever got a look at the Shadow’s motivations or character, he was more of an avenging force of nature. The Shadow was fun because we didn’t know very much about him, the mystery was part of his charm. Nobody had a clue, not even his agents knew who he was. He maintained dozens of other identities along with the Shadow, it was only the radio show that said he was really Lamont Cranston.

Bruce Wayne, on the other hand, is pretty thoroughly documented. We know all about the man beneath the Batman’s mask. Plus, he doesn’t use a network of agents (yes, I know there are exceptions, particularly Azrael and Oracle, but really, over the last sixty-some years there’s been Alfred and Robin and that’s it) and he’s much bigger on the fisticuffs than the Shadow… who admittedly did his share of clobbering as well, but the Shadow preferred hypnotizing crooks with his mysterious girasol ring, or else just shooting the punks and being done with it.

There are a couple of other possibilities. The star of the pulp magazine Black Book Detective, the Black Bat, probably was on Bat-writer Bill Finger’s mind and he HAD to’ve been on Bat-artist Bob Kane’s. At least in terms of Bruce Wayne’s fashion sense.

Prototype Bat-fashion sense, at least.

But again, it’s all surface. Apart from dressing the same way when they fought crime, there’s really not very much there. Tony Quinn, former D.A., was blinded by acid thrown by “vicious criminals.” He started his career as the Black Bat when his girlfriend’s dying father donated his eyes to Quinn and in a weird side effect, Quinn discovered he could see in the dark. (You could make a better case for Daredevil coming from this guy… blinded attorney gains weird powers in a medical accident, puts on a mask and starts fighting evil.)

A much closer candidate, and the one named most often by Kane and Finger themselves, was “the Curse of Capistrano,” Johnston McCulley’s Zorro.

Not the first iteration of Zorro, but close.

Millionaire adventurer is an effeminate lazy loser by day and a caped avenger of injustice by night. Pretty similar taste in costumes — black mask, black cape. Certainly for the first couple of years he was around, Batman was lifted almost bag and baggage from Zorro and planted firmly in the urban 20th century.

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And I think when you’re talking about Batman’s predecessors you have to take a hard look at this guy. If for no other reason than that it was Lee Falk’s Phantom who first hung out in a really tricked-out cave and who had a mask that turned his eyes blank white.

This guy goes WAY back.

There are a couple of other minor similarities — for example, like Batman, the Phantom also liked crooks to think he was a scary supernatural being, and he also was a secret friend to the local head cop, and he had the same nutty idea as Bruce Wayne about underwear over a leotard striking fear into the hearts of criminals.

But really if I was going to pick someone as being the prototype Batman it would be this guy. Richard Wentworth, who anchored his own pulp magazine title from 1933 to 1943 as the original Spider.

This guy is MY pick for the Bat-prototype.

Wentworth had something none of the others had when it comes to Bat-comparisons. He wasn’t pretending to be scary. He WAS scary. Borderline nuts, really. And pretty pissed off at crime.

To become the Spider, Richard Wentworth put on a black cape and hat, a fright wig, fangs, and assumed a hunchbacked posture. He was the only pulp-magazine hero whose look had to be toned DOWN for his covers. His secret identity was very Bruce Wayne-ish; wealthy man-about-town Richard Wentworth was all about the charity galas and so on, usually with his girlfriend Nita Van Sloan on his arm. Nita was in on the Spider’s secret and was always right in there with him, backing the Spider up at a fateful moment or — more likely — trying to back him up and getting clobbered and captured for her trouble. And his faithful valet Ram Singh had a real Alfred-esque vibe, much more so than all the other faithful valets and chauffeurs and aides that follwed the other pulp guys around. In fact, read Nita as Dick Grayson and Singh as Alfred and you pretty much have the same division of labor with Wentworth’s crew as Batman has with his. Though Frederic Wertham couldn’t get quite as testy about the sleeping arrangements.

There was plenty of other stuff for him to take issue with, though. There’s a real adrenaline rush to the Spider stories. Parents would definitely not have approved of the violent Spider, and his rogues’ gallery makes Batman’s look pretty wimpy. This is a group that made the Spider’s psychotically-enraged war on crime look like a perfectly sensible reaction. The Vampire King, the Red Mandarin, the Sandman, the Skull, the Death Fiddler, and (my favorite) the Emperor of Vermin… all of these were guys who, between them, racked up a death toll of thousands (it’s a wonder New York managed to rebuild every month) and on whom due process would be, frankly, wasted. Much better, as Wentworth usually did, to just skip to the end and blow their sick asses away.

Wentworth’s New York IS Gotham City as we know it today: gothic, terrifying, full of freakish evil psychos and rampant with crime. And Wentworth takes the same kind of physical beatings Bruce Wayne routinely has to deal with– most Spider stories end with him having to wrap a tourniquet around his calf and pop his shoulder back into its socket just before bursting into the bad guy’s lair and taking out fifteen or twenty henchmen on his way to rescue Nita from being raped by the Flame Destroyer.

That kind of teeth-gritting, pull-out-the-win-at-any-cost feeling is something unique to the Spider among the pulp heroes, and it’s something Batman writers have been riffing on since the forties, too. The sense of Wentworth’s physical sacrifices and the rogue’s gallery of homicidal sickos are what edge him out ahead of the Shadow as Batman’s most direct ancestor for me; your mileage may vary, of course. But he’s my pick.

Turning to Superman, there aren’t nearly as many possibilities. People often bring up Doc Savage as being a Superman prototype, but really it was Mort Weisinger that started stealing Doc riffs for Superman in the fifties and sixties. I think it was Weisinger’s co-opting of Doc’s arctic Fortress of Solitude, especially, that gets people making the direct connection. But for Siegel and Shuster, my sense is that they were much more influenced by a different guy.

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The first real SUPER hero... depending on where you start counting.

Specifically, this guy: Hugo Danner, from Philip Wylie’s Gladiator. Hugo, the product of his father’s genetic experiments, has powers and abilities far beyond mortal men. He has superhuman strength and speed, can leap great distances, is practically invulnerable, and if he put on a blue leotard and a red cape he’d be damn near indistinguishable from the Superman of 1938 and 1939…

With one hand, Hugo imprisoned his wrists. He lifted Melcher from the floor and shook him. “I meant it, Melcher. And I will give you a sign. Rotten politics, graft, bad government, are doomed.” Melcher watched with staring eyes while Hugo, with his free hand, rapidly demolished the room. He picked up the great desk and smashed it; he tore the stone mantelpiece from its roots; he kicked the fireplace apart; he burst a hole in the brick wall–dragging the bulk of a man behind him as he moved. “Remember that, Melcher. No one else on Earth is like me…”

The key alterations Siegel and Shuster made to the Hugo Danner idea were adding the costume, the Clark Kent secret identity, and — most importantly — they cheered their super-guy up. In Gladiator, Hugo Danner is gradually more and more alienated from humanity; Wylie’s through-line for the novel is essentially that Hugo can never be one of us. He keeps trying to find his place in the world, first as a sports star and then as a social activist and warrior, but always, it turns out that Hugo Danner is too dangerously strong to live with his fellow man, he is fated to be forever alone. Eventually he resolves to exile himself and even becomes suicidal. Gladiator is clearly designed as a tragedy. Superman, just as clearly, is not… but the sense of alienation that surrounds the Kryptonian’s early and middle years of publication history is, I think, foreshadowed more purely in Wylie’s book than anywhere else. Kal-El as a superhuman fated to be forever alone is an idea that keeps showing up in Superman stories, from the 40’s on up to as recently as Superman Returns.


So did any of these pulpy progenitors make it to comics? Are they still around?

The Shadow has often appeared in comic books: I’ve talked about those books before, particularly DC’s The Shadow Strikes!, so I won’t go through that whole list again. But the others have too. Zorro, especially, has had a number of really good runs in comics, particularly at Dell under Alex Toth, and those are certainly worth picking up, they’ve been collected a couple of different places.

Alex Toth... for quite a few of us, THE Zorro artist.

Alex Toth, ladies and gentlemen.

More recently, Don McGregor has done some nice work on the character… in newspaper syndication and for Topps Comics in the 90’s.

This was a pretty big hit for Topps...

In fact his Zorro was so successful there for a while it seemed like it was anchoring Topps’ line, and even after it folded McGregor ended up taking the Lady Rawhide spin-off to Image a couple of years later.

... and as you can see, McGregor's still workin' it.

How good are they? I rate them as pretty good, but, you know, Don McGregor’s writing style is something where you’re either on board for the ride or you’re not, it’s definitely a love it or hate it experience. Those of us that fondly remember his work from Killraven and Detectives Inc. are probably more inclined to be indulgent of his excesses; but they are certainly there, it has to be said. Anyway, in many of these books the art alone is a real treat, especially Esteban Maroto’s work. You probably could bowl them out at a con or from an online dealer for not too much money if you were interested.

And the Phantom, of course, has had lots of success in comic books. In fact, if you look outside the U.S. comic book direct market, he’s a megastar. The Ghost Who Walks has been in continuous publication in one form or another since 1936…. newspapers, mostly, but Australia’s Frew Publications has been putting out a Phantom comic book since 1948, and according to the GCD it’s coming up on #1500 or so. I’m not going to go over the Phantom’s whole history here — that’s a book in itself, never mind a column. But I will mention a few different ones I liked personally, just briefly.

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I first encountered the Phantom in prose, not comics — the novels put out by Avon Books in the 70’s. And those are well worth seeking out, especially the first one, The Story of the Phantom, which really is Phantom: Year One for our generation’s Kit Walker.

Phantom Year One.

I made it a point to check the spinner rack soon thereafter for the Phantom’s comic book, and lucked into Charlton’s last gasp on the title, when they were letting Don Newton just go nuts on it. Those were gorgeous, gorgeous books. I was instantly a fan. One of the five or six times in my life I bought a comic book just for the art.

One of the best Phantoms ever, the Charlton/Don Newton version.

I also really liked the four-issue mini-series Peter David did with Joe Orlando for DC in the 80’s, as well as the regular Mark Verheiden/Luke McDonnell monthly that followed.

I liked this mini-series REALLY A LOT.

And though I wasn’t crazy about the three-issue Marvel miniseries in the 90’s, I nevertheless bought it; I forget who worked on that one, and with the GCD down at the moment I can’t look it up, but I remember it as being just on the low side of okay. I still like the Phantom, and I do check in with the Moonstone version now and again.

This particular book isn't all that, but I do like a lot of the Moonstone Phantom stories.

But mostly, I surf eBay looking for the novels. Those are great fun. There were fifteen in all and so far I have acquired nine of them. Another collector quest I pick at off and on. Everyone needs a hobby.

These were very cool books. Worth checking eBay.

As for the others, there aren’t many iterations of them in comic books, but the interested scholar can find a couple. The Spider got a comic book in the early 90’s.

Truman splits the difference between the fanged psycho described in the stories and the masked one on the pulp covers.

Tim Truman did a really cool version that ran for a couple of mini-series’ worth from Eclipse Comics. The interesting part was that he imagined a look for Wentworth that was kind of averaging out the portrayal on the pulp covers and the really freaky outfit author Norvell Page described the Spider as wearing in the original stories, which is a feat of design I wouldn’t have thought possible. Anyway, the two minis would make a nice trade collection if anyone ever manages to untangle the rights.

Eclipse did well enough with this to publish a sequel.

The Black Bat never got a comic — come on, imagine what fans would say if somebody tried to market a comic starring a caped-and-cowled guy with radar sense called the Bat, in this day and age. Nobody would believe he came first. But you can check out a few facsimile reprints of his pulp adventures as back issues of High Adventure, published by the delightful Adventure House. And as it happens that selfsame publisher also will soon have replicas of Norvell Page’s original Spider novels for sale, as well. Everyone should read at least one of those, just for the sheer breathlessness of the experience. Norvell Page slaved over his prose, according to pulp historians, but the typical Spider adventure nevertheless reads like it was written in twenty-four hours by a guy trying to beat a death sentence.

And Hugo Danner, the proto-Superman? He actually did appear in a comic of his own. It was Marvel Preview #9, written by Roy Thomas, with art by Rich Buckler and Tony DeZuniga.

Here's Roy Thomas doing Gladiator, fascinated by the classics as always.

In an unfortunate decision they changed the name from “Gladiator” to “Man-God,” I guess in some hope of sucking in the folks who’d bought Marvel Preview #1 featuring the Man-Gods From Outer Space. (Which actually had nothing to do with Philip Wylie’s novel, that was a lame story trying to cash in on Erich von Whatshisname’s Chariots of the Gods.) But it’s otherwise a very cool version. Thomas wisely decided to skip all the suicidal depression stuff at the end and only adapt the front half of the novel, ending the story of Hugo Danner with his World War I experiences. A blurb at the end urges readers to write in if they want to see the rest. Obviously they didn’t, which is a pity, because it was a pretty good adaptation, and there were nice articles about Philip Wylie and the history of the superman in SF novels, too. I just got this from a dealer not too long ago, and it was actually looking at this particular book and remembering Kurt’s comment about prototypes that started the whole rock rolling down the hill for this week’s piece.

Anyway, those are my picks and where you can find examples of them. But by all means, feel free to argue it back and forth among yourselves, that’s the fun of the exercise.

See you next week.


Glad I inspired such a good column, Greg!

FYI, Hugo Danner also appeared in Roy Thomas’ Young All-Stars in the late 80s, where he was revealed as the biological father of YAS strongman and heartthrob Arn “Iron” Munro. “Gladiator” is retold in YAS #10, though never having read the novel I couldn’t say if the half skipped in the Marvel adaptation is included.


I always figured the reason they changed the name to “Man-God” is that Marvel already had a character called Gladiator–he was a Daredevil villain with buzzsaw blades mounted on his wrists.

No, really.

Howard Chaykin and Russ Heath’s miniseries LEGEND a couple of years ago was adapted, a little bit freely, from GLADIATOR too.

There’s also a copy of Wylie’s novel on the senior Nite Owl’s bookshelf in WATCHMEN!

I read in ‘Men of Tomorrow’ that Zorro was definitely a big influence on Jerry Siegel in creating Superman, and so was one other you didn’t mention: the Scarlet Pimpernel, who I like to argue was the original modern superhero. The Pimpernel was the first guy to be a dashing adventurer with a foppish secret identity, and I think a lot of stuff traces back to him.

Other figures I think you have to fit into this mixture are Leslie Charteris’s ‘The Saint’, and also the Green Hornet, both of which predated Superman’s debut in the comics (I’m pretty sure). In fact, the original Crimson Avenger looks pretty much like a ripoff of the Green Hornet.

I read Gladiator. It was pretty good considering when it was written. It would make a really great Graphic Novel. Maybe someday…

I always think of Sherlock Holmes as a proto-superhero. In fact, I was just going over my thoughts on the subject this past week.

He’s got a (not-so) secret base from which he works, and he’s got a distinctive costume. He has a sidekick, and a superpower (two if you count his ability to disguise himself). He’s got a catchphrase. He’s got both an archvillain with whom he identitifies and a villain(ess) for whom he feels a weakness. He’s even got his own Kryptonite, in his cocaine addiction.

He’s definitely survived. He’s been in comics and, like the Shadow, has met Batman.

Oh, one more! He oftens gets on the bad side of other law enforcement agents he meets while travelling, just as superheroes have to have a fight before they team up…

The Phantom has been continuously published (and most of the time also written and drawn) in Sweden since 1950 – the Australian stories you mentioned are largely translated from Swedish. Some issues have sold over 200 000 copies in Sweden, which would be the equivalent of selling 8 million copies in the US. Sales have been declining, though, and today an average issue sells about 30 000 copies (which would be like selling a million copies in the US).

The second half of the “Man-God” story was finally finished, I believe, In DC’s All-Star Squadron when revealing the story of Arn Monroe.

I’m surprised Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs haven’t been mentioned. His origin mirrors Superman somewhat – Parents killed by a calamity, brought up by lowly apes, grows up with superb physique and appearance, ascends to be the leader of the apes, goes forth to civilization as Lord Greystoke etc. First appearance is 1912 novel. Along with numerous movies (both silent and sound) – I think theres plenty of the prototypical superhero influence there. Superman in my mind.

A stretch?


Tarzan’s Jane = Lois Lane

moose n squirrel

November 11, 2006 at 8:15 am

But really, if you look at them, they’re actually not very much alike. We hardly ever got a look at the Shadow’s motivations or character, he was more of an avenging force of nature.

When Batman was first introduced, though, he had none of the backstory, origin, or motivations we associate with his current incarnation – he really was a straight-up mysterious avenger of the night in the mold of the Shadow. It wasn’t until his origin first appeared in Detective #33 – as a back-up – that the character started to depart from the original concept.

Eqdoktor said…”I’m surprised Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs haven’t been mentioned. His origin mirrors Superman somewhat – Parents killed by a calamity, brought up by lowly apes, grows up with superb physique and appearance, ascends to be the leader of the apes, goes forth to civilization as Lord Greystoke etc. First appearance is 1912 novel. Along with numerous movies (both silent and sound) – I think there’s plenty of the prototypical superhero influence there. Superman in my mind.A stretch?”

Actually, no. There’s lots more. But Tarzan, in particular, had SO MUCH going on and SO MANY imitators in pulps and comics that I decided he would get his own column. Probably next week…. depends on how much time I get to research it, might be the week after, or longer. That’s another one like the Ranger that really deserves a book. But there’s a LOT of Jungle Lords (and a couple of ladies) out there.

Most everyone else that’s been brought up, particularly Holmes and the Pimpernel, I DID consider including and then discarded because I didn’t think you could make the case that there was a direct line from them to Superman or Batman. To superheroes, yes, absolutely, but you have to draw the line somewhere. The Pimpernel was the hardest one to throw overboard, Kane and Finger did actually mention him as an influence (though I was unaware Jerry Siegel had too) but in the end I decided that the Pimpernel was more the source of the secret identity concept, which is a generic superhero idea; everything he brought to the table for Batman specifically, Zorro did too, and Zorro was the better one to talk about, and time was becoming an issue… as it was this took up most of my week. (He said, trying not to sound all defensive and whiny.)

This would make a really cool book project for someone. The interesting thing to me I discovered doing all the digging around this last week is that you really can’t find too many predecessors for the Marvel heroes, at least not for what they became. The Hulk has ancestors galore, of course, in classical literature, and Thor is a gimme; but Spider-Man, the X-Men… you REALLY have to reach there to find anyone in pulps or early SF. You can have lots of fun looking for Vision predecessors, though. There have been a remarkable number of Pinocchio androids in pulps and comics.

Anyway. Carry on. Lots of these things are news to me, particularly the “Gladiator” follow-ups. That’s stuff I gotta check out now.

Martin said… “The Phantom has been continuously published (and most of the time also written and drawn) in Sweden since 1950 – the Australian stories you mentioned are largely translated from Swedish. Some issues have sold over 200 000 copies in Sweden, which would be the equivalent of selling 8 million copies in the US. Sales have been declining, though, and today an average issue sells about 30 000 copies (which would be like selling a million copies in the US).”

Huh. Okay, mea culpa. I had it backwards — I was mostly thinking of what my Aussie friend Paul had said in the past conversations we’d had about the Phantom being such a newsstand comics star Down Under, and so I assumed the Swedes were translating Aussie work. My bad.

“FYI, Hugo Danner also appeared in Roy Thomas’ Young All-Stars in the late 80s, where he was revealed as the biological father of YAS strongman and heartthrob Arn “Iron” Munro. ‘Gladiator’ is retold in YAS #10…”

Not coincidentally, Jean-Marc Lofficier, a major force in the Wold Newton game, co-plotted YAS. I can’t recall with certainty if he was directly responsible for the Danner connection, but it’s likely.

“The interesting thing to me I discovered doing all the digging around this last week is that you really can’t find too many predecessors for the Marvel heroes, at least not for what they became.”

That’s largely because the Marvel characters were mixtures of existing superhero types and popular culture figures of the time that leaned heavily towards their pop influences rather than their heroic ones. In that sense it’s easy to see where the influences came from* but a bit harder to find a specific proto-character.

* Spider-man = James Dean “troubled teen”, Dr. Strange = Vincent Price, Fantastic Four = Fantastic Voyage/Swiss Family Robinson, Iron Man = Howard Hughes, Nick Fury = started as John Wayne then became James Bond, Daredevil = Perry Mason

Greg, a few points:

Superman was given a Fortress of Solitude—name included, unless DC relettered their Golden Age reprints in the 1970s 100–page Super Spectaculars—before Weisinger’s, back in the 1940s, probably by Jerry Siegel, but it was literally in the hills outside of Metropolis rather than the Arctic. Given that starting point, it appears that Mort merely modified an existing Super–concept, and therefore may not even have known about Doc’s Fortress. I don’t know of any other clear “Doc riffs” that Weisinger stole, and as the Man of Bronze—real first name CLARK, incidentally—was not infrequently referred to as a superman, your discounting his influence on Jerry and Joe’s creation is ill–advised. This is not to deny the obvious precedent of Wylie’s “Gladiator” by any means.

Don McGregor did not do just Lady Rawhide but Zorro himself post–Topps, probably for either Image or Dark Horse (I no longer possess copies, and the GCD doesn’t list it at all), but admittedly it was only a limited–run adaptation of the Anthony Hopkins/Antonio Banderas movie.

In the “Marvel Preview” adaptation of Wylie’s “Gladiator,” Roy Thomas didn’t “skip” anything. It was simply the first part of a somewhat serialized adaptation, as is explicitly stated in the issue, that was never completed. Roy just never got to that part of the novel.

And Marvel’s Phantom was by Dave DeVries and Glenn Lumsden.

Just trying to clarify some things.


I beg your pardon. I should have pointed out how much I enjoyed the piece, including literally seeing the Spider for the very first time, and finding out that somebody else enjoyed those 70s Phantom paperbacks.

And a note to “JR” about considering “Fantastic Voyage” an influence on the Fantastic Four: That’s not at all possible, as the comic predates that movie (and it IS an original movie; the very complicated special effects kept the project in post–production for so long that Isaac Asimov’s NOVELIZATION was in stores before the film made it to theaters) by several years, specifically 1961 versus 1966.

Thought provoking column as always, Mr. Hatcher. Though I seldom take the time to say so.

The word that pops into my particular mind is “archetype”. You know, something like “Hooker with a heart of gold” or “Good Cop/Bad Cop”. Those are cliches, stereotypes, though. But they get to that point through overuse and oversimplification to the point where they get, like the “Women in Refridgerators” syndrome, more than a little tired and lame.

And Tarzan – who I also noted you didn’t mention here and look forward to hearing about in some future installment – well, Tarzan will tell you what happens in the jungle to anything that gets tired and lame.

Because, to my admitedly limited experience, writing is a lot like being in the jungle. For a writer anyway (Fortunately not operating under such difficult laws as “kill or be killed” though it might seem like it at times, but you get the point.) you’re looking for solutions to problems. And given similar problems you’re going to come up with similar solutions. And the average reader might not pick up on how you’ve purposely or accidentily resurrected an archetype in your story but another write might. A good one anyways. Because the average person reads on the surface and a good writer knows that you read the lines, you read between the lines, you read the lines upside down and sideways because every story, every sentence is a made thing. Fashioned out of nothing by a human hand that’s trying, somehow, to pack it with meaning and symbols and codes and importance. What’s a writer if not an artist? And what’s art if not fashioning something out of nothing?

I say this as preface to my opinion that you’re a little too focused on coming up with a direct precursor, Mr. Hatcher. You’re trapped on the surface when the waters run much, much deeper. Finding a more or less exact match to a list of arbitrary criteria is interesting and of no uncertain value. But it’s the traits that are important, not the template. Because none of these characters we’re talking about was forged in a vaccuum or by accident. Because just as archetypes can become lame and tired and devolve into cliche, so to can they be resurrected, refreshed, and rejuvinated. You can take them to a new age and dress them up in new clothing – modernizing them according to your own point of view and the demands of the current climate. But another way is to breed them. To mix those traits that make up your list of criteria, blend those archetypes, and come up with something, hopefully, just a little bit new.

Tarzan will tell you that happens in the jungle too. I want to hear less about the lineage and more about the blending. So, I’m looking forward to the next one and the one after that because they sure do provoke some of my thoughts.

Great column, Greg! I’m really glad you pegged the Spider-Batman connection. Not as many people are as familiar with the Spider, as compared to Doc Savage amd the Shadow, but hoo boy, Wayne and Wentworth could definately compare a few notes with each other about being an overly-obsesive crimefighter…

Ted: My mistake, it was the first “small group of scientist adventurers who get in over their heads” example that came to mind and I couldn’t remember when it came out. I guess Journey to The Center of the Earth, The Lost World, or From Earth to The Moon work as other examples of that convention on some level though.


O.K., I get you now and it’s a fair point. My initial thought was that you intended something about the common word in the two titles, which was MY mistake.

Dr. Strange = Vincent Price
………….Actually, Chandu the Magician from radio

Somebody brought up Sherlock Holmes. Do not overlook Nick Carter, who debuted in 1886, before Sherlock Holmes, and used many traits before Sherlock Holmes (e.g. recurring enemy in Doctor Jack Quartz). Quartz once assembled NIck Carter’s enemies together-the first Rogues’ Gallery ensemble?

And nobody even mentions Spring Heeled Jack the freak of nature who debuted in real live rumours 100 years before Superman and then was quickly made in to a precursor to Zorro in the Penny Dreadfulls just 15 years later!

Nor Johnston McCulley’s Bat who also attributed to Batman’s origin story.

The Scarlet Pimpernal is a major influence on the pulp characters, especially Zorro, which leads to Batman; so, no, it’s not a direct influence, but he’s in the DNA. You can also add Dr. Synn, who would influence later pulp heroes, who use fear and terror and work with a network of assistants (as did the Scarlet Pimpernal). Also of influence on some of the trickster characters were the Arsene Lupin stories of Maurice LeBlanc. Lupin used deception and trickery to carry out his schemes, which were often aimed at more despicable characters. Lupin and Raffles were the prototype Gentlemen Thieves, which influenced both the gimmick villains and the trickster heroes.

Meanwhile, there are also cinematic influences. before the Shadow was Judex, star of a legendary serial in France. It tells the story of a man who was wronged by a banker and who takes his revenge, using a cloaked personna, various disguises, and scientific equipment. Obviously, it borrowed from The Count of Monte Cristo. Along the same lines was Les Vampires, with Irma Vep, the leader of a gang of criminals (not actual vampires). She battles a rival, while clad in a black bodystocking. Again, very influental on nighttime avengers.

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