Monday, June 27, 2011

Mystery Men! - Men of Yesterday

Supes wouldn't do this trick for a few more decades
Everybody knows that Superman, the Man of Tomorrow, was the first ever superhero ... provided you don’t count the many that came before him. Since Mystery Men! is designed to duplicate heroic adventures in any era, I thought it might be fun to stat up a few pre-modern heroes for the game - Men of Yesterday - in roughly the order they appeared.

Hugo Hercules
Created by William H. D. Koerner, 1902

Hugo Hercules was the star of a one-panel comic strip - super powered and heroic, and yet not quite a super hero.

From Wikipedia - “A good-natured man endowed with superhuman strength, the character of Hugo wandered about town, helping people with their problems and shocking them with his surprising displays of power. He was so strong he could pick up an elephant, kick a house like a football, wield an artillery cannon like a handgun, and lift a locomotive engine off the tracks and pull its cargo behind him at train speeds.”

Created by Jean de la Hire, 1911

The French hero Nyctalope is the real deal, and a fan boy’s dream.

From Wikipedia - “The Nyctalope is Léo Saint-Clair (or Sainte-Claire or Sainclair depending on the edition), a crime fighter who can see in the dark with his eerie eyes whose irises shift colors. It is revealed later that the Nyctalope sports an artificial heart.

According to the internal chronology of the series, the Nyctalope was born circa 1877 (even though one of the later books updated it to 1892). His adventures roughly take place between 1910 and 1946.

Saint-Clair made his first appearance in Le Mystère des XV (The Mystery Of The XV) (1911) in which the villainous Oxus tries to conquer Mars and breed a new race of supermen. This book features a fictional crossover with H. G. Wells' Martians.

Oxus had previously appeared in L'Homme qui peut vivre dans l'eau (The Man Who Could Live Underwater) (1908), which was retroactively said to have taken place 25 years before and featured Leo's father, Jean Sainte-Claire, as a supporting character. In that novel, Oxus and the mad monk Fulbert, grafted shark gills onto a hapless victim, turning him into a waterbreathing man.

After an interval of ten years during which La Hire wrote other novels, the Nyctalope returned in Lucifer (1921). There, he was challenged by Baron Glo von Warteck who, from his citadel at the North Pole, tried to enslave humanity with his Teledynamo machine.

More novels followed, introducing grander villains and more incredible perils, such as La Captive du Démon in which the hero fought Prince Leonid Zattan, evil incarnate, Red Princess Titania, her son Belzebuth, and Gorillard the Mastodon. In Les Mystères de Lyon [The Mysteries Of Lyon] (1933), the Nyctalope fought the life-stealing Alouh T'Ho, a Chinese Empress.

The last Nyctalope story was the novella Rien qu'une nuit [Just One Night] (1944), taking place in 1941, in which the Nyctalope appears to have succumbed to the charms of collaboration with the Nazis. Two more uncompleted Nyctalope novels were finished and published by La Hire's son-in-law in 1954 and 1955.”

Created by Elzie Crisler Segar, 1929

Popeye was an adventure strip par excellence back in the 1930's - less so as time passed.

From Wikipedia - “In most appearances (except during the World War II era), Popeye is a middle-aged sailor with a unique way of speaking, disproportionately muscular forearms with two anchor tattoos, thinning hair, and an ever-present corncob pipe (which he toots like a steamship's whistle at times). Popeye is generally depicted as having only one eye, his left. In at least one Fleischer cartoon, Bluto refers to Popeye as a "one-eyed runt." Mostly quiet as to how he lost his right eye, the sailor claims it was in "the mos' arful battle" of his life with Sea Hag's vulture. Later versions of the character had both eyes, with one of them merely being squinty, or "squinky" as he put it. According to the official site, Popeye is 34 years old and was born in a typhoon off Santa Monica, California. However, in Popeye, the Ace of Space, his original age is given as 40 by an alien aging machine. In 1934, Segar stated that Popeye was born in Victoria, Texas.

Popeye's strange, comic and often supernatural adventures take him all over the world and place him in conflict with enemies such as the Sea Hag and Bluto. His main base of operations is the fictional town of Sweethaven. Popeye's father is the wayward sailor Poopdeck Pappy, who is somewhat irresponsible and is represented as having a fleeting association with Popeye in some sources. Popeye's sole sweetheart over the years is Olive Oyl; although the two characters often bickered in early stories. Popeye is the foster father of Swee'Pea, an infant foundling left on his doorstep. (Sweet Pea is a term of affection used by Popeye; in the cartoon We Aim to Please, he addressed Olive Oyl as "Sweet Pea" at one point.)

In addition to a gravelly voice and a casual attitude towards grammar, Popeye is known for having an apparent speech impediment (a common character-distinguishing device in early cartoons), which either comes naturally or is caused by the ever-present pipe in his mouth. Among other things, he has problems enunciating a trailing "t"; thus, "fist" becomes "fisk" (as sung in his theme song, which makes it conveniently rhyme with "risk") and "infant" becomes "infink." This speech impediment even found its way into some of the titles of the cartoons. In recent interviews it has been brought to the public's attention that his speech and eye situation could also have been brought on by a serious stroke.

Popeye is depicted as having superhuman strength, though the nature of his strength changes depending on which medium he is represented in. Originally, the comic-strip Popeye gained his strength and invulnerability in 1929 by rubbing the head of the rare Whiffle Hen. From early 1932 onward, especially the cartoons, Popeye was depicted as eating spinach to become stronger. The animated shorts depicted Popeye as ridiculously strong but liable to be pummeled by the much larger Bluto before his eating of the spinach.”

Ogon Bat (Golden Bat)
Created by Ichiro Suzuki and Takeo Nagamatsu, 1930

From Wikipedia -“Ōgon Bat is portrayed as golden, with a skeletal face and muscular body. He wears a high collared black and red cape, carries a pointed scepter that is able to conjure lightning and cause minor earthquakes. His appearance is heralded by a little golden bat flying in, followed by a reverberating laughter that seemed to come from everywhere.
Ōgon Bat is actually a protector from Ancient Atlantis, who is put into suspended animation in an Egyptian-like sarcophagus, to be awakened in the future to fight the forces of evil.

In modern times, Ōgon Bat is discovered by Prof. Yamatone's family and a little orphan girl called Marie in a tomb in modern Egypt. The tomb's inscription describes him as a “god of justice and protector of the weak”. When Yamatone's family is threatened by Mazo (マゾ), Dr. Nazō's main henchman, Marie starts to cry and beg for help. Her tears fall on Ōgon Bat's body and re-animate him. From then on, he appears whenever Marie asks for his help.

His main antagonist is Dr. Erich Nazō (ナゾー), the leader of a crime syndicate bent on world domination. Nazō wears a black mask with Batman-like ears and has four different colored cat eyes which can each fire a different deadly beam. He also has no lower body, and hovers around atop a mini-flying saucer. Nazō also has a metal pincer in place of his right hand and has a habit of booming the name “LOMBROSO”.

Ōgon Bat's other great nemesis is Kurayami Bat (暗闇バット Dark Bat), a somewhat darker version of himself who he was supposedly created to fight.”

Created by Philip Wylie, 1930

From Wikipedia - “The story concerns a scientist who invents an "alkaline free-radical" serum to "improve" humankind by granting the proportionate strength of an ant and the leaping ability of the grasshopper, both metaphors used to explain Superman's powers in the first comic of his series. He injects his pregnant wife with the serum and his son Hugo Danner is born with superhuman strength, speed, and bulletproof skin. Hugo spends much of the novel hiding his powers, rarely getting a chance to openly use them.”

The Shadow
Created by David Chrisman, William Sweets and Harry Engman Charlot, 1931

Like the Lone Ranger and Green Hornet, The Shadow was created for radio.

From Wikipedia - “In print, The Shadow's real name is Kent Allard, and he was a famed aviator who fought for the French during World War I. He became known by the alias of The Black Eagle, according to The Shadow's Shadow, 1933, although later stories revised this alias as The Dark Eagle beginning with The Shadow Unmasks, 1937. After the war, Allard seeks a new challenge and decides to wage war on criminals. Allard fakes his death in the South American jungles, then returns to the United States. Arriving in New York City, he adopts numerous identities to conceal his existence.

One of these identities—indeed, the best known—is Lamont Cranston, a "wealthy young man about town." In the pulps, Cranston is a separate character; Allard frequently disguises himself as Cranston and adopts his identity ("The Shadow Laughs," 1931). While Cranston travels the world, Allard assumes his identity in New York. In their first meeting, Allard/The Shadow threatens Cranston, saying that he has arranged to switch signatures on various documents and other means that will allow him to take over the Lamont Cranston identity entirely unless Cranston agrees to allow Allard to impersonate him when he is abroad. Terrified, Cranston agrees. The two men sometimes meet in order to impersonate each other ("Crime over Miami," 1940). Apparently, the disguise works well because Allard and Cranston bear something of a resemblance to each other ("Dictator of Crime," 1941).

His other disguises include businessman Henry Arnaud, who first appeared in "Green Eyes", Oct. 1932, elderly gentleman Isaac Twambley, who first appeared in "No Time For Murder", and Fritz, who first appeared in "The Living Shadow", Apr. 1931; in this last disguise, he pretends to be a doddering old janitor who works at Police Headquarters in order to listen in on conversations.”

Doc Savage
Created by Henry W. Ralston and John L. Nanovic, 1933

It isn't hard to see why Doc Savage is often considered the "Superman" to the Shadow's "Batman".

From Wikipedia - “Doc Savage's real name was Clark Savage, Jr. He was a physician, surgeon, scientist, adventurer, inventor, explorer, researcher, and, as revealed in The Polar Treasure, a musician. A team of scientists assembled by his father deliberately trained his mind and body to near-superhuman abilities almost from birth, giving him great strength and endurance, a photographic memory, a mastery of the martial arts, and vast knowledge of the sciences. Doc is also a master of disguise and an excellent imitator of voices. "He rights wrongs and punishes evildoers." Dent described the hero as a mix of Sherlock Holmes' deductive abilities, Tarzan's outstanding physical abilities, Craig Kennedy's scientific education, and Abraham Lincoln's goodness. Dent described Doc Savage as manifesting "Christliness." Doc's character and world-view is displayed in his oath, which goes as follows:[1]

Let me strive every moment of my life to make myself better and better, to the best of my ability, that all may profit by it. Let me think of the right and lend all my assistance to those who need it, with no regard for anything but justice. Let me take what comes with a smile, without loss of courage. Let me be considerate of my country, of my fellow citizens and my associates in everything I say and do. Let me do right to all, and wrong no man.

His office is on the 86th floor of a New York City skyscraper, implicitly the Empire State Building, reached by Doc's private high-speed elevator. Doc owns a fleet of cars, trucks, aircraft, and boats which he stores at a secret hangar on the Hudson River, under the name The Hidalgo Trading Company, which is linked to his office by a pneumatic-tube system nicknamed the "flea run." He sometimes retreats to his Fortress of Solitude in the Arctic—which pre-dates Superman's similar hideout of the same name. All of this is paid for with gold from a Central American mine given to him by the local descendants of the Mayans in the first Doc Savage story. (Doc and his assistants learned the little-known Mayan language of this people, allowing them to communicate privately when others might be listening.)

The Spider
Created by Harry Steeger, 1933

It's interesting that by 1933, super heroes are already becoming copies of one another.

From Wikipedia - “Similar to the character of The Shadow, The Spider was in actuality millionaire playboy Richard Wentworth living in New York and unaffected by the Great Depression. Wentworth fought crime by donning a black cape, slouch hat, and face mask to terrorize the criminal underworld with extreme prejudice and his own brand of vigilante justice.

One distinguishing feature of The Spider was his "calling card." Wentworth often left a red-ink "spider" image on the foreheads of the criminals that he slew. During the same time period, in a much more benign fashion and perhaps inspired by the Spider's calling card, Lee Falk's long-running 1936 sydicated comic strip hero, The Phantom, left a distinct skull mark in the faces of those enemies he fought, made by the ring he wore. The Spider's seal, however, was concealed in the base of his cigarette lighter and was invented by Professor Brownlee.

Brownlee also invented the lethal and almost silent air pistol the Spider used for 'quiet' kills. He acted as a sort of on-call technical wizard for Wentworth, who he looked upon as being close to a son.

Like The Shadow, The Spider's usual weapons of choice were a pair of .45 automatic pistols.

The Spider's by-name was "Master of Men", indicating that he had a voice commanding enough to get many people to do his bidding. Wentworth could also imitate other people's voices. When he imitated Kirkpatrick's voice, he could give orders to lesser policemen during a stake-out, even during one intended to capture the Spider, so he could himself escape.”

The Clock
Created by George Brenner, 1936

From Wikipedia - “His secret identity is that of Brian O'Brien, a wealthy member of high society and a former lawyer. He had a secret, underground and was a hypnotist. His minimalist costume was a three-piece suit and a mask and he was a master of disguise. He had clever gadgets (such as a cane whose head becomes a projectile and a diamond stud that fires teargas) and he usually left behind a calling card bearing the image of a clock-face and the words "The Clock Has Struck."”

The Phantom
Created by Lee Falk, 1936

And after two Shadow retreads, something new enters the scene ...

From Wikipedia - “In the jungles of the fictional African country of Bangalla, there is a myth featuring The Ghost Who Walks, a powerful and indestructible guardian of the innocent and fighter of all types of injustice. Because he seems to have existed for generations, many believe him to be immortal. In reality, the Phantom is a Legacy Hero, descended from 20 previous generations of crime-fighters who all adopt the same persona. When a new Phantom takes the task from his dying father, he swears the Oath of the Skull: "I swear to devote my life to the destruction of piracy, greed, cruelty, and injustice, in all their forms, and my sons and their sons shall follow me". (The comic sometimes runs flashback adventures of previous Phantoms.)

The Phantom of the present is the 21st in the line. Unlike most costumed heroes, he has no superhuman powers, relying only on his wits, physical strength, skill with his weapons, and fearsome reputation to fight crime. His real name is Kit Walker. References to "Mr. Walker" are in the strip often accompanied by a footnote saying "For 'The Ghost Who Walks'", although some versions of the Phantom's history suggest that Walker was actually the original surname of the man who became the first Phantom.

A signature of the character is his two rings. One has a pattern formed like four crossing sabres, "The Good Mark", that he leaves on visitors whom he befriends, placing the person under his protection. The other, "The Evil Mark" or "Skull Mark" has a skull shape, which leaves a scar of the corresponding shape on the enemies he punches with it. He wears the Good mark on his left hand because it is closer to the heart, and the Evil Mark on his right hand. The Skull Ring's original owner was Emperor Nero of the Roman empire, and the Good Mark ring was made after the sixth Phantom founded the Jungle Patrol. It would later be revealed that the Skull Ring had been made from the nails that hung Jesus to the cross.”


  1. Very Nice Work! These are incredibly awesome! Thanks for all of the effort that went into these!

  2. Do you know Jess Nevins and his work? His lj site is mostly inactive these days, there are titbits at his tumblr. But I think he'd be of interest to you because of his upcoming Encyclopedia of Pulp Heroes.

    Here: badass women

  3. I can't tell you how happy my heart is, seeing you include Popeye as a proto-superhero. It's so obvious that it's almost genius...

  4. Needles - My pleasure!

    Richard - Love Jess Nevins - have his annotations on League of X Gentlemen. Great reading.

    Pturtle - A kid I know once asked me who my favorite superhero was. I answered Popeye. Poor benighted fool thought I was joking.


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