Superheroes: you love 'em, I love 'em, we all love 'em. They are the perfect embodiment of escapism and have given us some of the best mythologies and stories in fiction. From the dark and psychological Batman to the fun-loving Spider-Man, these characters have become modern equivalents of Greek legends and show no signs of going away for the next century.
One question has come up though: where did it all begin? Who is character that started it all? Who was the very first comic book superhero?
Nope, It Wasn't Superman
While it is understandable to think that Superman was the first, he was not. He did revolutionize superheroes and permanently establish them in pop-culture and was the first of DC Comics, but he was not the one to start it all. Batman? Nope. Wonder Woman? Negative. Captain America? Wrongo! The Flash? Nada. Most of the iconic names you are probably thinking are not the first.
Let's focus only on comic book superheroes, because if I were to include superheroes from novels then I could go all the way back to the 1800s with characters like Spring Heeled Jack from the Penny Dreadful books (who began as a villain then became a crimefighter who wore a disguise, had gadgets, and even had a secret lair), the legendary Zorro, or even Sherlock Holmes. Same goes for radio shows, because then characters like the Lone Ranger and Green Hornet would appear on the list.
Technically if I were to think back to Greek mythology, many characters could count as superheroes so I will simply stick to comic books. So enough stalling — you ready to know who the first superhero is?
Mandrake the Magician
Now I know most of you are probably asking the same thing: "Who?" Totally normal response seeing how this character is about as obscure as can possibly be. Who is Mandrake the Magician? Specializing in extremely fast hypnotic hand gestures to create illusions, Mandrake is a magician who uses his talent to fight a variety of villains such as gangsters, mad scientists, extra-terrestrials and much much more.
Unique getup, enhanced skills, and fights bad guys? I'd say he counts. The story titled Mandrake the Magician debuted on June 11, 1934, just four years before the creation of Superman, five years before Batman, but only two years before another character that was written by the created by the same man: Lee Falk.
The Phantom (A.K.A. Kit Walker) is another character that has faded into obscurity over the years. Now I know on first glance that the purple tights are a little goofy — okay, a lot goofy — but the character's adventures are a lot of fun to read. Though despite being goofy, the tights were the genesis of the cliche of heroes in skintight costumes, considering it would be two years after this that Superman would debut.
Now the character did last longer than Mandrake the Magician did, and he even returned to the public eye in 1996 with a feature film starring Billy Zane, Treat Williams, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Kristy Swanson, and James Remar.
While far from perfect, the Phantom movie was definitely a fun thrill ride that kept me interested all the way through with very well-done action scenes, a likable and charming titular character played by Billy Zane, a simple yet well-executed plot, and a villain played by the always hilarious Treat Williams. However, this was at the time when superhero movies were dying, so this one faded into obscurity not long after.
The Defenders of the Earth
Fun fact: Mandrake the Magician and the Phantom both returned in 1986 and teamed up with Flash Gordon and many more colorful characters with an animated series titled The Defenders of the Earth. Mandrake, Phantom, Flash Gordon? Imagine THAT as a cinematic universe!
So now you know who the first superhero is and here is a question for you all: would you like to see Mandrake the Magician or the Phantom return in this new golden era of superhero films? Tell us your thoughts and we hope you enjoyed!