Created By: Gamingboy1 on February 11, 2012 Last Edited By: SharleeD on September 7, 2014
Troped

Proto Superhero

Superheroes from before the Golden Age Of Comic Books

Name Space:
Main
Page Type:
Trope

"I've never told anyone this... but you were my biggest inspiration. I'd be honored to shake your hand."
- The Caped Crusader to The Shadow, Batman #253

While the deeper roots of the Superhero can be traced back for millennia, with superhuman warriors such as Gilgamesh populating ancient mythology and vigilantes like Robin Hood numbering among many cultures' great folk heroes, the codification of the superhero genre had to wait until the emergence of commercial fiction. Only when word-of-mouth storytelling gave way to mass-market publication did the iconic themes and qualities that make a "superhero" captivating - impressive and extraordinary abilities, secret and/or outlaw identities, defense of others without need for reward - prove appealing (and marketable) enough to meld together into a new archetype: heroism, re-imagined for the modern age and audience.

With Action Comics #1 and its introduction of Superman (June 1938), these new heroes would find their lasting home in comic books. But prior to this emergence of the Golden Age Of Comics, earlier prototypes of the genre had to blaze the trail via a wider range of media: penny dreadfuls, pulp novels and magazines, radio dramas, newspaper comic strips, and stage plays all preceded the explosion of comic books in the 1930s. The heroes of these works, whose adventures set the stage for the Golden Age, weren't always as completely "super" as their successors, but such prototypes demonstrate the transition by which age-old heroic folktales gave way to our contemporary genre of commercial superhero fiction.

Of the characters that arose during this transition, most have faded from the popular imagination, as the Golden Age's superhuman heroes tended to overshadow their predecessors, who seldom boasted more than a Charles Atlas Superpower or a signature gadget to their advantage. Only a lucky handful (Zorro, Tarzan, The Shadow, The Phantom, The Lone Ranger) have remained popularly-recognized since their inception. But superpowered or not, widely-remembered or not, it's these Proto Superheroes to which later Golden, Silver, Dark and Modern Age comic superheroes owe their success, as inspiration for their archetype and the industry that birthed them.

Examples:

    Comic Books 
  • Doctor Occult, created in 1935 by the same writers who would shortly introduce Superman, was an Occult Detective whose mystical powers aided his investigation of crimes. Also called "Dr. Mystic", in one early adventure he visited a magical realm in which he wore a cape and could fly, thus beating out Superman to be the first flying caped superhero in American comics.
  • The Clock, created in 1936, is believed to be the first masked hero to appear in American comic books. A hypnotist with a secret underground lair, The Clock also used gadgets such as a cane whose head becomes a projectile, and a diamond stud which fired tear gas. He customarily left a Calling Card with a clock face and the motto "The Clock Has Struck".

    Comic Strips 
  • The creation of cartoonist William H.D. Koerner, Hugo Hercules was the titular hero of a comic strip that ran less than 5 months, from September 1902 to January 1903, for the Chicago Tribune. Endowed with superhuman strength, he was a lighthearted character who mostly rescued people from accidents or foolish mishaps rather than crime.
  • Mandrake the Magician was created in comic strips (1934). He is the prototype for many later magician-style heroes, most notably the Zatara family.
  • The Phantom, created in 1936, was one of the first masked-and-costumed superheroes in comic strips.
  • Sheena, Queen of the Jungle, premiered in a British tabloid strip in 1937, before emigrating to Golden Age American comic books. Essentially a distaff Expy of Tarzan with a gift for talking to animals, she's a rare case of a Proto Superheroine.
  • Olga Mesmer, The Girl with the X-Ray Eyes, appeared in a pulp magazine comic strip from 1937-1938. Although lacking a secret identity, she had Super Strength and X-ray vision, so is sometimes considered another precursor to Superman.

    Literature 
  • The Count of Monte Cristo (1844) has a pretty good claim for being a proto-hero as well as an inspiration for Batman. He's a brooding loner bent on revenge who is massively wealthy, a Master of Disguise, and has picked up immense physical prowess along the way. The Batman villain Bane, who is an Evil Counterpart of Batman, has a backstory based off of that of Dantes/The Count.
  • The Scarlet Pimpernel is the Master of Disguise hero of a classic action-adventure story written by Baroness Emmuska Orczy in 1901 and debuted as a play in 1903-05. A one-man Underground Railroad who smuggled French bluebloods out of the clutches of unforgiving revolutionaries, the Pimpernel is the likely source of the genre's Secret Identity and Calling Card concepts, as well as the undisputed Trope Maker for the Rich Idiot with No Day Job.
  • The best-known proto-supervillain by far, The Phantom of the Opera was created by Gaston Leroux in 1909. A key Trope Codifier for the elegant masked criminal, complete with themed obsessions and a Red Right Hand, Erik bears all the trappings of a Rogues Gallery bad guy: the dehumanizing Start of Darkness, the Supervillain Lair, the ample use of Death Trap weapons, even a Robotic Torture Device.
  • The first superpowered literary hero is believed to be Nyctalope, who had cybernetic implants to enhance his vision as well as a cybernetic heart. He either debuted in 1911 or 1908, depending on who you ask. He was created by author Jean de la Hire.
  • John Carter of Mars was first released in serial form in February of 1912. John Carter has a Mysterious Past, doesn't remember his childhood and seems to have always been in his thirties. Being from Earth, he has seemingly 'Supermarsian' strength and agility in Mars' lower gravity; many stock feats of super-athleticism used throughout the genre made their debut here.
  • Tarzan debuted in October of 1912, boasting a slate of Charles Atlas Superpowers attributed to his blue-blooded heritage and Noble Savage upbringing by apes. Later novels also made him an Omniglot, and immortal by way of an appropriated eternal-life drug. He's a major influence on virtually every jungle-themed hero to follow, and his Raised by Wolves origin story and knack for communicating with animals were emulated by many later superheroes including Aquaman.
  • The first superpowered mutant in fiction (although he was called an "anomaly" at the time), The Night Wind first appeared in Cavalier magazine in 1913. Born with Super Strength, he was an ordinary bank clerk who became a fugitive after he was framed for theft, seeking evidence to clear his name.
  • The Reverend Doctor Syn, aka "The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh", featured in a series of novels starting in 1915. A swashbuckling Anti-Hero of late 18th century England, he foiled Crown agents' attempts to prosecute his neighbors for smuggling by riding out by night, dressed as a spooky scarecrow. Later books established that this was his second alternate identity, as the mild-mannered vicar-by-day had also been a notorious pirate for a time.
  • Zorro started in 1919, when The Curse of Capistrano appeared in the Pulp Magazine All-Story Weekly. The Californio nobleman Don Diego de la Vega disguises himself in black clothes, cape, mask and hat. Using the alias Seor Zorro (Mr Fox), he seeks to "avenge the helpless, to punish cruel politicians", and "to aid the oppressed." He's cunning like a fox and a Skilled swordsman. The first Proto Superhero to feature in his own movie (The Mark of Zorro, 1920), he's one of the biggest inspiration for Batman: another superhero without superpowers, masked in black, named for an animal, and dedicated to fighting crime and corruption.
  • Thunderbolt (1920) had a short career as a masked-and-hooded vigilante after learning that the fortune he'd inherited had been acquired via his uncle's legal, but immoral business practices. When his uncle's co-conspirators refused to return their ill-gotten gains to the people they'd cheated, he donned a costume and recruited an ex-con sidekick to steal it back.
  • The Man In Purple (1921) was one of the many non-powered Proto Superheroes who robbed the rich and corrupt to give to the poor. Noted for always carrying the means to dispose of his distinctive purple mask and jacket, the better to seamlessly revert to his Secret Identity leaving no evidence behind.
  • The Green Archer, from the 1923 novel of that name, was a mysterious bow-wielding vigilante whose costume was designed to emulate a ghost story, Scooby-Doo Hoax-style. He stalked an unscrupulous tycoon who'd done his family wrong, killing first the man's accomplices and then their boss, who himself had some supervillain-like traits (e.g. leaving victims unattended in a slow-acting Death Trap to die). The first masked hero to feature in episodic film serials of the day (1925).
  • The Crimson Clown (1926) was another pulp-novel Robin Hood-like vigilante: a WWI veteran who used a gas gun to knock out the corrupt and undeserving, and return the profits of their misdeeds to the people they'd exploited.
  • Solomon Kane, from the pulp novels of the same name by writer Robert E. Howard (the same individual who created Conan the Barbarian), first started in 1928. Kane is a late-sixteenth to early-seventeenth century English Puritan who travels the world, accompanied by his aide N'Longa, fighting and killing vampires and other evil beings with his musket and the Staff of Solomon.
  • The 1930 Pulp novel Gladiator focused on Hugo Danner, who became gifted with incredible strength thanks to an experiment carried out by his father. However, unlike several examples here, all Hugo wants to do is utilize his powers to make a normal life for himself.
  • Dr. Coffin, aka The Living Dead Man and The Man With 500 Faces, was a pulp-hero vigilante introduced in 1932. An undertaker by trade, he worn a gaunt skull-like mask to better intimidate the criminals he fought.
  • The Spider was a Pulp Magazine hero created in 1933 as a Follow the Leader Expy of The Shadow. Stan Lee credits him as an inspiration for Spider-Man.
  • Phantom (not that one) was a pulp-novel masked detective from 1933, and the third longest-running pulp hero after The Shadow and Doc Savage. Notable for having a secret laboratory and for aiding the police when summoned by a Bat Signal.
  • Doc Savage is another early example, appearing in pulp novels from 1933 to 1949. He lacks any traditional superpowers, instead having been trained by both scholars and savages alike to become the pinnacle of humanity: a massive Genius Bruiser with his own group of partners to help him out in various fields of expertise.
  • Cobra, from 1934, was both a spy for British Intelligence and a Punisher-like vigilante. Raised by an Indian yogi, he used techniques of Eastern mysticism in his espionage work, and also donned a snake mask to stalk criminals who'd eluded justice with lethal cobra-venom darts.
  • Green Ghost, also from 1934 pulps, was the role adopted by an honest policeman fired on suspicion of a crime he had nothing to do with. Unable to arrest wrongdoers, but still wishing to help his brother cops, he worked incognito to foil slippery villains' plans.
  • Ka-Zar was a Tarzan Expy who started in pulp novels in 1936, then migrated to Marvel Comics. Unlike Tarzan, his physical abilities were acquired via a witch doctor's potion, and when he spoke to animals, he'd hear them respond in complete sentences that no one else could hear.
  • The Domino Lady, another Proto Superheroine, appeared in the risque Pulp Magazine Saucy Romantic Adventures starting in 1936. A masked Guile Hero who left calling cards similar to The Clock's, she took her revenge for the murder of her DA father by robbing corrupt politicians and gangsters, then donating the loot to charity.

    Radio 
  • The Shadow (1930) from radio dramas and pulp novels. Debuting as a Horror Host narrator who introduced short tales of suspense, his signature creepy laugh and Catch Phrase ("Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?") roused so much interest with listeners that he was expanded into an intimidating crime-fighter in his own right. One of the main inspirations for Batman, who admits as much in-Verse during a crossover story (see page quote).
  • The Lone Ranger (1933) and The Green Hornet (1936) were both created by the same guy, and basically have the same shtick as masked heroes, albeit in different time-periods.

    Theatre 

     Urban Legend 
  • Following a series of unsolved attacks upon servant-women in and near 1837 London, reports of a mysterious, leaping, possibly-inhuman culprit "Spring-Heel(ed) Jack" spread rapidly via yellow journalism and street rumor. Descriptions of "Jack" varied wildly, from a human sexual predator dressed in a bearskin to a fire-breathing, shape-shifting apparition, but many of the most popular accounts (dramatized in sensational plays and penny dreadfuls that titled him The Terror of London) portrayed him as a Proto Supervillain of sorts: a jilted lover bent on vengeance against women, with artificial Wolverine Claws and spring-loaded boots.

     Real Life 
  • Some of the very earliest masked-hero-with-Secret Identity tales to be published, mostly in 19th-century penny dreadfuls and dime novels, were Very Loosely Based on a True Story accounts of Real Life historical fugitive Dick Turpin. A British poacher, burglar, horse thief and killer executed in 1739, his criminal exploits and assumption of multiple false identities inspired any number of sensationalized accounts, re-imagining Turpin as The Highwayman and a dashing Gentleman Thief in works such as Rookwood (1834) and Black Bess or the Knight of the Road (1867/68).
Community Feedback Replies: 139
  • February 11, 2012
    Lumpenprole
    Some of the fantasy, satirical or utopian literary works from the 16th century onwards border on proto-science fiction, or feature characters with impossible abilities that we would now call "super powers". Examples include:
  • February 11, 2012
    Unknown Troper
    No luck. In 20/20 hindsight, I think it's choking on a link that includes code for an accented vowel.

  • February 11, 2012
    AP
    Perhaps Pulp Age Of Superheroes is a better name. Some people might be confused if the term prehistoric is used.
  • February 11, 2012
    randomsurfer
    ^Plus, and even more importantly, by and large it's inaccurate. "Prehistory" means a time before there are written records.
  • February 12, 2012
    dyson88
    If I recall this era is officially known as the Platinum Age. Might be a good name for it.
  • February 13, 2012
    Chabal2
    So should classical heroes like Hercules and Gilgamesh be included?
  • February 13, 2012
    TomWalpertac2
    ^ If they are included, then don't forget Perseus and Beowulf.
  • February 13, 2012
    KingZeal
    I'm against it, because they lack most of the tropes we associate with modern superheroes.

    At least the Green Hornet, The Phantom, and the Scarlet Pimpernel had a few.
  • February 13, 2012
    TonyG
    Hercules is the Ur Example of the Worlds Strongest Man for Western civilization. Nearly all comic book publishers have used him at one time or another, the Marvel version probably being the best known.
  • February 13, 2012
    SharleeD
    I agree with King Zeal: not every hero known for exceptional strength is necessarily a proto-superhero; most are just heroes, period. Things like secret identities, having vigilante status, or serving the cause of justice ought to be needed also.
  • October 9, 2013
    SharleeD
    resurrects thread

    Because there aren't that many examples of pre-Golden Age superhero archetypes which we can cite for this trope, could we also include in-universe examples of old-school pre-Superman superheroes? Like, if a more recent comic-book hero's origin story has them as a Legacy Character whose predecessor was one of these, or claims they were inspired to become a crimefighter because they were emulating their own Verse's version of The Shadow or whatever.
  • October 9, 2013
    Cider
    http://www.geocities.com/Athens/8580/Hist1.html

    There was also Dr. Occult and The Clock, as well as a pulp novel hero called "The Black Bat".
  • October 9, 2013
    MrRuano
    • The 1930 Pulp novel Gladiator focused on Hugo Danner, who became gifted with incredible strength thanks to an experiment carried out by his father. However, unlike several examples here, all Hugo wants to do is utilize his powers to make a normal life for himself.
    • Doc Savage is another early example from 1933 to 1949. He lacks any traditional superpowers, instead having been trained by both scholars and savages alike to become the pinnacle of humanity, becoming a massive Genius Bruiser with his own group of partners to help him out with certain fields of expertise.
  • October 9, 2013
    JonnyB
    Batman has an In Universe example called "The Gray Ghost" (no relation to the actual short-lived 50's TV serial of the same name), a TV serial hero similar to The Shadow who is one of Bruce Wayne's childhood heroes.
  • October 9, 2013
    JonnyB
    Hmmm... does Captain Caveman count?
  • October 9, 2013
    Cider
    As far as I know, Captain Caveman was invented after Superman, I listed some guys who came before him, unfortunately the geocities link is broke so I only have three so far.
  • October 9, 2013
    Lumpenprole
    Here's what I originally tried to post:

    Some of the fantasy, satirical or utopian literary works from the 16th century onwards border on proto-science fiction, or feature characters with impossible abilities that we would now call "super powers". Examples include:

    Can anyone remove the botched examples? I can't get the editor to touch it.
  • October 10, 2013
    DAN004
    Why is it called "Prehistoric"? Is it named after comic book fans jargon, or by us? If it's the latter then I suggest a change.

    Simply Pre Golden Age Of Superheroes can count.
  • October 10, 2013
    m8e
    Or maybe just Pre Golden Age Superhero?
  • October 10, 2013
    JonnyB
    I like that one.
  • October 10, 2013
    JonnyB
    One could argue that heroic figures and demigods of mythology like Hercules, Ulysses, and Gilgamesh were Ur Examples of superheroes; certainly some had super powers and others were Badass Normals. The Odyssey was almost an Ur-Example of The Avengers.
  • October 10, 2013
    DAN004
    Of course, lots of Values Dissonance would make what a "superhero" differ from culture to culture. Gilgamesh was quite an ass, for example.
  • October 10, 2013
    CrypticMirror
    Where do we stand on folk-heroes like Robin Hood or Dick Turpin in this? Certainly folk-myth had them whacking on a costume and performing bordering on supernatural feats (even if the *real* Dick Turpin was a right rotter and the *real* Robin Hood, if he existed at all, was pretty much guaranteed to be a rotter too). You could argue that the modern Super-Hero was born from the 19thC Penny Dreadfuls which romanticized to hell and back the exploits of masked Highwaymen, turning them from grotty robbers into masked heroes who lived by their wits and brought karmic vengeance in the form of robbing only the horrible people along with sweeping fair maidens off their feet.

    There is also Spring Heeled Jack who was a proto-Supervillain.
  • October 10, 2013
    m8e
    I think Robin Hood count.

    He often have costumes that fit the Standard Superhero Suits(,Civvie Spandex, "tights" etc). He uses his hood to hide his face. Robin Hood is sometimes(often?) just an alias, so that might count as a Secret Identity. He have Improbable Aiming Skills and other skills, some of them superhuman. The merry men is basically a bunch of sidekicks. He's fighting for the people...
  • October 10, 2013
    SharleeD
    I agree with Robin Hood as an early proto-superhero. Hercules and Gilgamesh were more like generic hero-heroes than actual superheroes, IMO.

    Springheel Jack definitely rates a mention, possibly as an inversion since he's a proto-supervillain. Varney the Vampyre might rate as one of those also.

    • Lester Gold, the Mystery Avenger from Simon R Green's novel Shadows Fall, is an in-Verse example of one of these.

  • October 10, 2013
    crazysamaritan
    As mentioned, this is a bad name. I thought it was superheroes in prehistoric settings. Like Cave-Bat Man. Just Proto Superhero should be enough of a name.
  • October 10, 2013
    SharleeD
    Blackbeard might rate as another proto-supervillain, given how much he milked his reputation for being one.
  • October 11, 2013
    DAN004
    Compare Folk Hero.
  • October 11, 2013
    Snicka
    ^^^ I agree. The current trope name invokes cavemen with superpowers (see Captain Caveman).

    Hercules and Gilgamesh (along with Samson and many others) did have what we'd call superpowers now, so I think they should count. Many of them even had iconic outfits, like the cape Hercules made of the skin of the Nemean Lion.
  • October 14, 2013
    m8e
    I like Proto Superhero, clear and concise.

    Saw this list of superhero debuts on wikipedia.

    Any comment on these? Does anyone know enough about these to write up examples?
  • October 14, 2013
    Snicka
    Many of those above works alread have their own page on TV Tropes.

    etc.
  • July 27, 2014
    CrypticMirror
    One of the things this ought to mention if it does launch is the transition from the traditional heroic-heroes like Gilgamesh, Hercules and King Arthur and his knights to the more familiar super heroes. Those guys were the old heroes, wielding either powers or noble resolve, to the modern superheroes we all recognise. The Age of the Proto-Heroes is that messy bit inbetween where there are aspects of each type, but not fully fitting either group.

    I don't think Herc, Gilg, or others of that nature in their traditional role (their appearances in comics would fit in the relevant comic-era as reinvention) ought to be included in this. They are from the myth and legend age of heroes.
  • July 27, 2014
    m8e
    I have tried to do some work on this. Namespaced and italicized the examples and tried to put them in folders by what media they first appeared in. Also did some other formating and so on.

    Can we change the name to Proto Superhero or Pre Golden Age Superhero?

    and could someone help with context? I think we are looking for stuff like year of first appearance(before mid 30s), type of media, being inspiratons for later "real" superheroes, fitting tropes common to superheroes and so on...
  • July 28, 2014
    Waterlily
    What exactly makes somebody a superhero? That should clearly defined.

    I've read some Flash Gordon comics and he didn't seem like a superhero to me, just an action hero. I don't recall him having any superpowers. He was just a strong and athletic man (I believe he was a college athlete on Earth).
  • July 28, 2014
    Waterlily
    The book Superman is Jewish? discusses the idea that early superheros were inspired by aspects of Jewish religion and culture. They discuss Moses being raised by people who aren't his biological family, having a dual life of prince of Egypt and liberator of the Jews, and using "superpowers" to save the Jews. They also mention Queen Esther and her dual identity to save Jews. Another example is the Golem, a superstrong being created by magic who can protect the vulnerable Jews.
    • The first literary Superhero is believed to be Nyctalope, who had cybernetic implants to enhance his vision and even had a cybernetic heart. He either debuted in 1911 or 1908 depending on who you ask. He was created by author Jean de La Hire.
  • July 31, 2014
    Hodor

    ^^ This novel Snow In August talks about that issue as well. The protagonist, a young boy, is a big comic book reader, and the Rabbi he befriends compares the Golem story (which is a big part of the novel) to superheroes. IIRC, one specific comparision is to Comic Book/Shazam, and how his By The Power Of Greyskull thing is very similar to this "magic of names" thing in the Golem story (the Golem has the word EMET- the Hebrew word for Truth on his forehead and is alive because of that, and can only be shut down by erasing one letter, so instead the inscription is MET- Death in Hebrew)
  • I'd put it under theater, I guess
  • August 3, 2014
    TonyG
    Popeye. Debuting on the comic strip Thimble Theater in 1929 and first appearing on screen in 1933, he possesses Super Strength and incredible endurance, even though it's all Played For Laughs.
  • August 3, 2014
    NateTheGreat
    We may need a definition of "superhero" here. I've had discussions on this topic elsewhere before. Personally I'd ditch the demigods and such, starting with the Robin Hood/Scarlet Pimpernel era. But continuing the "age" idea, perhaps we could create a page for the pulp/radio era, a page for the oral sagas, etc.
  • August 3, 2014
    SharleeD
    It may seem a bit cynical, but one major factor that distinguishes characters like Zorro or the Scarlet Pimpernel from ur-supers such as Hercules is that the former were explicitly created as fiction, and as commercial properties at that. Nobody was ever really meant to believe the likes of Doc Savage had ever existed, unlike Gilgamesh or Thor who were taken seriously by their original audiences.

    That might be a good place to draw the line between characters that are true Proto Superheroes, and those that are more the Folk Hero or Culture Hero type. It would include the penny dreadful highwayman-archetypes, but leave Robin Hood and earlier mythic figures out.

  • August 3, 2014
    IndirectActiveTransport
    Since he hasn't been added to the description yet, despite two suggestions, let me be a third.

    • The Clock, created in 1936, is believed to be the first masked hero to appear in American comic books. A hypnotist with a secret underground lair, The Clock also used gadgets such as a cane whose head becomes a projectile, and a diamond stud which fires tear gas and customarily left a calling card with a clock face and "The Clock Has Struck".
  • August 6, 2014
    m8e
    The reason the clock wasn't added before was lack of context. The same applies to the other mentioned examples that haven't been added yet.
  • August 6, 2014
    Waterlily
    "It may seem a bit cynical, but one major factor that distinguishes characters like Zorro or the Scarlet Pimpernel from ur-supers such as Hercules is that the former were explicitly created as fiction, and as commercial properties at that. Nobody was ever really meant to believe the likes of Doc Savage had ever existed, unlike Gilgamesh or Thor who were taken seriously by their original audiences."

    Does anybody know if The Golem was ever taken seriously or was it always considered a fictional story?
  • August 6, 2014
    SharleeD
    Golems seem to have been folk tales for the most part, although a few people genuinely did believe in the Golem. Not sure if the Golem necessarily meets the other criteria of a superhero, though: it only did what it was told, so it wasn't really "heroic" except in the crudest sense of being physically powerful. In any case, it certainly wasn't a commercial property.
  • August 7, 2014
    Tuomas
    I'd say there are two minimum requirements for calling someone a "superhero":

    1) His life mission is to fight against crime and/or injustice (the "hero" part). This already rules out characters like Hercules or Baron von Munchhausen, who typically act out of more selfish interests. I haven't read The Count Of Monte Cristo, but if he only enacts a personal revenge against people who have wronged him, he doesn't sound like a hero in this sense. Batman is originally motivated by a criminal having wronged him too, but he doesn't just go and hunt the guy who killed his parents, he starts fighting against crime in general.

    2) To fight crime, he creates an alter ego different from his civilian identity (the "super" part), and wears a costume while acting as this alter ego. This rules out characters who don't have an alter ego nor a crimefighting costume, such as Tarzan, John Carter of Mars, Buck Rogers, and Flash Gordon. Robin Hood (or at least some versions of him, where "Robin Hood" is an alter ego and he wears a symbolic costume) would count though.

    I don't think having superpowers is a requirement for being a superhero, since there are so many non-powered superheroes, Batman being the most famous example. And any fictional character who has superpowers shouldn't count as a superhero either, unless he meets the two criteria above.
  • August 7, 2014
    Arivne
    ^ Doc Savage didn't have an alter ego or wear a costume while fighting crime, yet he is generally considered a superhero.
  • August 7, 2014
    Tuomas
    Generally considered by who? I haven't read any Doc Savage stories, but based on the description he doesn't sound dissimilar from other pulp era sci-fi heroes such as John Carter, who aren't superheroes either.
  • August 7, 2014
    DAN004
    Doesn't "super" mean "having super powers"? What about those public identity superheroes? (Iron Man for one)
  • August 7, 2014
    DAN004
    And Bat Man technically ISN'T a superhero. (He's a Costumed Nonsuper Hero.)
  • August 7, 2014
    m8e
    ^^^^^ Having a secret identity shouldn't really be a requierment, but it does obviously help an example if the superhero has one. If the hero doesn't have a secret identity they have to have something else that make them "super", like having actual superpowers or some such.

    The requirements shouldn't be much different from todays use of the word superhero. It should be a little more lax as some tropes and other stuff hadn't been codified yet, and these are really the prototypes to "real" superheroes.
  • August 7, 2014
    IndirectActiveTransport
    Well, I figured if gamerboy was really interested in launching a trope and was given a link with information he'd read it. Guess I figured wrong.

    And if Batman is not a Superhero, neither is any Green Lantern that did not have super powers before getting a ring, which is most of them. Neither are most versions of Ironman, they just wear armor.
  • August 7, 2014
    DAN004
    ^ maybe I'm just being picky, but at least Green Lantern and Iron Man have superpowers coming from those things. Batman doesn't.
  • August 7, 2014
    SharleeD
    This very website's trope for Superhero includes non-powered Batman-types, so it'd be inconsistent with precedent to make special powers a prerequisite for this trope.
  • August 8, 2014
    Cider
    Maybe a repair shop run for the superhero page then, as of now it includes a lot of examples that aren't even that heroic, just protagonists with super powers.
  • August 8, 2014
    DAN004
    ^ In the end, the superhero lists are just "heroes who kick ass".
  • August 8, 2014
    SharleeD
    Well, if we're excluding characters who don't have superpowers, then we'd have to cut Zorro, the Phantom, the Green Hornet, the Lone Ranger, the Count of Monte Cristo, the Scarlet Pimpernel, the Clock, and Doc Savage off the list. Possibly the Shadow also, at least in his earlier appearances when his hypnotic ability wasn't nearly as strong, and John Carter who wasn't really a super, he was just used to higher gravity than Mars had. Which means giving up practically every character that inspired the superhero comics.
  • August 8, 2014
    DAN004
    ^ do we have a term for those guys, though?
  • August 8, 2014
    SharleeD
    Really, it's only logical that most Proto Superheroes would have no more than a Charles Atlas Superpower or two, if any. The basic concept of people acquiring and/or being born with truly superhuman abilities like flight hadn't yet been codified at the time most of these characters were invented; once such powers became common, the Golden Age had begun.

    Again, I think it'd be better to dispense with the supers-vs-Badass Normal debate — they're Proto Superheroes after all, not the finished archetype — and instead include all sorts of heroic characters who anticipated/inspired the later superhero genre, and were commercially produced rather than cultural myths.
  • August 12, 2014
    Tuomas
    Having a secret identity shouldn't really be a requierment, but it does obviously help an example if the superhero has one.

    My definition doesn't say that identity has to be secret, just that the hero has a identity and costume he uses to fight crime, separate from his civilian identity and clothes. The identity of the hero could be public knowledge, but the superhero costume/identity is still the thing that separates superheroes/costumed heroes from other crimefighters. Otherwise you could count characters like Sherlock Holmes or Sexton Blake as proto superheroes: they're badass normals who fight crime, after all. But few people would call them superheroes, I think. So it's the costume and alter ego (even if the real identity of the hero is known) that define superheroes, whether or not they have powers.
  • August 12, 2014
    DAN004
    Now what IS a superhero? I get the feeling that ppl will call any hero from Marvel or DC a "superhero". That term is actually trademarked by those two companies as well...
  • August 12, 2014
    m8e
    ^Nope. "Super Hero" and "Super Heroes" are trademarked, not superheroes, superhero, Superhero, Super-Hero... or any other way of writing it.

    DC also calls Batman a "super hero", so that trademark argument doesn't hold.

    This is also not the place to discuss what a superhero is. Go to the Super Hero discussion page or make a thread in Trope Talk or a TRS. You can also go to wikipedia's Superhero talk page if you want to change the definition there and you could also mail encyclopedia britannica to complain how they call Batman a superhero.
  • August 12, 2014
    DAN004
    ^ that's fucked up.
  • August 15, 2014
    SharleeD
    Effed-up or not, if this trope is to be meaningful at all, it legitimately needs to include Badass Normal and Charles Atlas Superpower characters. Genuinely-impossible powers weren't codified as part of the "superhero" archetype until the Golden Age's Superman, so expecting Superman's precursors to share similar beyond-human powers just isn't reasonable: if we limit it to supers-in-the-modern-sense only, it'll be about four examples long.

    In the interest of making this trope useful, and in avoiding Natter and Your Mileage May Vary, let's just say that for purposes of this trope, non-powered heroes in the Batman style are acceptable. That lets Zorro and other classic superhero-precursors back in, allowing this trope to encompass all the characters that inspired and codified distinctive elements of the Superhero genre, not just the "powers" aspect of that genre. Powers aren't the only quality that makes a superhero, after all; if they were, both Gandalf and the Terminator would be superheroes.
  • August 15, 2014
    NateTheGreat
    I suppose the next question is whether the ancient demigods like Gilgamesh and Hercules count as superheroes under the modern definition, or if we're starting with Robin Hood.
  • August 15, 2014
    gallium
    ^Not only should Gilgamesh and Hercules and Beowulf count as superheroes, they qualify as superheroes much better than Robin Hood does. Beowulf had super strength and could fight underwater. He had super powers, and was a hero, —> superhero.
  • August 15, 2014
    IndirectActiveTransport
    Beowulf maybe. He came to fight monsters and defeated a dragon, and didn't do it purely for his own gain. Gilgamesh no. He defended his city from a bull but this was the same city he ruled in tyranny and he sought immortality for pure personal gain.

    Heracles no. Well, he's a better case than Gilgamesh in that he did set out to solve people's problems and sort of did so out of the goodness of his heart, but I really don't buy it. His story doesn't resemble a superheroes at all, except maybe the Argonauts being a super team(eh not really. Medea did all the work, Heracles ran away crying about his dead boyfriend)

    Of course I don't consider any character who isn't an outright villain to be a superhero just because they have superpowers. I don't consider The Incredible Hulk or Ghost Rider to be superheroes even if they are characters in a world full of superheroes, and frequent participants in a superhero genre story. Well, you could make cases for the versions of Hulk and Ghost Rider that have control, such as "the professor", otherwise one is an atomic rage monster who is too dumb to be truly malicious and the other is a vengeance monster that cares more about burning souls than protecting people or solving societal problems.

    Vishwamitra had super powers and was mostly good, but I wouldn't call that wandering sage a superhero. Maybe Ram but I'm still iffy. I think the idea of if the audience was ever supposed to believed the individual really existed is a good point to cutoff "proto superhero". After all, the Ramayana was written long before Nyctalope, yet it's the French tale that's called the earliest literary example of the superhero genre, not the sanskrit one. I'd leave the sacred text and mythology off this one. I wouldn't use Robinhood either. He may not have been of any religious significance but people did believe he existed (he kind of did) and did not start telling stories of him to make a buck on the market.
  • August 15, 2014
    gallium
    ^I can't agree. Seems to me that the superhero check should be 1. does the character have a superpower? and 2. is he a hero? If yes to both, he's a superhero. Beowulf and Hercules meet these criteria easily.
  • August 15, 2014
    SeptimusHeap
    I have heard that a defining characteristic of a superhero is that they are dedicated to protecting the public. It's not just any superpowered person.
  • August 15, 2014
    gallium
    ^Beowulf at least would also meet that criterion. He fights Grendel to protect the Danes.
  • August 15, 2014
    DAN004
    So I guess The Punisher isn't actually a superhero.

    Thanks Septimus Heap, the "protecting public" part should've been obvious to me but somehow I missed it.
  • August 15, 2014
    IndirectActiveTransport
    Yes, the Punisher is a character who happens to be in a superhero story.(Namely, Spider-man's). What point are you trying to make?
  • August 15, 2014
    DAN004
    ^ Just the possibility that some people mistook vigilante heroes as superheroes. I might be wrong though.
  • August 16, 2014
    IndirectActiveTransport
    Fair enough. My point is that this seems to be looking at the foundations of the superhero genre. Going into mythology and folklore seems like it is, stretching and kind of undermines the purpose of bringing up works like Golden Bat in the first place.
  • August 16, 2014
    gallium
    First sentence from The Other Wiki: "A superhero (sometimes rendered super-hero or super hero) is a type of hero or saviour possessing extraordinary talents, supernatural phenomena, or superhuman powers[1] and dedicated to protecting the public."

    So, yeah, Beowulf counts. Robin Hood shouldn't, he's actually a vigilante.
  • August 16, 2014
    NateTheGreat
    If Batman is a superhero, then so are Robin Hood and Zorro and the Scarlet Pimpernel, etc. I thought we'd established this.
  • August 16, 2014
    randomsurfer
    Robin Hood has Improbable Aiming Skills if nothing else. And he's "protecting the public" by robbing the rich to give to the poor.
  • August 16, 2014
    SharleeD
    This trope isn't just about the concept of a "superhero", it's about the roots of the superhero genre. Robin Hood wasn't the product of a fiction genre, he's a folk hero who pre-dates the basic concept of literary genres.

    Again, I think for this trope to encapsulate a distinct pre-Golden "Age" of the superhero genre, it ought to start out with commercially-produced characters, not with mythic figures. Including folk heroes and demigods blurs the boundaries between what's genre fiction and what's a cultural tradition, and could offend people to boot: after all, if any "super" qualified, wouldn't that mean classifying Moses or Jesus as "superheroes"?

  • August 16, 2014
    DAN004
    ^ I bet that's a rhetoric, but just in case: Yes, they both are, technically.
  • August 16, 2014
    gallium
    ^^"I think for this trope to encapsulate a distinct pre-Golden "Age" of the superhero genre, it ought to start out with commercially-produced characters, not with mythic figures."

    I can't see any basis for this. The trope is about proto-superheroes. The archetype of the superhero is Older Than Print at the very least. There is no substantive reason to limit this trope to works that were commercially produced in the age of print. As the introduction as currently written notes, several mythological figures are included in all the crappy comic book movies we're cursed with today. Thor is a superhero.

    ^^"Including folk heroes and demigods blurs the boundaries between what's genre fiction and what's a cultural tradition"

    It probably should blur those boundaries, because there aren't clear boundaries between those concepts. Is there a substantive difference between Beowulf and Superman? Between oral stories, stories that are written down, and stories that are written down with pictures a-la comic books? I don't see one.

    ^^"if any "super" qualified, wouldn't that mean classifying Moses or Jesus as "superheroes"?"

    Moses, if I recall correctly, was a prophet and a political leader. I don't see how he could qualify for this trope by any stretch. Jesus could. I would suggest 1) including a warning about Rule Of Cautious Editing Judgment, or 2) simply saying that religious "characters" are not to be listed.
  • August 16, 2014
    SeptimusHeap
    Also, I don't remember Moses to have superpowers.
  • August 16, 2014
    NateTheGreat
    Sharlee D, do you think we should limit this to the radio and pulp novel heroes, then? Late 19th/early 20th centuries?
  • August 16, 2014
    gallium
    Wow, I just checked, and this very wiki already includes ancient superheroes. From Superhero:

    "In a broader sense, superheroes can be considered old as the superhuman heroes of ancient mythology, with Gilgamesh being the Ur Example. Other examples include Hercules, Perseus, Krishna, Hanuman, and Sun Wukong (a.k.a. Son Goku)."
  • August 16, 2014
    SharleeD
    ^^^ If Doctor Strange calling on otherworldly entities to cast spells is a superpower, then Moses asking God to turn his staff into a snake is, too.

    ^^ I'd say that commercial production would be a fair place to draw the line, so characters like the Scarlet Pimpernel or the old penny dreadfuls' vigilante highwaymen could make the cut. Radio and pulp heroes would then make up the majority of examples, and the pre-Superman comic book heroes would mark the end-point for this trope.

    ^ There are already tropes for the Folk Hero and the mythological sort, however. They'd certainly rate a mention in the description, possibly even as a subtrope if everyone insists on it, but repeating all their names here is getting pretty far from the motifs of the genre.
  • August 16, 2014
    gallium
    I don't know who Doctor Strange is, but Moses had no superpowers, did not perform any magic himself, did not fight crime, did not fight other powerful beings, did not protect anyone, although he did liberate them. He was a political leader. So he doesn't qualify.

    And again, the assertion that including characters from oral tradition is "getting pretty far from the motifs of the genre" is incorrect. Stan Lee said so. Other writers have drawn the parallel.
  • August 16, 2014
    DAN004
    Maybe we also have to add that their stories must have some trappings of a superhero story.
  • August 16, 2014
    JesseMB27
    I think as Waterlily said earlier, only characters that were created as fiction in the first place should qualify as superheroes, therefore figures from mythologies, religious traditions and/or folktales (who are assumed by their tellers to be real individuals) wouldn't qualify based on that.

    Also, the Merriam-Webster Dictionary definition of superhero is "a fictional [emphasis mine] hero having extraordinary or superhuman powers; also : an exceptionally skillful or successful person". (Also keep in mind the second that states that a superhero is also someone with exceptional skill.)

    In addition, here is The Other Wiki 's definition for additional consideration: "a type of hero or saviour possessing extraordinary talents, supernatural phenomena, or superhuman powers and dedicated to protecting the public."

    I also say that in regard to Proto Superheroes specifically, a window of being created between circa 1875-1938 should also added as a requirement to meet this trope.
  • August 17, 2014
    gallium
    ^On what basis do we decide that people believed Beowulf was real? And even if people did once believe Hercules was real, his story was retold for centuries after no one worshipped the Greek gods anymore.

    The notion expressed above that a "proto-superhero" should only count if he were created in the age of print, and specifically 1875-1938, is not logical. The proposed limitation has no basis. It is against the definition of Superhero on this wiki, which, as I noted above, says the concept of the superhero dates to antiquity. It also renders the trope effectively pointless, since pre-Superman heroes such as The Scarlet Pimpernel, Mandrake The Magician, and The Phantom are already listed on the Superhero page.
  • August 17, 2014
    m8e
    or Proto Superhero could simply be a subtrope of Super Hero...
  • August 17, 2014
    SharleeD
    ^^ The fact that some of these guys are listed on the Superhero page doesn't discredit this trope's concept, any more than the fact that Golden, Silver, Dark and Modern Age heroes are listed there. All those eras have their trope pages already. This trope is filling the subtrope-gap between the ancient superhero-precursors of folklore and the Golden Age.
  • August 17, 2014
    HeavyTony
    As pointed earlier, there's the Show Within A Show The Gray Ghost in Batman The Animated Series. Another In Universe example is in the episode "Soul Mates" of Lois And Clark where Superman happens to be the reincarnation of two human Proto Superheros, the Fox, based on Robin Hood with elements of Zorro, and the Lone Rider, of course based on the Lone Ranger.
  • August 17, 2014
    CrypticMirror
    The way I see the "ages" is we've got the age of myth and legend with all the gods, demi-gods, and gods'-blessed heroes, then we've got the, for want of a better term, the chivalric era where guys like Beowulf or Gawain and the Green Knight go, then as printing took over and various forms of communication sped up, we've got this era where it is all coming together, which leads in turn into the various modern areas which codify all the pre-modern area traits and fully form them. Then moving on from there is the golden, silver, bronze, dork, aluminum ages that we are in now (I call now the aluminum age, because everything is recycled) which are all playing with a codified and mass produced format. Prior to the modern era much was left up to the initial tale teller, these days the format and formula is king.

    Sure you've got some who've survived from earlier ages all the way, Robin Hood has been in perennial reinvention from the chivalric era, and Tiresias and maybe Odysseus all the way from Myth and Legend days and those were probably characters who had elements to their tales that helped evolve the whole genre. The guys like Herc and Gilg, or Lancelot and ye knights, those are just guys from their own era though. They aren't proto-superheroes, they are just plain old Mythological or Chivalric heroes.

    There were probably internal divisions of the Mythological era of heroes, or the chivalric age, but the chasm of time has robbed us of the examples and cultural reference points to create/recognise the gold/silver/aluminum age of chivalric heroes or gold/broze/dork age of mythological heroes.

    That is my take on it all.
  • August 20, 2014
    JesseMB27
    ^^^^^To Gallium: In regard to "On what basis do we decide that people believed Beowulf was real?", the opinions of whether audiences believe Beowulf or other mythological figures to be real or not is irrelevant, it is the opinion of the teller (And the ORIGINAL teller more specifically) that matters. As for everything else, I would say Sharlee D and Cryptic Mirror reflect my opinion quite well. Now for an example to contribute:

    Literature:

  • August 30, 2014
    SharleeD
    If we're making this trope specifically about the immediate precursors to the superhero genre, as seems to be the majority opinion, then the description needs some revision. How about this?

    While the deeper roots of the Superhero can be traced back for millennia, with superhuman warriors such as Gilgamesh populating ancient mythology and vigilantes like Robin Hood numbering among many cultures' great folk heroes, the codification of the superhero genre had to wait until the emergence of commercial fiction. Only when word-of-mouth storytelling gave way to mass-market publication did the iconic themes and qualities that make a "superhero" captivating - impressive abilities, secret and/or outlaw identities, defense of others without need for reward - prove appealing (and marketable) enough to meld together into a new archetype: heroism re-imagined for the modern age and audience.

    With Action Comics #1 and its introduction of Superman, these new heroes would find their lasting home in comic books. But prior to this emergence of the Golden Age Of Comics, earlier prototypes of the genre had to blaze the trail via a wider range of media: penny dreadfuls, pulp novels and magazines, radio dramas, newspaper comic strips, and stage plays all preceded the explosion of comic books in the 1930s. The heroes of these works, whose adventures set the stage for the Golden Age, weren't always as completely "super" as their successors, but such prototypes demonstrate the transition by which age-old heroic folktales gave way to our contemporary genre of commercial superhero fiction.

    Of the characters that arose during this transition, most have faded from the popular imagination, as the Golden Age's superpowers tended to overshadow their predecessors, who seldom boasted more than a Charles Atlas Superpower or a signature gadget to their advantage. Only a lucky handful (Zorro, The Phantom, The Lone Ranger) have remained popularly-recognized since their inception. But superpowered or not, widely-remembered or not, it's these Proto Superheroes which later Golden, Silver, Dark and Modern Age comic superheroes owe their success to, as inspiration for their archetype and the industry that birthed them.
  • August 30, 2014
    CrypticMirror
    ^ That is a brilliant description, I think you've nailed it.
  • August 31, 2014
    SharleeD
    Another that definitely belongs here, if non-powered heroes are eligible:

  • August 31, 2014
    SharleeD
    • The creation of cartoonist William H.D. Koerner, Hugo Hercules was the titular hero of a comic strip that ran less than 5 months, from September 1902 to January 1903, for the Chicago Tribune. Endowed with superhuman strength, he was a lighthearted character who mostly rescued people from accidents or foolish mishaps rather than crime.
  • September 1, 2014
    SharleeD
    gamingboy1, are you still following this trope? Or is it Up For Grabs at this point?
  • September 1, 2014
    DAN004
    ^ looks like it.
  • September 1, 2014
    SharleeD
    ^ Well, if the original sponsor doesn't post anything within a day or so, and if nobody objects or has something better to offer, I'll swap out the old description for mine.
  • September 1, 2014
    CrypticMirror
    On the Scarlet Pimpernel example, I'd take out the bit about him being the originator of the secret identity. That was often a feature in the penny dreadfuls for the highwaymen. Some of the tales about Dick Turpin conjured up various "real" lives for him, and the others. In fact the trope of the vigilante-Highwayman's secret identity was so well known it was (much) later parodied by the Carry On film series and Blackadder. It is more likely that those penny dreadfuls inspired Orczy, although I would agree that Orczy may have been the codifier for that staple.
  • September 1, 2014
    SharleeD
    ^ If we can get some of those penny dreadful highwaymen listed as specific examples, then we can move the Secret Identity origin to those, while leaving Rich Idiot With No Day Job for the Pimpernel. (Dick Turpin himself was a real historical person, so even if his life story was heavily fictionalized he's not really a "proto-superhero" per se.)
  • September 2, 2014
    SharleeD
    Removed some red links, added dates for the Green Hornet, Lone Ranger, and Count of Monte Cristo, and specified that Nyctalope is the first superpowered literary superhero since we've got earlier non-powered examples listed.
  • September 2, 2014
    CrypticMirror
    Well the fictional Dick Turpin turns up in the 1834 novel Rookwood where he uses the identity of a gentleman named Palmer who bets he can bring in Turpin, although Hijinks Ensue and he makes his escape on Black Bess his trusty superspeedy black horse. He turns up again later in the book where he tries to get the character of Bradley to marry Mowbray via some gypsies too. He's not quite a proto-hero in it (his character is more ambiguous, somewhere between villain and benevolent trickster), but you can see the seeds of the genre being planted, and that is kind of the point of this trope; the planted seeds.

    There is also the infamous Penny Dreadful Black Bess Or The Knight Of The Road which really codified the most enduring version of Turpin. The romantic gentlemen (albeit from lower class origins- WhatIsThatTrope?) who swept women off their feet while committing acts of derring do and in which he used multiple identities to do so. That was the 1860s that was first published, exact year uncertain and it was based on stage plays and short stories from as far back as the 1740s.

    He did use secret identities, but much like Batman Turpin the Highwayman was the "real" identity, and Palmer (and the others) the face he used in public to enable Turpin to do his work. Unlike Bruce Wayne, that identity changed when necessary, but then it is a short step from someone impersonating a gentleman to enable the exploits (criminal and otherwise) to the more socially acceptable Gentleman adopting the secret identity.

    Please don't remove a Red Link, Tv Tropes policy is to keep them in in order to encourage people to make the page and also to make it easier for folks to make the page and find examples.
  • September 2, 2014
    matthewsychantha
    In the same way that we have named tropes for The Oldest Ones In The Book, shouldn't this trope be named Older Than Superman, him being the personification of Golden Age Comics?
  • September 2, 2014
    DAN004
    ^ as a redirect, perhaps
  • September 2, 2014
    CrypticMirror
    ^Agreed. That would be a fun wiki term to be able to use in the forums by tropers (a troper in-joke), but as a page on the main wiki it wouldn't really work.
  • September 2, 2014
    SharleeD
    OK, revised description is up, plus some editing of submissions for clarity, grammar, and to remove unnecessary cross-references to examples listed elsewhere. (Chicago Tribune is a newspaper, not a magazine, BTW; if it needs to be linked, bluelink it to American Newspapers.)

    Cryptic Mirror, it sounds like you've read up on Turpin pretty thoroughly, so if you'd like to write up the Dick Turpin of Black Bess and Rookwood as a literary example, by all means do so: it'd be a good example of exactly how Folk Hero gave way to Proto Superhero, with a Real Life person who'd started out as the former becoming fictionalized as the latter in popular prose and plays.

    BTW, do folks agree with including a proto-supervillain as an inversion? Because if so, Springheel Jack deserves a mention, as an early gadget-based super.
  • September 2, 2014
    matthewsychantha
    How do you figure though? This trope relies on the Golden Age as a cutting off point. It's not like these characters personifying proto-superhero characterisics before the popularization of the superhero genre would have been recognized as such before the advent of Superman and the golden age, and this page is a retroactive recognition to categorize them under this trope, thus making the golden age of comics and Superman by being the extension of the Golden Age of Comics relevant to the entire trope and as a pop culture icon something easily identifiable. Unless I'm misunderstanding the trope, which could very well be.
  • September 2, 2014
    JesseMB27
    I would vote in favor of including Springheel Jack as a Proto Supervillain.

    Also if we were to list In-universe examples (such as the aforementioned Gray Ghost), here is one I would like to add:

    In-Universe
    • The Fairly Odd Parents: The earliest Crimson Chin is from 1936, though his outfit does not feature the spandex and cape that many Golden Age Superheroes had, resembling more like that of an aviator's outfit (Which possibly also doubles as a Shout Out to The Rocketeer).
  • September 2, 2014
    CrypticMirror
    I'd include Spring Heeled Jack, Tropes Are Flexible after all and this being pre-the codification of the Superhero elements, any early super-villain certainly fits. Its an element that has come into existence and it is just waiting for some bright author to bring in a super-hero to fight him and make the genre complete. Certainly Spring Heeled Jack had his own damn franchise, a look at his page on The Other Wiki confirms that, although sadly the actual plot details of so many of those titles have been lost to us due to the ephemeral nature of the Penny Dreadful [note: do we have a useful notes page on the penny dreadful, I feel we should given its role in bringing fiction, and genre fiction in particular, to the masses] so they are all Zero Content Examples as far as we are concerned. And those are just the ones we remember, goodness knows how many others were printed, read, then pulped or used as fire lighters (if they were lucky, given some of the other uses soft cheap paper was put to back then).

    On the subject of early super-villains, The Phantom Of The Opera (1909/1910)? He's got the secret lair, the deranged vengeance, the costume, the gimmick, the mask, the tragic deformity; the guy is just having a mortal foe dressed as a bat away from fitting in perfectly at Arkam Asylum. He might even be the Trope Codifier for masked super-villain, certainly Trope Maker if nothing else. Pretty much every super-villain thereafter had one of those elements. I think pretty much every DC and Marvel villain has done a Shout Out to him at some point too.
  • September 3, 2014
    SharleeD
    Okay, the Phantom of the Opera might be the better choice for a token proto-supervillain for now. Good catch!

    I'll see if I can dig up a little more on Spring-Heeled Jack; if there's a specific penny dreadful or play that attributed his leaping ability to gadgetry, that'd be the ideal title to reference for him. (Just citing the Urban Legends probably wouldn't fit the trope, as the early newspaper articles about Jack weren't commercial fiction, just yellow journalism.)
  • September 3, 2014
    SharleeD
    ^^^ It looks like we have plenty of straight examples now, so I'm not sure we need to add the in-Verse examples that have been suggested. Indeed, while characters like the Crimson Chin are inspired by these vintage superheroes, they're recent inventions that didn't really help found the superhero genre, so don't really fit the revised description. If anything, they might be listed as in-Verse invoked examples on their respective sources' Works pages.
  • September 3, 2014
    Spindriver
    The Scarlet Pimpernel really belongs under Literature, not Theatre (or anything else). He was the hero of a series of novels that then got adapted to other media.

    I'm a little surprised that the site has no entry for Russell Thorndike's Scarecrow (no relation to any comics supervillains or the Buster Keaton movie), but unfortunately I'm not qualified to write one. He's an antihero, dating from 1915, who ran multiple secret identities at different times, and possessed exceptional mental and physical abilities. Probably not actually a trope codifier, but a sign that the ingredients were beginning to gel at that date.

    (Also, got played by George Arliss, Peter Cushing, and Patrick McGoohan, and gets a mention by Alan Moore in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.)
  • September 3, 2014
    SharleeD
    ^ The Pimpernel was under Literature initially; I'm not sure who moved it to Theatre. I've moved it back, and added a date for the original story. Yes, Doctor Syn/The Scarecrow certainly does belong here too.

    Incidentally, does anyone know of any female character that might fit this trope? I know the period we're talking about wasn't exactly egalitarian, but it'd be interesting to know if the superheroine also dates back that far.

  • September 3, 2014
    CrypticMirror
    For Spring Heeled Jack, I would give him his own entry under literature or possibly Multiple.

    • Spring Heeled Jack: Appeared in several Victorian era plays and Penny Dreadful novels (often serialised in magazines) based on the, then, well known Urban Legend. Many origins were attributed to him by many authors, but the most well known was that of a Jilted Lover who adopted a costume to avenge himself on women. The most common components of the costume were a Devil-Like mask with red-coal like eyes, horned helmet, black cloak, claw-like hands[[note:]]later descriptions would give him metal claws[[/note]], and the ability to leap large heights and distances (handy for escaping the police). Sadly many of these tales are lost to us due to the throw away nature of the media, and even the most complete Spring-heel'd Jack: The Terror of London (currently held in the British Library) is missing a chapter of the tale. Most tended to have a similar title prominently mentioning London and describing him as a terror or nightmare. Some notable examples are:
      • Spring-heel'd Jack: The Terror of London the afore mentioned novel, published by London Newsagents Publishing Company in 1863 (author not creditied[[note:]]Not unusual in that media[[/note]].
      • The John Haines play of the same name: Spring-Heeled Jack, the Terror of London, believed to be the first stage version.
      • Spring-Heel'd Jack: or, The Felon's Wrongs,another play written by Frederick Hazleton, with Jack again slasher mode.
      • Spring-heeled Jack: The Terror of London published in Boys Standard in 1878, authorship unclear as there were multiple staff authers.
      • Spring-Heel Jack; or, The Masked Mystery of the Tower, appearing in Beadle's New York Dime Library 1885, and written by Col. Thomas Monstery. This American publication is believed to be a whodunnit although Jack's status as villain or vigilante is unknown.
      • A 1924 silent movie directed by Paul Leni, Das Wachsfigurenkabinett combined Spring Heeled Jack with Jack The Ripper in this tale of waxworks brought to life by dark magic.
      • Much later, in The Silver Age Of Comic Books, the UK comic book publisher The Hotspur used the character to create a Batman-esque Science Hero in the form of ''Spring Heeled Jackson, a police coroner for the Metropolitan Police Force who took on the Spring Heeled Jack costume to investigate (and occasionally punish) crimes and criminals the police force thought were unsolvable or untouchable.
      • A more comprehensive list can be found on The Other Wiki.
  • September 3, 2014
    SharleeD
    Cool, lot of information there! If it's okay, I'll probably cut it down to just the earliest example you've listed, since that's what the other characters already on this page have; still, it's really interesting to see how the Spring-Heeled Jack concept evolved over time.

    Hmmm, looks like the only potential Proto Superheroine to slip by the Before-Superman window would be Sheena, Queen of the Jungle. We don't have Tarzan listed yet; how to people feel about including him? Note that he and Sheena both fight the same sort of enemies and threats as The Phantom, and both have a semi-superpower in their ability to talk with animals.
  • September 3, 2014
    m8e
    I think later works could get sub-bulleted/mentioned if they add/change/"evolve" something about the character.

    I'm not familiar with Sheena but I think Tarzan would count. Talking with animals, Not Quite Flight by jungle vines. Quote from wikipedia: "His strength, speed, stamina, agility, reflexes, senses, flexibility, durability, endurance, and swimming are extraordinary in comparison to normal men."

    He also seem to have a superhuman ability to learn new languages: "He learns a new language in days, ultimately speaking many languages, including that of the great apes, French, English, Dutch, German, Swahili, many Bantu dialects, Arabic, ancient Greek, ancient Latin, Mayan, the languages of the Ant Men and of Pellucidar."

    "In Tarzan's Quest (1935), he was one of the recipients of an immortality drug at the end of the book that functionally made him immortal."

    To tie back to the first part, Tarzan becoming immortal would obviously be a reason to mention this later work. Due to the strong connection between comic books and superheroes it might also be worth to mention that Tarzan was first adopted to comicbook in 1929.
  • September 4, 2014
    Spindriver
    Jess Nevins has some information on pulp-era heroines, (and this page has a couple more candidates), but they're all really very borderline as proto-superheroes go. Alraune may be the best known name, but she'd barely qualify as a supervillainess.
  • September 4, 2014
    SharleeD
    ^ Cool, lots more examples there, not just the ladies. Looks like there are more of these characters than I'd ever suspected!
  • September 4, 2014
    SharleeD
    Hmmmm... I'm wondering if we should add a "Real Life-Inspired" category to this, for cases like Dick Turpin, where an actual individual wound up being fictionalized into a Proto Superhero. Spring-heeled Jack could arguably be listed there as well, since there actually were attacks in London, even if the culprit was never caught and the urban legend that grew up around them was a lot more bizarre than the reality.
  • September 5, 2014
    Spindriver
    I've set up a page for Dr Syn The Scarecrow, because it really needed some kind of coverage. That can be added to the Literature section here (and cross-linked when this page goes up).
  • September 5, 2014
    CrypticMirror
    ^^ Now that sounds like a plan. I think that part of the early transition (a sub-age if you will) was the people with only a rough idea on how to deal with the relatively new format of mass produced novels (the 1850s are held to be the time that novels started to be mass produced[[note:]]Novels did exist before that, just they were expensive and produced on limited runs, often sent unbound as manuscripts to customers who would have their own printer put on personalised bookplates and then arrange for a personalized cover and binding[[/note]]) for the masses lacking the inspiration that only comes with a mountain of fiction behind them and turned to the only source that was familiar to the masses. Urban Legends and Folk Hero tales. Then they Very Loosely Ripped off those.

    ^Excellent page, but it goes in the literature namespace, not series which is for tv-series. Don't forget to index it too.
  • September 5, 2014
    m8e
    I think I was the one who moved The Scarlet Pimpernel to theatre. It did actually start as a play.

    Quotes from wikipedia:

    "Orczy's original play, The Scarlet Pimpernel, was produced and adapted by Julia Neilson and Fred Terry. It opened on 15 October 1903 at Nottingham's Theatre Royal and was not a success."

    "The novel The Scarlet Pimpernel was published soon after the play opened and was an immediate success."
  • September 5, 2014
    SharleeD
    ^ Technically, the Baroness wrote the novel first, then turned it into a play, then published the book. As it's unlikely that anyone who consults this website will ever dig up a copy of the play's script, or that any of the early comic-book writers who borrowed ideas from the story ever consulted anything but the book or its film adaptations, I'd say that the entry works better as Literature.
  • September 5, 2014
    SharleeD
    Looks like we have all the hats we need, folks. Anyone got a possible page pic for this? If there's, say, a montage image of several of the pulp heroes we've got listed, that'd be perfect.
  • September 6, 2014
    m8e
    I have looked for (and found) some images earlier. The problem is that those also include The Rocketeer, a character created in the 80s.

    Like these pictures from deviantart: [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7]

  • September 6, 2014
    Spindriver
    By the way, I've corrected the namespace error for Doctor Syn. The page is now at Doctor Syn The Scarecrow.
  • September 6, 2014
    SharleeD
    ^^ The second pic's jetpacker might actually be Rocketman from 1940s movie serials, not the Rocketeer. Technically Rocketman was Golden Age, but close enough if we can't find another pic.

  • September 6, 2014
    m8e
    Maybe [3] with Sherlock Holmes and The Rocketeer edited out? That way we are also not using a complete work.
  • September 6, 2014
    SharleeD
    ^ Looks great, and if that's Tarzan in the headband, those four are probably the best-known representatives of the trope. Good call!

  • September 6, 2014
    SharleeD
    Cryptic Mirror, I've added Dick Turpin and Springheel Jack as Real Life and Urban Legend examples, respectively. I'm afraid I couldn't include as many references as you'd found, as they need to be concise to match the other examples. Also, so many of the Jack examples are Lost Forever and/or share near-identical titles that listing them all seemed more confusing than helpful.
  • September 6, 2014
    SharleeD
    Okay, folks, looks like this is almost ready to go. Everybody want to take a last look through, to make sure it's all sorted out chronologically and the entries are clear? If nobody raises any objections by tomorrow afternoon, I'm going to take it upon myself to launch it, because the original sponsor hasn't commented on it in over a year.

    As for links, Superhero Tropes is obvious for indexing, as are Pulp Magazines and Radio Drama. Any others I should cross-link it to, besides all the listed works that have a page?

    Incidentally, someone should add a Platinum Age Of Comic Books Useful Notes page to clarify that it's not the same as this. The Platinum Age was a period in which publishers first started collecting comic strips that were already running in the newspapers and binding them together into cheap booklets for resale; they were mostly cartoons, not original stories.

  • September 6, 2014
    SharleeD
    Hmmm, anyone know why the caption's not lining up correctly? Please fix it if you do; I've got no clue what's wrong.
  • September 6, 2014
    m8e
    I believe it's just a bug/lack of support in the YKTTW system.(Folders, Notes and some other stuff isn't properly supported either.)

    Will work when it's launched to the wiki.
  • September 7, 2014
    SharleeD
    Anyone think this would be an appropriate page quote?

    "I've never told anyone this... but you were my biggest inspiration. I'd be honored to shake your hand." - The Caped Crusader to The Shadow, Batman #253
http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/discussion.php?id=txbxju92jjczao9g04n60bpt