Literature / Gladiator
A novel written in 1926 and published in 1930 by Philip Wylie, not to be confused with the 2000 movie of the same name
. Not great literature, but truly genre-making. The story of Hugo Danner, whose professor father experimented on him as a fetus, so that he developed a reasonable degree of Invulnerability
and Super Strength
. The plot is mainly concerned with Danner dealing with his singular condition as he attempts to find a useful place in society, which turns out to be harder than you'd think.
He suffers the guilt of killing another player on the field when he plays football and drops out of college. He gets a job in a bank, but finds he has to save a man who will suffocate inside a safe by ripping the safe open, leading his employers to attempt to find out how he managed it through (ineffectual) torture and ultimately lose his job. He has another job as a manual laborer, but loses that because he's making the other workers look bad. He finds some use for his abilities in World War I
, and is about to attempt to end the war single-handed when it ends of its own accord. He is ultimately appalled by the whole experience. Eventually, while helping on an expedition amongst the Mayan ruins, he takes the expedition leader into his confidence. They discuss the possibility of creating more people like himself, to be used to improve the world. Deeply concerned with the possibility, he stands on a mountain in a storm and asks God to judge. God provides his answer
This work is mainly significant because it may be the first modern depiction of a superhero, and seems to have been a great influence on the story of Superman
and Doc Savage
. It also provides part of the backstory of "Iron" Munro from The Young All-Stars
Contains examples of:
- Accidental Murder: When Danner gets into a fight with one of his teammates on the college football team, he winds up snapping his neck with only a few punches.
- Disposable Superhero Maker: One of the earliest examples, since the serum seems to only affect embryos, and Abednego never published his results.
- Does Not Know His Own Strength
- Downer Ending
- Global Ignorance: Apparently most Frenchmen in the early 20th century did not know that Colorado exists, as the captain of the Foreign Legion accepts Danner's lie that his super strength is because of his place of origin. note
- Guinea Pig Family: Abednego Danner injects his pregnant wife with his Super Serum, explaining Hugo's abilities.
- Hope Spot: Every single time it looks like something good will happen to Danner, circumstances conspire to leave him as bad off as when he started.
- Humans Are Bastards: Which is why Danner can't change society. And he's Not So Above It All.
- It Gets Easier: As a child, when Danner thinks he killed a bully, he freaks out, even though the kid lives. Then, when he accidentally kills a teammate in college, he has a Heroic B.S.O.D. and quits school, even though nobody blames him for it. Then he enlists in the French Foreign Legion and starts killing the enemy left and right, without really caring. As the war goes on and his friends die, he ineffectually tries to cut the war short, and becomes a pacifist after it's over.
- Kafka Komedy: Danner getting fired from a steel mill for being too good at his job, and then immediately getting arrested on suspicion of being a safecracker (and not given the opportunity to defend himself) after saving a coworker's life, really can't be considered anything else.
- Lamarck Was Right: Played With, in that Danner was already conceived at the time that his mother was subjected to the experiment, however, his father later states that any children of Hugo's would not inherit his Super Strength unless they too were given the serum.
- Madden Into Misanthropy: Once Skorvsky proves that even his movement cares more about money and martyrdom than people's lives, Danner tells him to Get Out, and contemplates derailing a train to punish those Puny Earthlings for being venal and selfish, but decides against it. He doesn't regain his purpose until he goes on the Mayan expedition. And we all know how that turns out...
- Mundane Utility: Deconstructed because Hugo Danner attempts to find a use for his Invulnerability and Super Strength doomed his life:
- As a child, he tries to be a Bully Hunter and almost kills The Bully, scaring all the other kids who consider him a Enfant Terrible when he really is a Nice Guy.
- As a young man, he tries to go to college as a Scholarship Student, but he Does Not Know His Own Strength and commits an Accidental Murder. He has to drop out college.
- Trapped in World War I, he becomes a Super Soldier killing as many German soldiers as he can for the French Foreign Legion. He decides to become a useful Super Soldier by Instant-Win Condition: hijacking a plane, infiltrating Germany and killing the German Emperor and his generals to force a Decapitated Army. Unfortunately, Reality Ensues and the war ends on his own accord.
- Later he tries to be a bank teller, but he has to rip the safe open to save the life of a man. His boss considers him a peril and tries to torture him into the truth. Hugo has Invulnerability and he cannot convince his boss of his sincerity, so his boss only fires him.
- Later he does a good job in an Steel Mill and as a farm laborer, but he makes the other workers look bad, so he has to quit.
- When he tries to be an Adventurer Archaeologist, he compares the Egyptians and Mayans and tries to explain his own life and realizes that he is The Woobie. That motivates him to Rage Against the Heavens and gets a Bolt of Divine Retribution.
- No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: Instead of being thanked for saving a fellow employee from suffocating in a bank vault, Danner is immediately suspected for planning to rob the bank with his super strength at a later date, and is promptly fired and interrogated.
- No Plans, No Prototype, No Backup: Justified, in that Abednego did keep notes of his process and results, but was too afraid to publish them for fear of what would happen. Later, they are destroyed by the lightning strike that kills Hugo.
- Only in It for the Money: Danner's beliefs that Skorvsky is this is what makes him leave the reformers.
- Police Brutality: The NYPD is under the control of Corrupt Corporate Executives, and tries to get a confession out of Danner through torture.
- Redemption Equals Death: Ralph Shayne only respects his son Tom after the latter is killed in action in World War I.
- Reed Richards Is Useless: Even in the very first superhero story. Danner is only able to save a handful of lives, from fires and the like. Once he enters the war, he can only kill soldiers in a berserk rage— when he finally acquires an airplane and can fly straight to the Kaiser to force an end to the conflict, it's too late because the Armistice just happened. His attempts to intimidate amoral lobbyists fail because Humans Are Bastards. Professor Hardin suggests using the super serum to create a whole race of idealists like Danner, but this never happens because of Danner's swift death. He can't even save his girlfriend from poverty— she leaves him because she thinks that she would hold his college education back otherwise.
- Secret Identity: Danner gets a job as a circus strongman under the pseudonym of "Hogarth Smith" in order to keep his promise to his parents that his strength will be kept a secret. However, his college friends see through it immediately.
- "Shaggy Dog" Story: Danner meets his end by getting struck by lightning after expressing doubts on whether he should enact Hardin's plan, ultimately without ever making any impact on society. Only a handful of people will ever know of his deeds.
- Shooting Superman
- Significant Birth Date: Danner was born on Christmas. The analogy should be obvious.
- The Gay '90s: Extrapolating from the First World War breaking out a year after Danner quits college in his sophomore year suggests that he was born on Christmas Day, 1893.
- Unbuilt Trope: For Superman specifically, and super-powered superheroes in general.
- Deconstruction: What actually having Super Strength would be like, and the extent to which superheroes could affect the trajectory of history, if at all.
- With Great Power