In the early 20th century, with the first appearances in cinema and radio, comics also experienced their beginnings. Comics started as a supplement to newspapers and magazines, and in the 1930s they began their publications in separate books, as we know them today. Comics do have a rich history, which leads us to a question: who was the first superhero in the history of comics?
The first superhero story ever portrayed in comics
In the beginning, comics did not have their publications in comic books as they are today. In the early 20th century, the precursors were the stories released as supplements to newspapers and magazines. At that time there was no television or internet, and the only way to get information was by reading newspapers, which brought many supplements that served as entertainment. This includes, therefore, comics and puzzles, which can still be found in print today.
Often referred to as the first superhero in history, ‘Hugo Hercules’ was first published in the Chicago Tribune in September 1902, written and drawn by Wilhelm Heinrich Detlev Körner. The story depicted the titular man with superhuman strength as he wandered the city and helped those in need. It lasted five months and generated 17 comic strips. However, the series was not very successful, which is why Körner decided to leave comics to become a painter.
The early 20th century marked the beginning of many fictional characters, and some of them have maintained their popularity to this day. Don Diego de la Vega, also known as the masked vigilante Zorro, as well as Conan the Barbarian, are some of them. Zorro debuted in ‘All-Story Weekly’ in 1919 and Conan in ‘Weird Tales’ in 1932. We can also mention Flash Gordon, whose comic book began with its publication in 1934. However, according to the Guinness World Records, the official first superhero in history is The Phantom.
What makes The Phantom so special?
What makes The Phantom so special is that he was the first comic book character that can be considered a superhero. The others mentioned were heroes of their own stories, however, they were still regular main characters, rather than superheroes as we know them today. The Phantom’s appearance, a skin-tight suit and a black mask, gave rise to many design trends for superheroes introduced later.
The Phantom first appeared in his own comic strip in newspapers in February 1936, created by Lee Falk. The character appears as a superhero who fights crime and operates in a fictional African country called Bangalla. In Bangalla, there is a myth about The Phantom who Walks, a powerful guardian that has existed for generations, and many believe he is immortal. In reality, the Phantom’s mask is passed down from generation to generation of crime fighters who always adopt the same superhero persona.
The Phantom debuted in comic strips in newspapers. However, when comics began publishing in separate stories in the late 1930s and early 1940s, The Phantom’s story was reprinted in ‘Ace Comics’. Thus, during the 1950s, the character gained his own comic book title ‘The Phantom’.
In other media, undoubtedly the most well-known adaptation is the film ‘The Phantom’, starring Billy Zane. The film was released in 1996 to mixed reviews and commercial failure, however, it developed a cult following thanks to strong home media sales.
Who are the first superheroes of DC and Marvel Comics?
DC Comics was founded in 1934 as National Comics Publications. Its first comic book was ‘New Fun Comics’, published in February 1935. The story featured Jack Wood, a Texas lawman, considered the first DC character of all time.
Today, Jack Wood is officially a member of Earth-Two of the DC Multiverse. There all characters from the Golden Age of Comics were relocated in 1961 to explain the differences between them and the current versions of Silver Age characters.
With the introduction of Superman in 1938, a new era of superheroes began. Not to mention all the other culturally iconic superheroes that DC introduced, such as Batman, Wonder Woman, and Flash.
As for Marvel Comics, although most of its most popular characters (Hulk, Iron Man, Spider-Man, etc.) got their start during the 1960s, their first superheroes appeared in 1939. Marvel Comics was founded in 1939 as Timely Comics, and the first issue of ‘Marvel Comics’ (as the comic was called) featured the first appearances of Namor the Sub-Mariner and the Human Torch.
However, this original Human Torch is not the same as the same one who is a member of the Fantastic Four. The original incarnation of the character was Jim Hammond, and in 1961, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby adapted the character into the Johnny Storm we know today. Still, the original Human Torch, Namor the Sub-Mariner, and Captain America, first introduced in 1940, were three signature characters in Timely Comics at the time.