(Investigator 123, 2008
with gamma rays;
doused in mutagenic chemicals; bitten by a radioactive bug; born on a
distant planet; physically enhanced by alien technology; or magically
transformed by a wizard. That's how superheroes originate.
superheroes fight crime and promote truth, justice and the American
way. Bad ones ["supervillains"] seek to take over the world and form
Communists, crime syndicates, and evil politicians.
first superhero was Superman (began 1938) whose success prompted
editors to introduce other superheroes. With World War II came Bullet
Man (1940), Flash (1940), Wonder Woman (1940) and Captain America
super-powered wore bright costumes often with "underpants outside",
often a mask and cape, and had a secret identity and secret
headquarters. They always won their battles, often against
super-powered criminals thereby reassuring everyone that good
ultimately triumphs, as Democracy would over Communism.
1960s came new superheroes including Spiderman, the Incredible Hulk,
Captain Atom, and The Thing. Some had everyday problems of study,
relationships and employment and struggled under the responsibilities
that super powers imposed.
COSTUMED CRIME FIGHTERS
fiction and comic strips of the 1930s featured heroic crime fighters,
fantastic adventures, strange powers, mysterious lands, and scantily
clad women needing rescue.
of the Apes (1912) was endowed with animal strength, endurance and
trained senses. The Shadow (1930), Phantom (1936) and Batman (1939)
were superior crime-fighters; Flash Gordon travelled the galaxy and
righted wrongs on other planets; and Conan the Barbarian (1932) tackled
were "costumed crime fighters" rather than superheroes since they
lacked superhuman traits and relied on superior training, talent, or
technology. Batman, for example, had peak physical condition, was
expert in hand-to-hand combat, drove a high tech "Bat Car", and wore a
utility belt holding gadgets of every sort.
escapist fantasy reassured Americans impoverished by the Great
Depression or anxious over Nazism and Imperial Japan. Science was
unknown to most people —
but they'd heard of x-rays,
warfare, and malformed babies and this made fantasy believable.
Batman and Phantom keep making comebacks. Similar to Tarzan was "Turok
Son of Stone". Commencing with Valiant Comics the story ran
1982. Two pre-Columbian Indians, Turok and his brother Andar, wandered
a lost valley encountering dinosaurs (called "Honkers"), primitive
tribes, great natural disasters, and giant birds, insects and apes.
first appeared in a comic book in 1938 written by Jerry Siegel and
drawn by Joe Shuster.
story parents on the doomed planet Krypton send their baby boy to Earth
where he is reared by Martha and Jonathan Kent. The baby is named Clark
and develops x-ray vision, flight, and unlimited strength. Superman
can't be hurt or destroyed except by a mineral called Kryptonite. Clark
Kent works as a "mild mannered" reporter for the Daily Planet. Fellow
reporter Lois Lane, bedazzled by Superman, constantly shrugs Clark off.
first movie Superman was Kirk Alyn (1910-1999). Then came George Reeves
(1914-1959) of the 1950s TV series with Phillis Coates the first Lois
Lane and Noel Neill the second.
Cain starred in the 1993 TV series Lois & Clark: The New
of Superman. Tom Welling was Super Boy in the TV series Smallville
(2001). Christopher Reeve starred in four Superman movies (1978; 1981;
1983; 1987). Brandon Rough starred in Superman Returns (2006).
sometimes hear of the "curse of Superman". Actors playing Superman, or
supporting cast, seem bedevilled by suicide, accident, illness,
financial ruin and madness.
Alyn starred in Superman (1948) and Atom Man vs Superman
rarely worked in Hollywood again, claiming "Playing Superman ruined my
career", developed Alzheimers, and died in obscurity.
Reeves died by gunshot in 1959. He too couldn't get another acting role
and mismanaged his finances. It's rumoured he was murdered for an
affair with a producer's wife, but more likely he killed himself.
calamitous was Christopher Reeve. His non-Superman movies were
box-office flops, malaria struck him in 1993, and a horse-riding
accident left him paralyzed in 1994.
Kidder, had a car accident in Canada in 1990, was
wheelchair dependent for a year, sold her jewelry to pay for
convalescence, and incurred debts of $350,000. She developed drink and
drug problems, suffered a nervous breakdown in 1996, and had another
car accident in 2001.
seemed "cursed". Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster
sold the rights to the Superman character to DC Comics for $100, were
fired from the corporation in 1947, and spent decades in legal
wrangling for compensation.
Dean Cain may have broken the supposed curse. He refused to do risky
stunts, had a $2million insurance policy, and seems OK to this day.
Similarly, Tom Welling of the TV series Smallville currently
Kidder said after her 2001 car accident: "If I hadn't hit a telegraph
pole after rolling three times, I would have dropped down a 50ft to
60ft ravine. Why don't people focus on that?" The curse of Superman is
now the "Luck of Superman"!
America arrived in 1941. Steve Rogers, a youth too sickly to fight in
WWII, becomes test subject for a secret serum which enhances him to
human physical peak. He obtains an indestructible shield, wears a
costume featuring the American flag, and fights Nazis, Japs and
Fascists. Captain America lost popularity after WWII but resurfaced
from "suspended animation" in 1964.
Atom appeared in 1960. His alter ego, Allen Adam, becomes "atomized"
when trapped in an experimental rocket, which explodes. Like Superman
he flies and is super-strong and invulnerable. His costume is red and
include Captain Marvel (1940-1953), Captain
Canuck of Canada (1975) who obtained super-strength from
extra-terrestrials, and Captain Britain (1976) whose super-strength,
force-field and ability to fly were implanted by Merlyn the Magician.
Nazi, a perfect specimen of Hitler's master race, appeared in December
1941. His super strength, speed, enhanced senses and ability to fly
made him a tough opponent of Captain Marvel and Bullet Man. With
Hitler's defeat Captain Nazi retired into suspended animation. He
returned in the 1990s, joined Lex Luthor's Society of Super Villains,
strove to restart the Third Reich, and battled Wonder Woman and other
Flash, the fastest man in the world, got his super speed when
lightning struck a cabinet of chemicals. Air friction poses no problem
to his super-fast movements because he has an "aura" that neutralizes
it. The Flash wore a tight red costume and yellow boots.
a comic story in which the Flash and his alter-identity simultaneously
converse with a third person. To explain the presence of both the next
page slowed Flash's movement down and showed him crossing and
re-crossing the room between spoken phrases, and simultaneously
changing his clothing, faster than the hearer could move his head right
course super speed would also require super-fast reflexes for
super-fast stops and turns to avoid repeated concussion from collisions
with walls, trees and whatever!
there were four main Flashes plus other less popular ones. The first
Flash, college student Jay Garrick, appeared in Flash Comics in 1940.
second Flash, Barry Allen, existed in a parallel world and appeared in
comics from 1956 to 1986. Upon his heroic death the Flash mantle passed
to his nephew Wally West (Kid Flash) from 1986 to 2006. Next came Bart
Allen grandson of Barry Allan who Flashed in 2006-2007.
the less famous Flashes was a female, Jesse Chambers, whom Wally West
asked to be his replacement.
Woman, the daughter of an Amazon Queen, is a busty beauty whose
crime-fighting outfit is a red and blue bathing suit and red boots. She
obtained superpowers from the Olympian gods and has bulletproof
bracelets, a "truth lasso" (which forces lassoed baddies to tell the
truth), and great strength, speed and agility. In the television series
she switches from everyday clothing to her crime-fighting swimsuit by
comics described her as "beautiful as Aphrodite, wise as Athena,
swifter than Hermes, and stronger than Hercules." Wonder Woman began in
1941 and became a TV series in 1975-1979.
creator, William Moulton, was a psychologist, pro-feminist, and
invented a lie detector, hence the idea of a truth lasso.
came to Marvel
Comics in 1962, actually as a "Spider-Teenager".
is the alter
of Peter Parker a lonely, awkward high
school student bitten by a radioactive spider. Its mutated DNA merges
with his DNA and gives him adhesive hands and feet, a powerful grip,
and the ability to sling spider-like threads and swing through city
streets at amazing speeds.
comic series he developed into a college student, then a teacher, and
has a daughter who becomes "Spider-Girl". The big-budget movie Spider-Man
(2002), however, has a modern setting but still
as a student.
Banner works on a gamma-ray bomb but gets careless. Gamma rays are in
the high-energy sector of the electromagnetic spectrum and lethal in
high doses. Details of Banner's exposure vary, in the movie version
Banner inherits modified DNA from his geneticist father and is further
altered when gamma rays interact with nanotechnology.
thereafter transforms into the Hulk whenever he's seriously upset.
ripples with solid muscle, like Arnold Schwarzenegger in the 1970s,
is green in color, huge in size, amazing in strength (able to toss cars
and trucks), and can bounce and jump along at great speed.
are numberless other superheroes in comics, books and films. These
include Human Torch, Hawkman, Aquaman, Starman, Dr Strange, Daredevil,
Green Goblin, Green Lantern, Plastic Man, Iron Man, Black Panther,
Galvaniser, Gambit, Ghost Rider, Hellboy, Spawn, Invincible, Professor
X, Saturn Girl, Invisible Girl, Power Girl, Mister Fantastic,
Shapeshifter, Doctor Solar, Sub-Mariner, and Quicksilver. The list goes
on and on.
male superheroes have female counterparts such as Bullet Girl,
Hawkgirl, Batwoman, Supergirl, Spider-Girl, etc.
Comics which introduced Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green
The Flash, Hawkman, Aquaman and Green Arrow banded most of these into
the "Justice League of America" in 1960, a move that increased sales
output of superheroes is second to America's, and many other countries
also have superheroes.
crime fighters are sometimes classified as
equipment that imitates superpowers, e.g. Batman.
- Mage: Uses
e.g. Doctor Strange.
bows and arrows, e.g. Green Arrow.
Phenomenal physical abilities, e.g. Phantom.
abilities such as telekinesis and telepathy, e.g. Professor X and
body shape, e.g. Plastic Man.
superior speed and reflexes, e.g. The Flash.
heroes apparently wear super-strength costumes, since they never
emerge naked from burning buildings, powerful tornadoes, catastrophic
collisions, fiery explosions, or high-velocity jumps (when wind speed
should rip or burn the costume off). In the 1978 Christopher Reeve
movie, however, Superman's mother sews his costume using ordinary
never gets disarrayed no matter how violent the action!
superheroes use an
anti-aging formula, since we don't see them aging. Superman and Wonder
Woman look as young in current movies as in the 1940s. Others reach the
modern world upon awaking from suspended animation. Spider Man remains
an adolescent, still in college, after 45 years! His original
co-students would have become teachers, taught him for 40 years, and
now face retirement, whereas he still struggles to make next grade.
EVERY MAN A SUPER MAN
technology can now endow everyone with superhero abilities.
as effectively as the Hulk by using plastic explosives! You can burn
through metal as effectively as the Human Torch by using a thumb-sized
blowtorch! You can entangle baddies as effectively as Spider-Man's webs
by using netting fired from a grenade launcher! You can pack a punch
like the Phantom by supplementing exercise with steroids! If that's not
enough you can surprise assailants with 50,000 volts from your stun gun!
fast adhesives to
stop opponents in their tracks, and clothing to render you invisible
are almost here!
sorts of superhero
can be ordered via the Internet including:
stop you slipping when fighting on smooth surfaces;
shoe-spurs to let you scale buildings like Batman for a bird's eye-view
when seeking maidens in distress;
and grappling hooks;
generate dense white smoke and let you disappear as fast as the Flash.
stop bullets and
knives like Superman's chest with a bullet-proof vest. You can achieve
super-hearing with long-range parabolic microphones to pick up talk at
one kilometre and pocket-sized microphones to eavesdrop at 50 metres!
Night vision goggles will permit clear sight on the darkest night and
miniaturised thermal imaging cameras will let you see through thick
smoke as effectively as x-ray vision!
Dean, T 2006 December,
science behind Superheroes, Cosmos, Issue 6, pp 56-64
West, P 2005, The curse
Superman, Fortean Times, No. 193, p53