A Super Rip Off By Bruce Bennett

     The light-hearted article of the day. I thought that Super-man was a bit of a rip off of Nietzsche’s idea of the overman/super-man, but no, there was someone before the big blue boy scout:

“In 1930, a new adventure story offered American readers a cutting-edge hero — a man with titanic strength, bulletproof skin, and the ability to leap tall buildings in a single bound — but his name wasn't Superman. The character was Hugo Danner, protagonist of a luridly bad novel titled Gladiator, by Philip Wylie. The Superman we all know, created by Jerry Siegel, wouldn't appear on the cover of a published comic book until eight years later. Reading Wylie's Gladiator alongside this new movie delivers a particularly weird experience for a whole bunch of reasons. One of them being the possibility that the very aspects of Snyder's new Superman that felt the most fresh and game-changing turn out to be perhaps not so new at all. Looking past the nonsense, the book remains hard to read without suspecting the Man of Steel's original creator, Jerry Siegel, did some significant borrowing back in 1938. Hugo Danner comes from a small, rural town (Colorado instead of Kansas, but still); Danner spends a great deal of his time concealing his strength; as a young man, Danner even builds himself a remote fortress where he could find solitude. "I can do things, Dad. It kind of scares me," Danner says early in the book. "I can jump higher'n a house. I can run faster'n a train." Later on, Danner come out with this: "I'm like a man made of iron."

I'm cherry-picking, but the similarities are hard to mistake. I'm not the first to notice. Philip Wylie threatened to sue Siegel for plagiarism in 1940 — this according to historian Gerald Jones's wonderfully written Men of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters, and the Birth of the Comic Book. The suit was apparently never filed and later paperback editions of Wylie's book retroactively capitalized on the connection, depicting a heroically muscled, shirtless Danner under a tagline reading, "The lusty life of an uninhibited superman." Nietzsche's Übermensch and Bernard Shaw's Man and Superman were common reference points in 1930s culture, high and low, long before Superman or Danner. Wylie's innovation was pulling his hero down from the philosophical ether and pitting him against the physical world. That's what captured the imagination of the young comics enthusiast named Jerry Siegel in the years when he cooked up the red-caped prototype of the American superhero. "Until he encountered Wylie's Hugo Danner, however, Jerry had never seen a superman whose feats were set so vividly against a familiar and constraining reality," Jones wrote. "He seems to have collided with the product of a literary world very different from the one he'd known, a novel that sent his fantasies spinning in a significant new direction." The smoking gun in Superman's debt to Hugo Danner is a "capsule review" Siegel apparently wrote summarizing Wylie's novel in a comics fanzine years before Superman appeared. At least this is what Jones claims, albeit vaguely, in Men of Tomorrow.”

     Good, I have been looking for an excuse to burn my comic book collection worth thousands of dollars in a ritual act of catharsis for decades, and now I have it.



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Friday, 19 August 2022