Prior to Comicbook heroes we had pulp heroes. "Pulps" were small 10 cent books sold on the newsstands, usually filled with action heroes going to exotic places and having adventures. Among these heroes were Doc Samson and The Shadow. They also had very popular radio shows. While they certainly did things that were beyond what a normal person could do, they weren't called superheroes or marketed as if they had abilities beyond a person at their physical peak. Nonetheless, they had their influence on what was to come. Another pre-Superhero came from the comic strips, he is Popeye. He was created by Elzie Segar and first appeared in a strip called Thimble Theater in 1929. While he didn't go out and fight crime, he did eat his spinich and displayed some 'above average' feats of human strength while fighting his nemises Bluto. This picture is the first ever appearance of Popeye.
This comic is the first American publishing of The Phantom, who is now a worldwide hero. The Phantom made his debut on February 17th, 1936 and he was the first costumed hero. He was created by Lee Falk, who still today is working on his stories. The Phantom was the kind of hero that despite his normal "human" capabilities, fought crime with bravery and death defying stunts. Many future heroes would follow his lead. For more information about this breakthrough hero read The Phantom biography. Also in 1936 The Clock appeared in Funny Pages #6. The Clock was a masked detective; this is the first time a character used a mask to hide his face. Later on, masks would be used in most costumes so the hero could disguise his or her true identity.
In June 1938, Action Comics #1 came out, featuring a man in a red
and blue costume lifting a car over his head! This was Superman,
the very first comic character to have powers far beyond a normal
human being. Sure, Flash Gordon and The Shadow were neat, but they
couldn't lift a car over their heads and throw it at someone! Nor
could they let bullets bounce off their chests, or run faster than a
train, or leap over tall buildings in a single bound. To say the
least, Superman was a fitting name.
When Siegel and Shuster were younger they tried pitching the Superman
idea at newspapers and comics. One of their earliest proposals was a
cartoon character called The Superman in 1933. They were
constantly rejected, to the point that artist Joe Shuster once tore up his Superman
artwork and stated that he'd redo the character properly if the
time ever came. Today Superman is one of the 10 most recognized 'people'
on the face of the planet. He has been in several movies, cartoons
and TV series.
Detective Comics #27 hit the stands in In May, 1939. In it we saw the
first appearance of Batman. While Superman was pure and clean,
Batman was grim and gritty. In this comic, the villain fell into a vat of acid,
which killed him. Not showing any remorse for causing the death, Batman
observed "A fitting end for his kind." Batman was created by Bob Kane and
has always remained in print. During a time when superhero
comics were not so popular, Batman survived by focusing on his
detective abilities, making his comic stories more of a mystery series
than a superhero book.
The reason Batman is so popular is because he is a compromise
between the two types of heroes. He didn't have superpowers, but he
did have an intellect, a costume, and neat gadgets that would put
him on par with the superheroes. Batman has been put on the big
and small screen several times in T.V series, movies, and
Also in May of 1939, Wonder Comics #1 came out. This title's star hero was
called Wonderman (no relation to the Marvel character). His powers were
virtually identical to Superman's. This got DC angry enough to file
a copyright infringement case against the publisher, Victor Fox. The case
went to court and the judge decided in DC's favor. There was a Wonder
Comics #2, but no Wonderman in it, and that would be the last of this
In the Summer of 1939, Superman continued to show his success. He was the very
first hero to get a comic book fully devoted to telling his adventures. Up until this point,
all comic books had a variety of characters and stories in them. Because of the success
of this title, other comic characters are also given a chance with their own titles.
In 1939, A book called Motion Pictures Funnies Weekly came out
and in it would be Marvel Comics' first and longest running character,
Prince Namor the Sub-Mariner.
Namor would appear in an 8-page black and white story in the back of
this comic. This same story would be expanded a little and would
reappear in Marvel Comics #1. This Motion Pictures comic was supposed
to be handed out free at movie theaters along the east coast of the
States. Most theater chains turned down the book, so the amount of
distribution is not known.
Later on in October, 1939, Marvel Comics #1 came out. A group of successful
superhero veterans from Funnies Inc. contacted publisher Martin
Goodman. The Funnies group told him that they would present to him a
prepared, finished comic book every month, for a service fee. Among
this group was Bill Everett, who created Prince Namor the Sub-Mariner
for this book. Other heroes from this comic are The Human Torch, created
by Carl Burgos, Ka-Zar, The Angel, and The Masked Raider (who was a Lone
Ranger rip-off). This company would go through three different name changes.
The first was Timely Comics, the second was Atlas, and the third and
present is Marvel Comics.
The Human Torch was re-done as a teenage member of the Fantastic Four
in 1961, but The Original Human Torch was brought back for a short
time in the 80's. The Angel was re-done as an X-men member, and Ka-Zar
still lives on today, he recently got his own series.
The Shield made his appearance in Pep Comics #1. The comic hit the stands in January 1940.
The Shield was the very first patriotic American hero. His star spangled costume and fight for America
created many imitators, Captain America being one of them. This comic book was published by MJL
Magazines. This character along with many others heroes were used by Detective Comics in the 80's
and had new adventures in a 1991 Legends of The Shield book under a !mpact Comics imprint.
In February of 1940 More Fun #52 came out with a new hero. DC made a mistake
with this new superhero because they made him too powerful. The Spectre was a police officer that died,
and upon talking to God he was sent back down to Earth as a ghost. Possessing almost
unlimited superpowers, he would turn all the evil doers into
ash. But the character wasn't a big success because he was quite cold, humorless,
and unstoppable. Bullets would pass right through him, he could walk through walls;
he had no weaknesses. Despite the initial failure, The Spectre was brought back
by DC three times and today has a ongoing series.
Also in February 1940, Whiz Comics #2 came out. This comic had a character
that would cause DC trouble for some time (click name to
see why). His name was Captain Marvel.
Some interesting footnotes about this book was that in Thrill Comics #1
(which was an ashcan - promotional small comic) had a character
called Captain Thunder, but quickly found out that the name was
already taken, so it was changed to Captain Marvel and the title of the comic
changed. This comic was also supposed to be named 'Flash Comics', but a few days
before their distribution DC put out their own Flash Comics title,
featuring The Flash and Green Lantern.
The very first sidekick came out in April of 1940. His name was Robin
the Boy Wonder. He first appeared in Detective Comics #38. Batman
and Robin would be the best known 'dynamic duo' in comic books.
Robin was important in comic books because he was a hero that the
younger readers could relate to. Because of the popularity of Robin, other
superheroes got their own teen-aged side kicks. Three different characters have
filled the Robin costume. The first was Dick Grayson, the second was Jason Todd
(who will be talked about later), and the third and current one is Timothy Drake.
In the Winter of 1940 the very first superhero team formed. It was called the
Justice Society of America. They appeared in All Star Comics #3.
The original members included: The Flash, The Green Lantern, The
Spectre, The Hawkman, Dr. Fate, The Hour-man, The Sandman, Atom, and
Johnny Thunder. All of these characters were great in
their own titles, but readers responded with excitement to putting them all together.
Creating superhero teams is still a very common thing today.
In 1941,Wonder Woman first
appeared in All Star Comics #8. She started out as the Justice League Society secretary,
but she would later become the first big name super heroine to go toe to toe with Superman
and Batman. Not only could she battle them on equal terms, her book would last as long as
theirs. During a time when superheroes were not so popular, Wonder Woman comics, like
Superman and Batman, remained strong.
Captain America made his first appearance in March, 1941. But the way he
appeared was just as exciting as the character. Captain America #1 was his first
appearance; Captain America was never tested in another book before receiving
his own comic title. This was unheard of in comics to that date. Comic companies did not go
out and hire a group a people to produce a comic title if they didn't know the character could
sell it. They always tested out the character in another comic first, and gauged reader reaction
to the character via sales figures. They did it with Superman in Action
Comics #1; it was a year before he got his own book. The same went for Batman.
But Timely Comics publisher Martin Goodman saw the rough sketch of Captain
America by Joe Simon and knew immediately it would sell. So he gave
Captain America his own book right away and was successful with it.
Captain America wasn't like Superman who spoke of "Truth, Justice and
the American way". Superman was an alien from outer space; Captain America
was a "real" American. Also, Captain America was fighting the Nazi's long
before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor happened, after which America entered the Second World War.
Even though there were other patriotic heroes in comics, Captain America was
the first one to be really successfull with readers.
Also in 1941 Pep Comics #22 came out. Little did people know that the
superheroes on the cover would not be the big attraction. A story in
the back of the comic about a teenaged boy in a love triangle named Archie Andrews
would become the draw for this book. Archie Andrews would
completely take over this company and keep it successful to this day.
In this issue Archie's friends called him 'Chic'; Archie was modeled roughly
around Mickey Rooney's Andy Hardy character. By 1943 this company, known then
as MJL Magazines, would change its name to Archie Comics.
After WWII, superhero comics began to loose their popularity, other genres of comics rose in popularity for usually a few years. Until the whole industy began to drop.
Read the next section!