Who Was The First Superhero? (RESEARCHED)

by | Feb 3, 2017 | Articles | 0 comments

Who is the first superhero? I’m not writing about genre, such as comic books, but about who is the first superhero and how does he get the title of who is the first superhero. We know there were pulp fiction heroes, mystery men and the comic book heroes. But who is the first superhero that precedes them all?

First, let’s look at the definition of a superhero. In the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the definition reads:

Superhero: a fictional hero having extraordinary or superhuman powers; also:  an exceptionally skillful or successful person.

 

first superhero superman batman spider-man

When you hear the word superhero, who is the first superhero that comes to mind? Superman? He has superhuman powers. Spider-Man? He has extraordinary powers. There is Batman, The Dark Knight, who is exceptionally skillful and successful as Bruce Wayne. These characters are the perfect examples of the word superhero according to the definition given.

first superhero montage

But there have been superheroes long before the comic books era. We have countless folklore from the Wild West. The stories of of the Arabian Nights saga comes to mind. There’s the classics of The Three Musketeers, King Arthur and Robin Hood.  The tales of Homer with stories of Achilles, the tale of The Odyssey and the wonderful stories of Greek Mythology with Hercules and the Greek gods. The books written by Sir Edgar Rice Burroughs had the stories of Tarzan and John Carter. People have had a fascination over heroes throughout the ages and still debates about who is the first superhero.

They are told in a number of mediums, whether in stories, songs, comic books and movies. Just look at how much is spent on stories about superheroes. There are the great productions that I personally enjoy with Graphic Audio. I listen to them while driving and sometimes when I am working.

first superhero 3 superman

As for as genre. who is the first superhero can be up for debate. Through his research, Peter Coogan’s book “Superhero: The Secret Origin of a Genre” he states that Superman is the first superhero. “Superman was the first superhero and the initiator of the superhero genre, which burst forward nearly fully formed in the first page of the first issue of Action Comics.” There were some he listed that could be have been in contention. Spring Heeled Jack, Hugo Hercules, Popeye, Hugo Danner and The Phantom were on the list. I personally would have put Jerry Siegel’s and Joe Shuster’s creation, Dr. Occult into the mix as the first superhero. He was created in 1935 and seen in New Fun Comics #6. Even his original costume highly resembled Superman’s, of course most of us know didn’t come about until 1938, but eventually went to the trench coat and fedora.

first superhero bible

But that is the superhero genre. I am looking back even further than even before Homer’s stories. Does it date back as far as The Bible? Lots of heroes written there. When thinking of someone with extraordinary or superhuman powers, you could easily say Jesus Christ, but in the Old Testament there was one who comes to mind that is a prime example of the definition of who is the first superhero.

This man grew up to be the strongest person in the Bible.  He wasn’t a king, a general or a soldier and he didn’t lead anyone into battle. He wasn’t a prophet or a priest, but he did many things to help free his people, but, by his own strength.

In one story he was traveling to see a young woman that he had is eye on. While on his travel a lion came out and attacked him. He tore the jaws of the lion apart with his bare hands with ease. He never told anyone about the incident.

Another tale and I don’t really know why, maybe he did it just for fun, but he allowed himself to be captive by his enemies. But, in their arrogance, they were boasting and bragging that they had caught the great strongman. He broke his restraints like “burnt strands of flax”. He then found a jaw bone of donkey that recently died and killed all 1,000 men with it.

A third story was that he was in a city and the men tried to keep him prisoner by closing the city gates so they could attack him the next morning. Instead, he awoke at midnight and tore the gates off of the city wall and carried them up hill on his shoulders and put the gates there.

But like most superheroes, he had a weakness, he fell in love with a woman. Women was not his strong suit. When the rulers of his enemies found out about their little fling, they bribed her to seduce him to find out what made him so strong. He tricked her four times but the fifth time she got him to tell her. It was his hair that gave him strength and his seducer cut it off while he slept.

His enemies then bound him and gouged his eyes out. Not only was he weak, he was also blind. They celebrated about capturing the strongman and he was put in front of the pillars for them to showcase their great accomplishment in front of roughly a crowd of 3,000 people. The hero wrapped his arms around two pillars and somehow came up with enough strength to bring down the temple on all who were there and killing them as well as himself.

By now you probably know who this hero was.  If your guess was Samson, then you remember your Sunday school lessons when you were a kid. Samson had the qualities of a superhero. If you know the whole story of Samson, he was an arrogant superhero, I might add, but he had the qualifications for the superhero role none the less.

Technically, Samson can’t be a superhero. He did have extraordinary and superhuman powers, but do you remember the definition of a superhero? “Superhero: a fictional hero”. Samson wasn’t a fictional character. He actually was a judge in Israel for 40 years in 1118 – 1078 B.C. So by definition, Samson can’t be known as a superhero. Now that we’ve had our Bible lesson today, let’s go even further back than Samson’s time in history.

first superhero tablet

This hero has been a debate with scholars and historians to whether if he was real or not. Real or not the stories told about him were fairy tales but they could have come from actual events. As for me, I will fall on the side of fairy tale. This famous myth comes from numerous sources as one of the first stories in human history dating back 2000 and 1500 B.C.

Ancient lists of Sumerian kings identify him as an early ruler of the city of Uruk around 2600 B.C. These same texts, state that he was a demigod and was king for 126 years. The best-known popular hero in the mythology of the ancient Near East was a Sumerian king who wants to become immortal.

In Mesopotamian mythology, he is a demigod of superhuman strength, two-thirds god and one-third man. He built the walls of Uruk to guard his people from outside threats, and would journey to search for immortality from a sage who was a survivor of the Great Flood. This epic may be the earliest works of literature known to mankind. It’s an adventurous tale that explores human character, and deals with issues that exists today.

The story starts with a short account of the king’s ancestry, his youth, and his accomplishments as king. He is a tyrant who mistreats his people, but later becomes a wise and brave warrior. He indulges his appetites selfishly, raping whatever woman he desires, no matter if she is married or not. It was even a custom to for him sleep with a bride on her wedding night even before the groom. He made the men weary through games, challenges of strength and hard labor. The nobles of kingdom complain bitterly of his behavior. Their complaints attract the interest of the gods, who decide to do something about it.

The gods create a rival for our hero who is just as strong as the king and who lives in the forest with the wildlife. Their plan is for the wild man to combat the king and teach him a lesson, leading the king to get rid of his brash behavior toward his people. The nobles of the kingdom sends a prostitute from the temple to tame the wild man by showing him how to live civilized and among humans.

After learning how to live with others, the wild man travels to the kingdom because he learns about the king’s treatment of women and new brides. He meets the king at a wedding and challenges him to a fight. The king and the wild man fight, and the king is struck in awe by the wild man’s strength, skill, and courage, that he embraces his rival, and they become the best of friends. Due to their friendship, the king changes his behavior and becomes a great and noble leader for his people.

Knowing that the king cannot out live the gods, he goes on a pursuit for the next great accomplishment – fame. The king persuades his new friend to travel to the faraway hills to battle a fierce giant that guards the forest. Despite warnings from his friend and others, the king embarks on the journey. The giant’s roar is like the sound of a rushing flood, his mouth filled with fire and had the breath of death.

The two warriors enter the cedar forest and the giant insults and threatens them. He vows to disembowel the king and feed his flesh to the birds. The king is afraid, but with some encouraging from his friend the fight commences. The mountains shake with the combat and the sky turns dark. The battle ends with the giant in defeat. The giant pleads to spare his life, and the king shows pity towards him. The wild man, is enraged and asks the king to destroy the giant. The giant curses them both and the king dispatches him with a blow that beheads the giant.

A goddess wants to marry the king because of courage and daring feats. He refuses, and insults the goddess by reminding her of her cruelty toward the lovers she had before. She becomes angry for his refusal and persuades her father to release the sacred Bull of Heaven to destroy the king. The king and the wild man dispose of the bull and adding insult, the wild man throws the hind quarters of the bull at her face.

The wild man has a dream that night that the gods told him is going to die for his role in killing the bull. His death is the punishment for his dear friend, the king. The wild man becomes sick and has more dreams of his death and descent to the underworld. He grows weaker and weaker and dies after 12 days of suffering. The king is grief stricken and fears his own death. He decides that he must look for a way to gain immortality.

After his friend’s funeral and burial, the king sets forth on a long and dangerous journey to find a certain man. This sage had survived a huge flood and the gods had given him immortality. The king travels through several unusual lands and meets individuals who tell him to stop his search and accept that he will always be a mortal. Refusing to stop, he finally comes upon an ocean and persuades a boatman to carry him over the sea to meet the sage.

The sage tells the king of the Great Flood and of the boat that he built to save his family and different animals. He then gives the hero a challenge: if the king can stay awake for seven days he will have the immortality he seeks. The king accepts but quickly falls asleep. He awakens after seven days and he realizes that immortality is lost and with much sorrow, he accepts his fate. The sage tells him not to despair since the gods had given him great gifts, such as his courage, combat skills, and wisdom. According to legend, the king was buried at the bottom of the Euphrates when the waters parted upon his death.

So, who was this great king? If you know your Mesopotamian literature, then you know the hero we are talking about is none other than, Gilgamesh, the best known of all ancient Mesopotamian heroes.

first superhero gilgamesh

Mesopotamia, known today as Iraq, lists Gilgamesh as the wisest of the wisest. The Epic of Gilgamesh was found on 12 incomplete tablets in Nineveh at the library of the Assyrian king Ashurbanipal (reigned 668-627 B.C.). There is however, no historical proof for the exploits narrated in the poems and epic.

So through the research of Gilgamesh, and the debate of whether he actually was a real person, and that the stories of his great deeds not having historical proof and how exaggerated they were, by the definition of superhero, I would say that Gilgamesh would fall as who is the first superhero.

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