Oldest Superhero: Who Was the First in History of Comics?

first superhero ever

We live in a world of mass media, where many forms of media can be used for entertainment or education. In the early 20th century, with the first appearances of film and radio, comics also experienced their true beginnings. The comics started publishing as a supplement to newspapers and magazines, and in the 1930s, they started publishing as separate books as we know them today. The comics have indeed a rich history, which leads us to a question: who was the first superhero in the history of comics?

There are several different answers to who was the first superhero in the comics, mainly depending on what is considered a superhero compared to regular characters from comics, as well as the fact are we looking at the entire history of comics or the period when the comics started publishing as its own thing. 1902’s ‘Hugo Hercules’ is considered the earliest superhero fiction in history, while the Guinness World Records consider The Phantom the first superhero ever. The Phantom debuted in 1936, two years before the introduction of Superman (who is considered DC’s first superhero, but not the first DC character in general).

While print as such existed since the 15th century, the first traces of mass media appeared in the late 19th and early 20th century with the first appearances of film and radio, which were followed by the first appearances of comics (although their origins go back even further). The history of comics differs from their place of origin since the first traces of European and Japanese comics go all the way back to the early 19th century. In the following articles, we’ll dig deeper into the history of comics to explain why certain characters are considered the first in history.

The first superhero story ever depicted in comics

During their beginnings, the comics weren’t published in comic books as they are today. In the early 20th century, the forerunner of today’s comics was comic strips which were released as supplements to newspapers and magazines. There was no television or internet back then, and the only way to get information was to read newspapers, which had many supplements that served as entertainment, including comic strips and puzzles, which can still be found in today’s print.

hugo hercules

Often referred to as the first superhero in history, ‘Hugo Hercules’ was first published in 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 around town and helped needy people. The character even had his own catchphrase: “Just as easy.”

It ran for five months and spawned 17 comic strips. The series wasn’t very successful, which is why Körner decided to leave the comics to become a painter, but despite its short run, it is often considered the first superhero story ever depicted in the comics. Of course, we can bet that probably no one of today’s comic book readers has ever heard about ‘Hugo Hercules,’ but if someone asks you on some quiz or a trivia night what was the first superhero story in the comics, you might’ve just found the right answer.


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Why is The Phantom considered the first superhero ever created?

The early 20th century marked the beginning of many fictional characters in pulp fiction, and some of them have kept their popularity to this day. Don Diego de la Vega, also known as the masked vigilante Zorro, and Conan the Barbarian are some of them. Zorro first debuted in ‘All-Story Weekly’ in 1919 and Conan in ‘Weird Tales’ in 1932. We can also mention Flash Gordon, whose comic strip started publishing in 1934.

However, according to Guinness World Records, the first official superhero in history is the Phantom. But why is that, and what makes him the Phantom so different from all the characters that were introduced before him?

What makes the Phantom so special is that he was the first comic book character who can be considered a superhero, while the others mentioned were heroes of their own stories, but they were still depicted as regular main characters instead of superheroes as we know them today. The Phantom’s appearance, a skintight bodysuit, and a black domino mask have kickstarted many design trends for superheroes that were introduced later.

the phantom comics

The Phantom first appeared in his own comic strip in newspapers in February 1936, created by Lee Falk. The character is depicted as a crime-fighting superhero who operates in a fictional African country called Bangalla. In Bangalla, there’s a myth about The Ghost Who Walks, a powerful guardian who existed for generations, and many believe he’s immortal.

In reality, the mask of the Phantom is passed down from generation to generation of crime fighters who always adopt the same superhero persona.

The Phantom first debuted in comic strips in newspapers, but as the comics started publishing in separate comic books in the late 1930s and early 1940s, the story of Phantom was reprinted in ‘Ace Comics,’ and during the 1950s, the character got his own comic book title ‘The Phantom.’

In other media, arguably the most known adaptation is ‘The Phantom’ movie starring Billy Zane. The movie was released in 1996 to mixed reviews and commercial failure but has developed a cult following thanks to good sales on home media.


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Who are the first superheroes DC and Marvel Comics ever introduced?

DC Comics was first founded in 1934 as National Comics Publication. Their first comic book ever was ‘New Fun Comics,’ which was published in February 1935. The story introduced Jack Wood, a Texas lawman who is considered the first DC character ever.

jack wood comic

Today, Jack Wood is officially placed on Earth-Two of DC Multiverse, where all the characters from the Golden Age of Comic Books were relocated in 1961 to explain the differences between them and then-current Silver Age versions of characters.

Jack Wood’s last appearance was in ‘Adventure Comics’ #42 in 1939, and the character was never revived in some other DC continuity. However, the Western antihero Jonah Hex, whose full name is Jonah Woodson Hex, debuted in 1972, and the character is still around.

Before Superman’s debut in 1938, National Comics Publications introduced several other characters, including Doctor Occult. However, with Superman’s introduction, a new era of superheroes started. It’s enough to say that the company started branding itself as “Superman-DC” in the early 1940s; that’s how much of an impact Superman had on the entire comic book industry. Not to mention all the other culturally iconic superheroes DC introduced, such as Batman, Wonder Woman, and The Flash.

human torch namor 1939

As for Marvel Comics, while the majority of their most popular characters (Hulk, Iron Man, Spider-Man, etc.) were introduced during the 1960s, their first superheroes appeared in 1939, so not long after Superman’s debut. Marvel Comics was first founded in 1939 as Timely Comics, and the first ever issue of ‘Marvel Comics’ (as the comic book was called) featured the first appearances of Namor the Sub-Mariner and the Human Torch.

This original Human Torch shouldn’t be mistaken for the Human Torch, which is a member of the Fantastic Four. The original incarnation of the character was Jim Hammond, and in 1961, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby repurposed the character for Johnny Storm, who we know today as the Human Torch. Still, the original Human Torch, Namor the Sub-Mariner, and Captain America, first introduced in 1940, were three signature characters of Timely Comics at the time.

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