The Beginnings of Science Fiction and the Superhero Genre

Hey guys! For today’s post we read the last half of The Superman Chronicles Vol. 1; “Introduction”, “Men of Tomorrow”, and “Gladiator” in The Superhero Reader (TSR); and an article titled “Superman, Philip Wylie, and The New Deal”. The first thing that stood out to me from these reading was the fact that Philip Wylie, in his book Gladiator, started what became the superman. He created a story about a man named Hugo Danner, including a complete back-story as to how he got his powers, as well as followed most of the now conventions of the superhero narrative. Before this reading, I was unsure of how the idea of Superman had been imagined by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. However, after reading the introduction to TSR and the “Superman, Philip Wylie, and The New Deal” article, it is clear that it was after reading Wylie’s Gladiator that the boys were able to hone in on certain traits, and the novel was able to “[provide] them with many of the foundations for what would become the most famous of all super-hero stories” (Worcester 2).

Upon reading the excerpt from Gladiator in TSR, it is interesting to see Hugo as he has a relationship to his parents. His father is a scientist, the one who turned him into a superman, and to see a different side of superhero, one where the parents are involved in rearing and exploring the powers was very interesting to read. All of the future superhero’s initial back-stories (Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, etc.) will veer from this original portrayal and lack parents and the parental guidance as established in this original superhero tale. I see clearer now how Gladiator was part of the beginning of the science fiction genre, but also how is starts the superhero genre (although not written in comic form). By reading the excerpt provided in TSR of this novel, I get a sense of how Hugo’s scientific creation by a human (not God or gods or anything celestial) stirs up an anxiety that is essential to the sci-fi genre.

I really enjoyed today’s readings, as it gives more of a historical and social context for the beginnings of the science fiction genre, superheroes as a genre, and the comic book. Before these readings, I didn’t have much of a context or concept of what the antecedents were to Superman and the superhero genre as a whole. After reading these various excerpts, articles, and essays I now have a broader understanding of these novel genres of the 1930s and how superhero comic books were able to get their big start.

That’s all for now! Thank you for reading! Feel free to post questions or comments!

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The Beginnings of Science Fiction and the Superhero Genre

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