In “When We First Met,” we spotlight the various characters, phrases, objects or events that eventually became notable parts of comic lore, like the first time someone said, “Avengers Assemble!” or the first appearance of Batman’s giant penny or the first appearance of Alfred Pennyworth or the first time Spider-Man’s face was shown half-Spidey/half-Peter. Stuff like that.
Today, based on a suggestion from someone (perhaps it was Tweeted at me? Or posted on Facebook? Like I have mentioned a few times over the years, the best way to suggest something for one of my columns is to e-mail it to me. That way I have a searchable record of your request. I’ll typically remember the request itself no matter what, but when I go to credit the person who sent it in, I search my e-mail and if it isn’t there, it’s a total crapshoot if I can remember where else you asked me about it. So, long story short, e-mail me suggestions…unless you don’t really care about getting credit, in which case, keep on keeping on!), I try to figure out who was the first animal-themed superhero.
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Here’s the funny thing about Superman’s explosive popularity in the late 1930s. Action Comics #1 came out in April of 1938…
It was a massive hit right out of the gate. However, how long did it take before that was CLEAR? Sales reports took months to compile and who is to say that it was SUPERMAN driving the sales of Action Comics #1? So it’s probably fairest to say that it wasn’t until around Action Comics #4 that it was obvious that the book was a massive success. Okay, so how long does it take for OTHER people to realize that? The head of Detective Comics, Inc. knew that it was a hit at that point, but what about other people? And once other people KNEW it was a hit, how long does it take to process that information and then come up with your own character inspired by the success of Superman?
Clearly, working for Detective Comics, Inc. was obviously useful to being able to answer the call and sure enough, one of the very first superheroes to launch in response to Superman’s success was Batman in Detective Comics #27 in March of 1939, less than a year after Superman debuted…
So then the answer would be Batman, right?
Not so fast. As noted, Batman was one of the (if not THE) first superhero to get to market based on the success of Superman. However, there were a few other superheroes out there that were not influenced by Superman. After all, the Phantom and the Shadow were both basically superheroes and plenty of characters launched inspired by them (heck, Phantom comic strips were actually re-published in comic book form, so you could argue that the Phantom deserves credit as the first comic book superhero – I don’t like that argument, but you could argue it).
This, then, led to George Brenner debuting a Shadow riff called The Clock in Funny Pages #6, a year and a half BEFORE Superman debuted…
I mention the Clock only because Brenner then did ANOTHER Shadow riff in Feature Funnies #2, for Quality Comics (not yet called Quality Comics) in 1937, ALSO before Superman debuted, and that character’s name?
Check him out in action…
And check it out, the dude had TALONS!
That’s totally a superhero, right? Boy, I bet Lois Lane wished Superman was more like the Hawk. “I bet you’re really Superman, Clark Kent! How do I know? Because of the freakin’ talons, dummy!”
So the first animal-themed superhero actually predated Superman!
Thanks to whoever suggested this one! Feel free to drop me a line for credit!
If anyone else has a suggestion for a notable comic book first that they’d like to see spotlighted, just drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org!
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