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Author Topic: "Super-Hero" -- where did this term first appear?  (Read 8288 times)
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Aldous
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« on: September 28, 2006, 08:28:11 AM »

In the blog article mentioned by Klar Ken T5477 http://www.dialbforblog.com/archives/374/, there is a reproduction of the 1936 "rough" on yellow paper showing sketches by Joe Shuster. The term "SUPER-HERO" appears and I wonder if this is the first use of it. I don't have the book to hand, but I'm pretty sure this page of sketches is reproduced in a Les Daniels "Superman" history book I own because I've seen it before. There are obviously earlier examples of "super" and "hero", but is this surviving Shuster sketch the first time the words are joined together to make a whole new term? I think the great Siegel-Shuster team could lay claim to the "super-hero" concept, but I am curious if there are earlier examples of this; I'm not personally aware of any.
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Permanus
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« Reply #1 on: September 28, 2006, 08:51:41 AM »

I'm somewhat surprised to see the term used before the publication of Superman, since I always assumed it was a sort of shorthand for saying "a hero in the Superman mold". I suppose the 1930s were the decade of superthis and superthat: it wasn't enough to be a plain, everyday hero anymore - now you had to have superheroes.

It's a really stupid term, when you think of it: a hero is already someone who stands out from the herd. What's a superhero? Someone who stands out even further? In Marvel's current "Civil War" extravaganza, people refer to themselves as superheroes almost as if it were a job description. If I met someone in everyday life who referred to himself as a hero in such an offhand way, I'd be rather tempted to pop him in the eye, frankly.
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« Reply #2 on: September 28, 2006, 09:24:57 AM »

It's interesting you see it that way, Permanus, because I always thought "super-hero" meant a hero with super powers (or with extraordinary abilities like Batman), not someone super-heroic.
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JulianPerez
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« Reply #3 on: September 28, 2006, 01:53:57 PM »

The term "super-hero" is certainly older than Superman. In fact, some etymologies place it as being older than the 20th Century.

Like with many phrases that begin with "Super-" superhero may be a German imported term (including "Superman," which was used in German as far back as 1527).

I suspect the recent origin and use may be related to Smith & Sons.

Smith & Sons used the term "super-hero" pre-Superman in house advertisements for the Shadow and Doc Savage pulp magazines. It should be noted that nowhere in the 182 Doc Savage novels is the Man of Bronze ever explicitly CALLED a superhero, of course...but he was called so elsewhere. For instance, when Doc Savage first came to radio in 1934, this advertisement played:

    "That superhero, Doc Savage, comes to West Coast radio-listeners each Sunday night at 9 p.m. over the Don Lee California network, sponsored by Cystex, the Knox Company product." [/list]

    The December, 1935 issue of the Shadow has this advertisement:

      "
    FULL LENGTH NOVELS OF THE EXPLOITS OF THOSE TWO GREAT SUPER-HEROES OF MODERN FICTION--DOC SAVAGE AND THE SHADOW" [/list]

    Also, Walter Gibson, author of many Shadow novels used the term "Super-" to refer to anything weird, out of the ordinary, and to underscore the prounounced qualities: "supercrime" (which goes back to Gibson's 1932 Shadow novel, DEAD MEN LIVE).

    And it should also be noted that in common use, the prefix "super-" was widely used considerably prior to the period we're talking about; for instance, "Supermarket" is a term that goes back to the 1920s. In the first appearance of the Simon/Kirby Guardian in 1942, the Guardian is called a "super-hero." The point here is that for such a term to be used right away without explanation in a magazine for children implies that it must be considerably more established.

    One of the reasons that "super-hero" feels like a recent term (I've seen some fans wonder if it even existed before ADVENTURE COMICS #247, with the Legion of "Super-Heroes" first appearance) is that Roy Thomas in a lot of his period work ALL-STAR SQUADRON, et. al., chose to use the more period-evocative term "Mystery Man."
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    Gary
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    « Reply #4 on: September 28, 2006, 02:45:11 PM »

    Quote from: "Permanus"
    It's a really stupid term, when you think of it: a hero is already someone who stands out from the herd. What's a superhero?


    IMO, a hero is anyone who makes significant sacrifices for the greater good of others. A superhero generally wears a costume, has a flashy handle (even if his/her real name is public knowledge, as with the Fantastic Four), fights crime and/or evil, and has powers and/or skills beyond those of ordinary people.

    Quote from: "Permanus"
    If I met someone in everyday life who referred to himself as a hero in such an offhand way, I'd be rather tempted to pop him in the eye, frankly.


    Well, yeah, it would be rather strange to actually meet somebody like that. I'm thinking of "Captain Freedom" or whatever his name was from Hill Street Blues....
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    laurel
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    « Reply #5 on: September 28, 2006, 11:43:50 PM »

    Gilgamesh.  Gilgamesh was the first.  He even had his side-kick, Inkidu.  :lol:
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    TELLE
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    « Reply #6 on: September 29, 2006, 12:23:34 PM »

    I've heard the Doc Savage reference before (maybe in Men of Tommorrow?) and would love to see an earlier use but suspect that may be the earliest  --at least in genre terms (I imagine someone, somewhere had put the words super and hero together, even if only in conversation and not in print).  I wonder what the folks at the Oxford Dictionary dug up.

    Wikipedia has a good article but doesn't mention the origin of the word, really.

    Prof. Pete Coogan has an interesting definition, similar to what Gary wrote, but with the addition of something called a "pro-social mission".  His definition helps to distinguish Superman from Davy Crockett, dime-novel heroes, and mythic heroes, apparently.  Haven't read his book.
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    « Reply #7 on: October 01, 2006, 01:00:05 AM »

    Just glancing at historic papers....

    Searched "superhero" ----

    I have 2 articles from May 1, 1922, headlining;
    "Super-hero is honored: Another medal added to his collection"
    "Third super-hero of war revealed"

    Searched "super-hero" ----

    "Comes home super-hero" Feb 14, 1919
    "Proud Bride of War's Super-Hero" June 12, 1919
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