Or did it?
You can trace back the use of the heroic figure to Greek mythology with the adventures of Herakles (Hercules to you) and Theseus. Exploits of Greek soldiers in the Trojan wars are documented in the Iliad and the journey home for those soldiers in the Odyssey.
You can actually go back further to Gilgamesh, the first recorded story in history.
There's David and Daniel and others in the bible too.
But for the sake of the "Comic Book Super Hero" I'm talking about here, let's focus on heroic and super talented or powered figures created solely for print media.
For this we still have to look back to the 19th century, and oddly enough for an truly American art form, to England and their "Penny Dreadful"'s.
Penny Dreadful's were the original pulp fiction books. Cheaply printed and distributed to the masses, full of trashy and sensational subject matter. The Dime Pulp Novel of early 20th century American was preceded by these decades before, and sold for 1/10th the price. If that ain't a formula for "just plain good stuff" I don't know what is!
But decades before that, there were rumors in the streets of real-life London of a mad and horrifying figure who would pounce over high fences to accost people in the streets. A long pointed nose and chin, white and blue fire from his eyes and mouth, and under his cape, wearing a tight-fitting suit of oil-cloth. Stories of him bouncing through the streets of London, spewing fire and surprising victims expanded to him appearing at the doors of peoples homes on dark and foggy London nights. Him shrieking and spewing white and blue fire and reaching out and clutching them with "metallic" claws.
These stories resulted in some astounding police reports about the frightening man who could leap over cemetery fences. He was nicknamed "Spring Heeled Jack".
Stories of the real life accounts of meeting Spring Heeled Jack filled the Penny Dreadfuls. True confessions of meeting a nigh-superhuman figure in the night.
Somewhere along the way though, people must have wanted to see more in this than something to be feared.
The imaginations of Londoners kicked in...and possibly the first Super Hero was born!
Instead of terrifying encounters with Jack by innocent citizens, the Penny Dreadful's slowly turned Jack into an avenging creature of the night. Someone who would leap out of the darkness and pounce upon criminals and rescue damsels from distress and the rest of the Super Hero shtick.
He eventually even had a secret hide-out, a sanctum sanctorium, a base of operations from which he could plot his heroic deeds. Filled with gadgets and doo-dads. Crime-fighting tools.
In case you're not getting the obvious correlation...Batman-type-shit!
I haven't read any of these stories that graced the vest pocket of so many lower class Londoners of yore...but I'll bet they were great.
Grizzly in detail and exciting narrative were what would have sold them. Morbidly described acts of the evil followed by a dynamic entrance by and swift retribution at the hands of a mysterious, super-gifted and altruistic hero!
If that's not what comic book super heroes are all about...I don't know what is!
Read more about Spring Heeled Jack here.
Next up: More prototype Super Heroes from outside the comic book medium!