Monday, March 1, 2010

The Scarlet Pimpernel - Prototype - A 'Slight' History of Golden Age Comic Book: Super Heroes: What is a 'Super Hero'?

Another source of inspiration for the modern Super Hero came from the theatre. A play in 1903 written by Baroness Emmuska Orczy about fictional goings on in the French Revolution, set in 1792.

The play centers around a beautiful French woman who is married to a wealthy English Nobleman. She is shocked and horrified by the public executions of her fellow French Nobles and shows disdain for her husbands seeming disinterest in the injustices happening in her country. You see, Sir Percy, her husband, is a lazy, well-to-do, bored-with-life socialite who is only interested in living the good life.

Little does the Baroness know, but Sir Percy belongs to a secret society of "Righters of Wrongs" called "The Scarlet Pimpernel" which has pledged to bring justice to the world and stop these insidious crimes against the upper-crusts of society by the revolutionists. The Pimpernel is made up of 20 men, "One to lead, and nineteen to follow!", and they strike back under the cover of night, fighting for truth, justice and the "rich people"'s way!

That's right. A foppish, dandy. A wealthy playboy, seemingly disinterested in the goings on of the world. But by night, he is a daring, courageous, avenging angel!

Sound like Zorro? Or more to the point...Batman???

Ah, the duel identity is established. Comic books can't be far behind!

The play was not an initial success until the last act was rewritten and it premiered again in 1905. This time to rousing success, the play became a favorite of London audiences. It became such a success that Baroness Orcsy adapted it to a novel. Then, in the true vein of what was to come, a series of sequels of novels telling of the adventures of "The Scarlet Pimpernel"!

"I Will Repay" in 1906, "The Elusive Pimpernel" in 1908, "Eldorado" in 1913, "Lord Tony's Wife" in 1917, "The Triumph of the Scarlet Pimpernel" in 1922, "Sir Percy Hit's Back" (my favorite title) in 1927, and a few others, some written by others after Orczy's death.

The novels even told of the Pimpernel's ancestors and descendants, creating a whole time-line of adventurers who would pop into action, whenever crimes against the rich were perpetrated.

I'm going to read these some day. The concept seems fun to me.

Of course the big difference between this hero and the comic book heroes we're really here to talk about is...this guy fights for the rich and entitled, while the heroes of the golden age of comic books are always for the underdog. The one's who cannot defend themselves. And that's where a lot of the appeal lies.

It was a different time.

There were film adaptations made, most famously starring Leslie Howard in 1934, but I think what is remembered most about this character in modern times is a little slice of genius from the mind of Chuck Jones.

Next up: The influences of dime novels and the American pulp magazine!


Anonymous said...

Scarlet Pimpernel did not wear a mask or some red Pimpernel themed costume as you portray.
He just wore disguises like an old lady, or a gypsy, or a security guard to infiltrate, etc...
There was no masked/themed identity like Superheroes have, like you portray there.
Maybe next time actually read the books instead of the Daffy Duck cartoon, which was a pastiche of the Pimpernel & Zorro.

Jeff Overturf said...

Or I could just tell you to fuck off. I'll do that instead.

Fuck off.

Anonymous said...

LOL @ nice attitude.
I remember for a while the wikipidia article described the Pimpernel as having a masked themed identity that inspired superheroes, which stood for years with people repeating it on forums and blogs. Thinking a Daffy Duck cartoon? Is that really how people are informing themselves on the Pimpernel?
A Mask, a cape, a color and themed superhero like costume? Do they really think that's what the Pimpernel was?
The over the top cartoon like many of the Daffy caricatures was more a homage/satire of a whole genre. Not one character.
Like Duck Tracy wasn't just Tracy, but a send-up of all the pulpy hard-boiled, Sam Spade, Dashiell Hammett like detectives popular at the time.
Duck Dodgers was a nod to all Sci-Fi, Mysterious Planet, Martian invasion type movies and the unique look popular at the time.
And the Scarlet Pumpernickel was more an homage/spoof of the entire Swashbuckler genre, (See Daffy’s Dumas Duck name on the Script) and the over the top people who played them like Flyn, Fairbanks, etc. who had played d'Artagnan of the Musketeers, Don Juan, and the actual masked caped, slouch hat wearing, sword dueling was all more Zorro, (Pimpernel didn't even use a sword let alone leap out windows, onto a horse, rope swinging, masked disguise persona etc. He’s even described as a highwayman Desperado, again more Zorro!
That persona of the Pimpernel just never existed.
Somehow people retroactively applied all these pastiche Swashbuckler & Zorro elements from a Daffy cartoon backwards, onto the Pimpernel, LOL!

Jeff Overturf said...

I wish this guy would stop making sense and stop speaking well! It's much easier to delete the guys who sound like idiots.

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