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Off My Mind: Birth of Superheroes in the 20th Century
by Tony 'G-Man' Guerrero on
How come we didn't have more heroes before the 1900s?
Recently artist Francesco Francavilla drew a picture depicting the Avengers if they were alive hundreds of years ago and Neil Gaiman showed us what Marvel characters would look like in the year 1602. Wait a moment, knights and soldiers wore colorful armored suits but that still doesn't make them super.
Not being a historian or anthropologist, I have to wonder what was it about the 20th Century that caused the birth of costumed superheroes?
== TEASER ==
In the old days people were more refined. Men stuck to the rules. They were cautious and too humble to wear a gaudy crime fighting costume -- they wore gaudy hats instead. Cities were smaller -- the United States was getting settled after all -- and people lived rural lives. There was never a need for a costumed vigilante to rise to the occasion. So there weren't any superheroes.
There are some characters that have been around a long time like Apocalypse, Vandal Savage and Ra's al Ghul. Even Mr. Sinister started his genetic tinkering in the 1800s. Despite this, it doesn't seem like people even had superpowers before the 20th Century. Were there more individuals with powers but were too shy or conservative to use them publicly? You never hear today's comic book characters talking about heroes in their past.
When I first started reading comics, I thought the 1960s was the birth of heroes. Nuclear testing, radiation poisoning and mutations jump started the entire superhero explosion, right? But superheroes did exist before the nuclear era like Superman and Batman. Their origins have been tweaked so they didn't until modern times. Today we're seeing more of a focus on Marvel's costumed WWII heroes in the Invaders and All-Winners Squad.
What was it about the 20th Century that caused the birth of mutants, Thor's banishment to Midgard, visits by Martian Manhunter, the Silver Surfer and Galactus? We have seen in Jonathan Hickman's S.H.I.E.L.D. series that Galactus did come to Earth before (but no one seems to recall it) and there were some heroes such as Leonardo da Vinci and Sir Isaac Newton. They just didn't wear flashy costumes or have superpowers.
We could just chalk it up to fate and the destiny of mankind. The time wasn't right before. There could be some celestial force that saw the destructive path the human race was headed and pushed mankind into entering the next phase of our existence. Superheroes are here to stay. This is the Age of the Superheroes. Time will tell if there will be another evolution for the heroes of Earth.