This article is created in conjunction with Kids’ Lit Quiz™, a fun literary competition where children aged 10-13 years old answer questions on children’s books ranging from classics to comics.
Singapore will be participating in Kids’ Lit Quiz™ for the fifth time in 2018. If you think you’ve got what it takes, let your teachers know and register a team of 4 students from the same school! Registration opens in Feb 2018.
Librarian Charmaine shares some things you probably did not know about your favourite superheroes!
Ever wondered who was Batman’s Batman – that is, his own superhero? (Yes, he had one.)
Wait, are you saying there were superheroes BEFORE Batman and Superman?!
Not only are we saying that, but Marvel and DC weren’t even the first ones to come up with the idea of a super-powered being to help the helpless and dispense justice.
The first superheroes were the gods from myths and folklore. Like our superheroes today, they were full of personality, and not above getting into all kinds of scraps! They also had enemies to fight or quests to complete. For instance, the Norse gods were always fighting with the giants and Thor, with his mighty hammer, was their designated giant-killer. His father, Odin, was on a perpetual quest for the knowledge which would tell him more about the end of the world, Ragnarok, and how to prepare for the final battle with the giants.
One of the most well-known gods was not even a full god – he was Hercules, a demi-god and son of Zeus. His arch-nemesis was Hera, Zeus’s wife. She was jealous of her stepson, and tried to kill him when he was a baby. Later, she forced him to complete 12 labours as penance for murder – which she caused by making him go crazy and getting him to kill his family. Hercules also had iconic “underwear” – when he killed the Nemean lion, he skinned it and wore it as armour, making him one of the first superheroes to make a fashion statement.
Of course, you’ve seen Thor created as a Marvel hero, but did you know that there were other superheroes adapted from folklore?
The original superheroes did not have superpowers, but like the heroes of today, they stood for an ideal. They also functioned as voices of the voiceless, and stood up for them. They had power outside of the usual sources like governments, and that power showed regular folk how ordinary people like them could stand up to the unfairness of society and save the world.
Robin Hood was one of those heroes, and in folklore was known as a great trickster. He had various enemies, including the Sheriff of Notthingham, Guy of Gisborne, and Prince John. Like Superman with his Fortress of Solitude, he had his own secret hideout – the depths of Sherwood Forest. He is probably one of the earliest superheroes to start a “superhero team” by creating his Merry Men. They even colour-coordinated their costumes! Robin Hood’s men all wore “Lincoln green” – folks debate about whether that meant green or red. DC smelled a good story, and copied the look, the weapons, and the character background – Robin is really Robert of Locksley, a member of the landed gentry. Hence, we have – dun dun DUNNNNNNNNNNNNN – The Green Arrow!
Finally, the Kids’ Lit Quiz team would like to point you to a forgotten superhero – and one who championed minorities, no less!
His name was Zorro. And he was awesome.
His alter ego was Don Diego de la Vega, a rich, privileged playboy who didn’t care about the politics of the day or the people who suffered under them. But when the poor and marginalised called for justice, he became a swashbuckling caped crusader and protected the rights of the indigenous peoples of the Americas. Zorro means “fox” in Spanish – I wonder which other superhero dresses in black and uses an animal as an emblem?
In Batman’s origin story, on the night Bruce’s parents died, the Wayne family was coming home from watching a movie about… *gasp* Zorro! This is a clear tribute to creator Bob Kane’s source material and inspiration for the character.
This would have been a very different comic book if Bruce had stuck with a fox (Zorro in Spanish), instead of going with a “flying fox” i.e. a bat. A hero called “Foxman” in a city like Gotham would probably rummage through rubbish bins looking for trash to eat and bite his enemies, hoping to give them rabies.
Wait. Actually, “Batman” could still give people rabies.
What else? In some versions of the story, Zorro had a butler who knew his secret. (Hi, Alfred!) Zorro used a bullwhip to fight and swing around – grappling hook gun, anyone? – and had an iconic horse named Tornado *coughcouTheBatmobileghcough*. He was a great acrobat and athlete, just like Batman. Also, just like Bruce Wayne, Zorro’s alter-ego, foppish Don Diego de la Vega, did a great job hiding Zorro’s true identity.
These are only the most obvious adaptations that the comic books guys have done. Dig a little deeper into The Incredible Hulk, and you’ll find references to The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson. Or look up African mythology, and you’ll find out that Marvel’s Spiderman isn’t the first of his kind after all. Happy researching!