While many people assume Superman was the first superhero, fandom actually owes recognition to another costumed crimefighter, who made his appearance two years ahead of the man from Krypton.
The Phantom first graced the the pages of newspapers on February 17, 1936. Created by Lee Falk, this mysterious figure wore a purple costume and a black mask, setting the stage for the costumed fighters of crime who would quickly follow.
Known as the “Ghost Who Walks,” the Phantom’s origins rest hundreds of years before readers first catch glimpse of him. When 16th century pirates raid a ship and kill everyone onboard except for a young child, that child devotes his life to combatting piracy, cruelty and greed. “And my sons will follow me!” he boy vows.
Although early versions depict this first Phantom as British, his descendants come to think of themselves as Americans. Each new generation has its own Phantom, as the firstborn son takes on his father’s costume and calling. Since the Phantom is masked, those who encounter him assume that it is the original Phantom, thus earning him the reputation that he cannot be killed or that he is already dead and continues fighting bad guys as the Ghost Who Walks.
Still seen, but less widely-recognized today than his superhero successors, the Phantom did much to establish the superhero genre. He was stronger than your average man, he wore a costume, had a secret identity, maintained a secret hideout, and had a girlfriend who always seemed to be getting into trouble and needing rescue. The Phantom also collected a number of devices to help him in his mission, such as two revolvers, homing pigeons, and a ring with the face of a skull, allowing him to mark bad guys by punching them in the face, leaving the sign of the Phantom on their flesh.
Despite the documented evidence about the Phantom and his status as a world-class crime fighter, many debates continued to rage as the rightful holder of the title of “First Superhero.” The debate was finally settled when Guinness World Records officially recognized the Phantom as the first superhero. Other heroes may have stronger muscles, cooler powers, or fancier gadgets, but even the mightiest of earth’s heroes stand on the shoulders of their forerunner: the Phantom.
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