Saturday, March 5, 2016

The Scarlet Pimpernel - The First Superhero?

You know I love comic books and superheroes.
And I also love the history of superheroes.
One thing I have always wondered is, technically, who was the first superhero?

Well you have the super powered beings of legend, Hercules, Thor, Samson, but they aren't quite it.

As far as I can tell, the first "true" superhero was The Scarlet Pimpernel.
Created in 1905, by Hungarian-born British novelist, Emma Orczy, you have the hero that has a secret identity.
True some of the heroes of legend disguised themselves as normal folk from time to time, but they were god-like beings hiding out as a human.

The Scarlet Pimpernel - The First Superhero?

The Scarlet Pimpernel was a real hero.
He was a a master of disguise, a master strategist, a skilled swordsman and an escape artist.
All skills that would show up years later in The Shadow, Zorro and yes, the Dark Knight himself, Batman.

He is hunted by the French revolutionary authorities (early Batman and Spider-Man), and his secret identity is a slow-witted playboy (again, early Batman).
He even has a group that helps him called "the League of the Scarlet Pimpernel" which were forerunners of Doc Savage's "The Fabulous Five", the Shadow's underground agents, and shall I mention the "League" part of their name might have been an inspiration for another famous League of heroes?

The 1934 movie poster even has a little "V for Vendetta" feel to it.

And the tales of the Scarlet Pimpernel inspired others to become heroes in real life.
The "Pimpernel" name went on to be the real life undercover identity for men that saved hundred of lives in World War 2...

"The Tartan Pimpernel" helped over 2,000 Allied soldiers in France.
"The American Pimpernel" saved thousands of refugees in France.
"The Scarlet Pimpernel of the Vatican" aided Allies and Jews in WW2.
"The Black Pimpernel" helped resistance fighters in Norway. (that name later resurfaced in the media when they used it as a nickname for Nelson Mandela).

So besides being the precursor of a lot of today's comic book heroes, The Scarlet Pimpernel was also the inspiration for men to use cunning and their wits to save thousands of lives.

And like today's heroes, he has appeared in books, movies, TV shows and even a musical.

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