Thursday, May 17, 2007

The Terror of the Golden Age

Who was the first supervillain?

The superhero genre has existed since the 1930's. It's not difficult to determine who the first superhero was -- that was Superman. Extrapolating from that, it would seem clear that the first supervillain has to be the first "super" opponent of the Man of Steel. But that would not be Lex Luthor, as some might assume. Indeed, the first true supervillainous opponent of Superman was the Ultra-Humanite.

The Ultra-Humanite was conceived as the ultimate opposite of Superman. A brilliant scientist with a crippled body, he was physically weak, but mentally powerful. His motives were murky, but agenda was not: he wanted to conquer the world. That certainly puts him squarely in the supervillain category. But if that was all the Ultra-Humanite had ever been, he would probably have faded away into obscurity.

But the Ultra-Humanite didn't just fade away. Even when he was given up for dead and his body destroyed, he returned. And in this, the Ultra-Humanite became another "first." He -- a pronoun used for convenience -- became the first transgendered character in comic books.

When the Ultra-Humanite's body was destroyed his brain was transferred into the only readily available body -- that of Hollywood starlet Dolores Winters. And so -- in a twist that could be modestly described as revolutionary for the 1930's -- the Ultra-Humanite shed his crippled male body for a youthful female one. And it would not be the last time the Ultra-Humanite would discard an old physical form for a new one.

Over the years the Ultra-Humanite took up numerous bodies. His most well-known -- and seemingly preferred body -- was that of an albino gorilla. For it is in that form that the Ultra-Humanite gained the physical strength he craved to augment his superior intellect.

Over the years the Ultra-Humanite has been a foe of every generation of the Justice Society of America. But the Ultra-Humanite seemed to finally be destroyed after the events of the Stealing Thunder arc in JSA. But recent events in Justice League of America prove that that assumption to be woefully incorrect.

It is not the first time that the Ultra-Humanite has been wrongfully presumed dead. Nor will it be the last. The Ultra-Humanite, it seems, cannot die. He is intellect embodied. Most human beings -- be they male or female or something else all together -- are defined by their physical bodies. But such things mean nothing to the Ultra-Humanite.

In this, the Ultra-Humanite represents something deeply disturbing and profoundly terrifying. He is a being stripped of true identity. And without that identity, there is nothing holding him back -- nothing keeping him in check. He is not bound by name, blood, gender, or species. He is not bound by law, society, or morality.

The Ultra-Humanite is no one. He is a non-entity of vast evil intellect with nothing to lose. He was the true terror of the Golden Age. And he haunts us still.

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At 8:43 AM, Blogger Matthew E said...

He actually appeared in Blue Beetle last month, too, so if it was supposed to be a surprise to see him in JLA, some of us were spoiled.

At 12:49 PM, Blogger SallyP said...

The Ultra-Humanite WAS in Blue Beetle #14, and he made for a nifty villain. Jaime of course has NO clue who he is, and Guy Gardner gives him one of the best explanations ever...

"...Mind-hoppin'super-evolved genius with telepathic powers, who gets his kicks bein' in the body of a gian white ape. Sometimes he's a chick."

Fabulous! By the way, there ae also flying killer penguins.

At 4:45 PM, Blogger Captain Infinity said...

Mind-hoppin'super-evolved genius with telepathic powers, who gets his kicks bein' in the body of a gian white ape. Sometimes he's a chick.

I think I'd like to see Guy Gardner's Who's Who in the DC Universe. With bios that succinct you could cover the whole DCU in a couple of issues.

At 7:45 AM, Blogger Diamondrock said...

Matthew: Yeah, that was a great appearance in Blue Beetle. Made me scratch my head about the "surprise" appearance in JLA as well...

Sally: Guy's explanation was fabulous. That guys really grown on me. (damn you, Kalinara!)

Cap: I'd buy it.


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