Friday, 24 April 2015

Gladiator by Philip Wylie, 1930

Spotlighting a famous but unread novel for Friday’s Forgotten Books at Patti Abbott’s blog Pattinase.

First edition cover
© Wikipedia
Blogging has been educational in so many ways that I have lost count. For instance, I just learned that the inspiration for Superman (1938) could have come from a science fiction pulp novel called Gladiator (1930) written by Philip Wylie, though Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster who created the Man of Steel never confirmed it. However, reports on the internet suggest that, in 1940, Wylie threatened to sue the two for borrowing the idea.

I found the story at Archive, though I have not read it. It is likely that I have read about Gladiator and its author in the past but right now it is beyond my ken.

“The story concerns a scientist who invents an ‘alkaline free-radical’ serum to ‘improve’ humankind by granting the proportionate strength of an ant and the leaping ability of the grasshopper. The scientist injects his pregnant wife with the serum and his son Hugo Danner is born with superhuman strength, speed, and bulletproof skin. Hugo spends much of the novel hiding his powers, rarely getting a chance to openly use them,” says Wikipedia.

The article also draws a parallel between Hugo Danner and Spider-Man (1962): “The concept of a human having the proportional strength of an insect is very similar to the concept of Spider-Man having strength proportional to that of a spider.” Again, there is no evidence that creators Stan Lee and Steve Ditko were influenced by the novel.

Cover of Marvel Preview
© www.herogohome.com
Unlike Superman and Spider-Man and other superheroes, Philip Wylie’s hero does not don a costume and fight crime. While Danner has the super gift, he does not reveal it or use it. Going by the covers he sounds more like Adonis than Superman.

In 1938, Gladiator was made into a comedy movie starring Joe E. Brown, only two months after Superman first appeared on the stands. It was also adapted as Marvel Preview for Marvel Comics in 1976.

American author Philip Wylie wrote widely, his books, short stories, and essays covering pulp science fiction and mysteries, social diatribes and satire, and ecology and the threat of nuclear holocaust. Two of his famous works are said to be When Worlds Collide (1933), with Edwin Balmer, and A Generation of Vipers (1942). 

Author Philip Wylie
© Wikipedia
The covers of his novels including The Murderer Invisible (1931) and The Savage Gentleman (1932) are quite something and tempting enough to make you want to read them right away.

Let's here it from you, Todd!

16 comments:

  1. Fascinating stuff Prashant - amazing the info that is out there. Have not in fact read anything by him at all that I remember ...

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    1. Sergio, thank you. I just happened to find it at Archive.org. I haven't read anything by Philip Wylie either.

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  2. Well, since you invite the comment, Prashant--there's little chance that Siegel and Schuster were completely unaware of Wylie's novel, as sf fans before they made their way into comics, and that much less chance that Lee and Ditko were unaware of the novel, as Wylie had gone from popular and important to a consistent bestseller, and a bit of a crank, by the 1960s. And, of course, if anyone would be sued over Superman, it would be DC Comics by 1940, rather than S&S themselves. The WIKI article is typically sloppy with its use of the term "pulp" to describe Wylie's work, though apparently he did contribute to some of the post-pulp digest fiction magazines with stories he perhaps failed to sell to the "slick" magazines such as THE SATURDAY EVENING POST (I see he had stories in Damon Knight's WORLDS BEYOND magazine and JACK LONDON'S ADVENTURE MAGAZINE, that apparently weren't reprints, in the 1950s). My father liked the Crunch and Des stories a lot, but I haven't read them yet, so can't comment on how relevant they might be to inspiring John MacDonald's McGee series, as the WIKI article suggests. (Sorry to litter your comments field, but it's Too Early this morning for me to spell.) At my Hawaiian high school, some of my teachers and classmates were related, at least by marriage, to Wylie, if I remember correctly.

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    1. Not at all, Todd. Many thanks for putting me wise to Wylie's literary profile. He's an author I'd like to read. I didn't believe that Siegel and Schuster were unaware of this novel or that they weren't inspired by the character of Hugo Danner. The element of superpowers is common to both.

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  3. Prashant, Wylie's THE MURDERER INVISIBLE was combined with H. G. Wells' THE INVISIBLE MAN to form the basis of the 1933 James Whale movie THE INVISIBLE MAN. Of course, Universal Pictures never gave Wylie credit in the titles.

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    1. Jerry, thanks for that bit of info. I'll look for the film online. I loved Wells' THE INVISIBLE MAN.

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  4. I think the material is more you than me. I enjoyed your post though!

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    1. Col, thank you. I do like to mix them up, though I haven't read GLADIATOR yet.

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  5. Philip Wylie's work had quite a range. Some had science fiction elements, some contain mysteries. I've read a few of his short stories, too. Nice review!

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    1. George, thank you. It was more like a curtain raiser as I haven't read the book yet. I'm tempted to read his short stories first.

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  6. I've ran across Phillip Wylie many times over the years, but didn't acquaint myself with any of his writings that I recall.

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    1. Oscar, I discovered him by chance and found that he was a prolific writer in his time.

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  7. Very interesting, Prashant. You definitely educated me in this area. I know little of Wylie.

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    1. Tracy, thank you. Reading about his work was an education for me too.

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  8. This is not an area I know anything about, so I enjoyed your measured and informative post. Love those covers!

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    1. Moira, thank you. I don't know much about Wylie either and the only way to get to know him better is to read his books.

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