Super Heroes: Historical Overview


In 1938, something unprecedented happened in Los Angeles: a movie hero came to life, fighting gangsters and saving lives in the real world.

That hero was Rick Rocket, the masked star of three (to that point) movie features produced by the Atlantis Picture Corporation (APC). Nobody knew who Rick Rocket was beneath the helmet and face-concealing goggles. But reliable eye witnesses reported that they had seen him fly—not a movie stunt or visual effect, an actual flying man in the real world—and authorities reluctantly admitted that several criminals had been brought to justice by the actions of this mysterious vigilante.

APC, seeing an opportunity for free publicity, quickly re-released all three Rick Rocket features, breaking all box-office records in the process. At the same time, a new term entered the English language, as the movie posters reported that here was, "MORE THAN A HERO ... A SUPER-HERO!"

The first "super-villain" followed soon after Rick Rocket's debut. A criminal using the name Captain Hook was to become a recurring foe for Rick Rocket, with an identity as secretive as that of his nemesis.


Where America led, the rest of the world was quick to follow. The Rick Rocket movies had already been a sensation in Great Britain, and when newsreels of the "real" Rick Rocket crossed the Pond, Britain was quick to respond with "super heroes" of her own.

Late in 1938, reports emerged of a powerful, brutish figure, calling himself Lionheart and fighting injustice in the East End of London. Those with long memories wondered if he was related to the mysterious figure of the same name who had fought Anarchists in London some 30 years before.

At around the same time, the hooded archer dubbed Lincoln Green carried out his vendetta against organised crime in the industrial heartlands of England. A cold-blooded killer, he was wanted by the police just as much as the gangsters he fought.

Fighting for political causes, the mysterious Goldsmith waged a war against the Blackshirts wherever they appeared.

With home-grown super heroes springing up, it was inevitable that super criminals would follow. For the best part of a year, colourful battles between Britain's small number of super heroes and super criminals dominated the headlines and newsreels. And then, in September 1939, the world changed forever, and in the shadow of real evil the super criminals suddenly seemed silly and trivial, swiftly relegated to history's footnotes.

The actual role played by both super heroes and super criminals in the Second World War remained classified and largely unknown for decades.

Now, we can finally tell a part of that story.