The Pulp Citizen returns, folks. Nuptials and honeymoon are over now, but while I was away I managed to dip into a few books.
Among those, I finally finished reading Gladiator by Philip Wylie, arguably a pulp classic that in some ways should perhaps be better known to the wider comics/superhero fan-base.
Published in 1930, the protagonist of Gladiator is Hugo Danner, a man of tremendous physical strength, resilience and speed far beyond that of normal mankind. Sound familiar? Well Gladiator predates publication of Superman by some 8 years.
The plot begins with the circumstances behind the birth of this remarkable man, circumstances engineered by his scientist father - another superhero trope that has been seen many, many times since. The book then goes on to detail Hugo Danner's life as he tries to make a mark on the world whilst hiding the truth of his unique gifts.
What we see is a man who is at odds with the world and in some ways with himself, for the very reason that he is special. It is the story of a man who cannot find a place in his own world where he truly feels comfortable.
I think this a classic, a great book. Because of the time of its publication (the pulp era) and its subject matter, I doubt it will ever feature on many reading curricula, but perhaps it should. The book echoes many themes that would be seen in decades to come in comic books. It isn't the story of a vigilante-hero, and so is not a superhero novel. Instead it is about a superhuman man and his strengths and failings. In that regard it predated the fashion for superhero deconstruction that emerged with force in the 1980's through works such as the Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen.
Gladiator is a tremendous novel in my view. It does start slowly, and has a pretty uneven structure in terms of chapter length, but it is worth persevering with the book, and it ends in a way that that poses one final question from the protagonist and so possibly the author himself. The arc of the story makes sense and in Hugo Danner Philip Wylie created a great tragic-protagonist. A real gem, and highly recommended. Why this hasn't had serious movie treatment post-Hancock I cannot say.
Image copyright © Bison Books.