The First Superhero to Gain Superpowers From a Science Accident

Today, we take a look at the first time that a superhero gained superpowers from a science accident.

In “When We First Met”, we spotlight the various characters, phrases, objects or events that eventually became notable parts of comic lore, like the first time someone said, “Avengers Assemble!” or the first appearance of Batman’s giant penny or the first appearance of Alfred Pennyworth or the first time Spider-Man’s face was shown half-Spidey/half-Peter. Stuff like that.

Longtime reader David B. wrote in to ask, “Who was the first character to gain superpowers through a scientific accident?

Distinct from characters who designed serums or devices that provided them with extraordinary abilities (eg. Hourman, Starman) I thinking of normal beings who became superhuman by being in the right place in the wrong time. Of course it’s a standard comics trope now with everyone from individuals like Spider-man, Daredevil, Dr. Octopus and Cyborg to entire teams like the Fantastic Four and the Doom Patrol fitting the bill.

But who was first?

It’s a funny thing about how the overall culture of an era can have such an impact on the comic book world, as well. It makes total sense, of course, but it is still interesting to see how a decade filled with “SCIENCE GONE WRONG!” in the 1950s eventually carried over to the 1960s with the dawning of the Marvel Age of comics where the aforementioned examples that David noted all occurred.

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IN THE MARVEL AGE OF COMICS, SCIENCE OFTEN WENT WRONG

In the very first story of the “Marvel Age,” Reed Richards’ experimental space flight went horribly wrong…

Bruce Banner got caught in a Gamma Bomb explosion…

Peter Parker was bitten by a radioactive spider (perhaps a MAGIC radioactive spider because, well, some people can leave well enough alone)…

and Matt Murdock learned why you should never help old people while they’re crossing the road…

However, in the early days of comic books, science was treated in a MUCH different fashion. Science was to be treated with respect and awe and the idea that things would go horribly wrong wasn’t as much of a trope as much as just the idea of ​​amazing advancements through science was, so while things certainly COULD go wrong, they would often be AFTER the scientific achievement first went off as planned, like Captain America’s Super-Soldier Serum transforming scrawny Steve Rogers into, as Salt-N-Pepa would say, “Whatta man” (I actually just recently wrote an interesting bit about “Whatta man “and I promise you that the joke occurred to me before the link idea did)…


So when did science first go wrong while having the “right” ending, with a superhero being born? Let’s take a look!

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WHEN DID SCIENCE FIRST “GO WRONG” IN THE GOLDEN AGE OF SUPERHERO COMIC BOOKS?

One of the reasons why Superman was such a game-changer in comic book history was because he actually had SUPERPOWERS. So many of the early superheroes were just dudes with costumes (as the main influence of the era was The Shadow). So we can eliminate most of the early superheroes for that very reason, they didn’t have superpowers, so science experiments gone wrong really wouldn’t play into their origins at all.


Even when powers did start to pop up, the other major influence of the era (before Superman, of course) was the Phantom, so people gained powers typically through mystical backgrounds, like The Flame (by Will Eisner and Lou Fine)…

He was taught how to control flames by some lamas in Tibet.

The case of Bozo the Iron Man is a tricky one. Introduced by George Brenner in 1939’s smash comics #1, a villainous scientist created a robot that he used to commit crimes, but police detective Hugh Hazzard figured things out and hid inside the robot and captured the evil scientist…

The robot was set to be destroyed after its evil creator was arrested, but Hugh saved it and decided to team up with it to fight crime, re-naming it Bozo…


That’s really not an accident, though, right? Science SORT of went wrong, but it was purposeful, and it was purposeful to see the evil overturned.

In that same issue of smash comics #1, Art Pinajian introduced a new superhero (without powers) called Hooded Justice…

In the second issue, I received superpowers from a chemical that turned him invisible…

No accident there!

In 1939’s Amazing Man Comics #5, we see that Bill Everett’s new creation, the Amazing Man, was given powers through chemicals, as well…

Soon after, in the same issue Bill Everett’s Namor made his debut (his powers came from being an Atlantean, so no experiments gone wrong), marvel comics #1, Carl Burgos also introduced a synthetic being known as the Human Torch! Now, here’s where things get kind of tricky. On the one hand, the Torch was a scientific achievement worth celebrating and not an accident gone horribly wrong, but it is fair to point out that his creator, Professor Horton, did not intend for the Torch to burst into flames…


So perhaps you could argue that the Torch catching fire was a science accident? For instance, Horton then encased the Torch in cement until he could figure out how to fix him and the Torch escaped his confinement and just started running around the city burning stuff up…

He then gets forced into working with a villain as part of a fire insurance scheme, but in the process, accidentally discovers that nitro gives the Torch control over his flames. He takes out the bad guy and then he and the Professor go in front of a judge who clears the Torch of wrongdoing. However, the Torch doesn’t quite trust Horton yet, so he runs off to go on his own…

So, is that a science accident giving someone superpowers? Honestly, I think that doesn’t qualify for what David is asking. I think we all know what he’s looking for, he wants to know when someone had something like those Marvel heroes happen to them, not a scientist not making an android properly. So I say we keep on looking!

The answer, therefore, appears to be in 1939’s Speed ​​Comics #1, in the introduction of Shock Gibson in a story drawn by Maurice Scott. It is a very simple and traditional science accident, as chemicals are hit by lightning (where I have heard THAT before)…

and the result gives Gibson superpowers…

So there ya go!

Thanks to David for the fun challenge! If anyone else wants to know about an interesting comic book first, just drop me a line at brianc@cbr.com!


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