On this day in 1902, Philip Gordon Wylie was born and the world as we know it was changed forever.
Yeah. Philip Wylie. You know: he of When Worlds Collide fame? Filmed in 1951 by George Pal and later reimagined as Deep Impact? He wrote the influential non-fiction book Generation of Vipers, and screenplays for numerous films, including Island of Lost Souls (adapted from The Island of Dr Moreau) and The Invisible Man. That Philip Wylie.
But, of course, those aren’t the history-changing works we’re referring to. In 1930 Philip Wylie published a novel titled Gladiator, the tale of a young man endowed in the womb with superhuman strength and near-invulnerability by his scientist father. Young Hugo Danner soon discovers that he is physically superior to his fellow man – he can jump higher than a house, run faster than a train, is practically impervious to harm, as if he were made of iron. He is, in effect, a super-man, and it’s here that Wylie’s importance to 20th century popular culture can be seen.
In his 1932 fanzine Science-Fiction, eighteen-year-old Jerry Siegel reviewed Gladiator, and it’s difficult to see how it wasn’t an influence on the character he and illustrator Joe Shuster would create six years later for National Comics (later to become DC Comics): Superman. And Superman, of course, began the fashion for outlandishly-attired ‘superheroes’, which have dominated the comcs field ever since and, for the last decade or so, dominated the movie business.
Indeed, so powerful is the influence of Gladiator on the world of superheroes that acclaimed writer Roy Thomas, when needing to re-imagine the Golden Age of WWII-era heroes in the wake of DC’s continuity-busting ‘Crisis on Infinite Earths’, turned to the novel and its protagonist, Hugo Danner, to develop a new history of DC’s wartime heroes. That tale can be found in DC’s The Young All-Stars, the successor to All-Star Squadron – both series worthy of gracing any comics fan’s long box.
So: Happy Birthday, Philip Wylie – and thanks for the inspiration!