Real Name: Hugo Danner
Identity/Class: Human (World War I era), enhanced by "alkaline radicals"
Occupation: Student, pearl diver, soldier
Group Membership: The French Foreign Legion
Affiliations: See above
Enemies: The Second Reich
Known Relatives: Abednego (father), Matilda (mother)
Aliases: Gladiator (see Comments)
Base of Operations: World War I-era France
First Appearance: (historical) Gladiator (1929, published by Alfred A. Knopf); (Marvel) Marvel Preview#9 (Winter, 1976)
Powers: Hugo Danner posseses superhuman strength and durability. He can withstand gunfire and being stabbed by a knife without serious injury and can leap great distances.
History: (Marvel Preview#9 (fb) ) - College biology professor Abednego Danner lived with his wife Matilda in Indian Creek, Colorado. Having discovered certain alkaline radicals present in insect blood, Professor Danner injected the chemicals into a kitten. Growing up, the kitten gained fantastic strength and durability. Professor Danner was forced to poison the kitten.
However, when Danner discovered that Matilda was pregnant, he carefully drugged her and injected the fetus with the radicals. The result was that Hugo Danner (their son) grew up with superhuman strength. Able to bend steel bars with his hands even as a baby, the young Danner eventually decided to only use his powers discretely after an incident with a bully. His parents decided he should attend Webster College in New York to escape the prying eyes of Indian Spring. He joined the college football team.
One day, drinking with his friends, Hugo went to a hotel with a sleazy girl. Waking up to find that he'd been robbed, he considered using his powers to rob a jewelry store; bending the bars with his bare hands, he changed his mind, reshaping the bars back to their original shape. Instead he went to Coney Island, where he used his powers to win prize money in a boxing match. After that, he became a sideshow strongman.
Returning to college after the end of summer vacation, Hugo accidentally killed a young man during an important football game. Struck by remorse, Hugo left the United States, eventually becoming a pearl diver in the Pacific. He amassed a small fortune.
(Marvel Preview#9) - In 1914, Danner and fellow U.S. citizen Thomas Matthew Shayne joined the French Foreign Legion upon the outbreak of World War I. Discovering his body could withstand gunfire, Danner unleashed his power against the Germans, fighting dozens of Second Reich soldiers single-handedly. Especially enraged after Shayne's death, Danner had to be treated for psychological stress.
Having demonstrated his superhuman powers to his superiors, Danner was kept in sick bay as they discussed the creation of a special mission for him that would fit his gifts. After a few months, and an encounter with a college friend named Lefty who had become a soldier and been blinded, an enraged Danner sought out a plane to use to fly straight to Berlin. However, a nurse informed him of the surrender of Germany. Shocked, Danner was left without a purpose.
Comments: Created by Philip Wylie, adapted by Roy Thomas and Tony DeZuniga.
Although Hugo Danner has never appeared in another Marvel comic book, he remains a crucial part of comic book history. Why? In the 1930's, two young science fiction fans read Gladiator -- Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. They found the concept of a man with superhuman strength who could leap great distances "intriguing" -- so intriguing, that they created another such character, although this one later gained the ability to fly and found an outlet for his power over the years thwarting the malfeasance of the Ultra-Humanite, Luthor, Brainiac, Metallo, Mongul, the Toyman, Bizzaro, Darkseid, the Prankster, the Parasite, and so on. Hugo Danner, on the other hand, only got the chance to use his powers in combat against the Second Reich; he faced no super-villains in the novel, and to retain the feel of the novel in the adaption, Thomas also avoided using any super-villains.
Most of the novel does not detail Hugo using his powers for combat, but being unable to find a proper use for them. He feels frustrated and alienated because of his powers, feels as if he were a freak, and has various bittersweet lover affairs, but his powers keep people away and afraid of him. Now where have we heard that somewhere else? Spider-Man? The X-Men?
Still, apparently Hugo Danner is a public domain character, so nice quick flashback cameos showing him fighting Baron Blood (the only super-villain who worked for the Central Powers?) during World War I with Freedom's Five and Union Jack would be interesting -- or at least, if Danner is not public domain (as with Fu Manchu and Godzilla), they could just show him without naming him.
As should be clear from the history section, Danner never wore a costume or actually used a title or codename. The title of the original novel was Gladiator, but the cover to Marvel Preview#9 states "Marvel Preview Presents Man-God". The captions refer to Danner as Man-God, but no one in the story does. Still, when they decided to name the Superman analog in the Imperial Guard of the Shi'ar over in X-Men, Marvel's creators aptly chose the name of the novel that inspired Superman...Gladiator.
Marvel Preview#9 ends halfway through the Wylie novel. In the rest of the novel, Danner wanders around the U.S., going from job to job, reunites with his father, and attempts to use his powers against crooked politicians. However, there are too many for him to handle. Discovering from his father the formula that gave him his powers, Danner decides to lose himself in a South American archaeological dig. There, confiding with the wise leader of the expedition, Hugo entertains the thought of using his father's formula to create a whole race of people similar to himself ("the sons of the new dawn") to clean up the world's problems.
Unsure what to do, he goes to a mountaintop to ask God for advice. Danner is immediately struck dead by lightning. (This expreses Wylie's anti-clerical bent. Philip Wylie referred to religion as a "colossus of bigotry", and even slips in a reference in the narration of Gladiator to the fact that the Hebrews were originally polytheistic. Of course, lightning as a divine weapon is an idea that comes from Zeus and Thor, not the Hebrew Bible.)
Incidentally, Roy Thomas later picked up on the story of Hugo Danner at the Distinguished Competition. In the series Young All-Stars, Thomas introduced Iron Munro, the son of Danner. Taking the Danner story up to the 1940's, Thomas revealed that Danner faked his death, and did indeed create the superhuman Sons of the New Dawn. Eventually, the Young All-Stars defeated Danner, who had gone mad with rage.
Iron Munro also has pulp origins, it is inspired by Aarn Munro that appeared in The Mightiest Machine by John W. Campbell, Jr. (Astounding Stories magazine from December 1934 to April 1935)
Oh, and the Second Reich was the German government that existed from 1871-1918. It began immediately after the Franco-Prussian War (they say on an alternate world, Prussia lost the Franco-Prussian War; the superpowers of the Spanish dictator are as yet unexplained), proclaimed in the palace of Versailles in defeated France. The Second Reich joined with Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria, and the Ottoman Empire to become the Central Powers during World War I. The Second Reich lasted till the end of World War I, when the Kaiser (Emperor) abdicated, and Germany became a democracy. The Second Reich's leaders included Wilhelm I, Frederick I, and Wilhelm II, of the Hohenzollern family. The current head of the Hohenzollern family is Friedrick George Ferdinand, who became head in 1994 upon his grandfather's death. In the Marvel Universe (as noted), Baron Blood seems to be the only super-villain who worked for the Second Reich.
Danner maybe was the inspiration for Superman but Jor-El never experimented on his son like these true copies of Hugo Danner --- Hercules son of Dr. David and the Danger Twins (Wally and Tom Danger) sons of Dr. Danger. I also see John Steele as a Timely Comics hero inspired by Hugo Danner because they are both Super-Strong military garbed heroes fighting during a World War.
While Danner hasn't "officially" made it into the Marvel Universe yet, there's nothing really stopping him. Star-Lord, who also appeared mostly in Marvel Preview and other "non-continuity" series, recently was brought into continuity in the pages of the fourth Inhumans series--Snood.
Danner was confirmed as an Earth-616 resident in Marvel Atlas#1.
by John McDonagh, aka Per Degaton
Clarifications: Man-God should not be confused with:
Marvel Preview#9 (Winter, 1976) - Roy Thomas (writer/editor), Tony DeZuniga (artist)
First Posted: 05/28/2002
Last updated: 08/11/2020
Any Additions/Corrections? please let me know.
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