Readers of superhero fiction will find this 1930 novel hauntingly familiar.
Philip Wylie's Gladiator is often cited as the inspiration behind Superman. The parallels are obvious: Both Hugo Danner and Clark Kent grow up in rural small-town America, possessing powers far beyond the common mortal; both are imbued, from an early age, with a profound sense of fairness and justice; and they hide their respective secrets from the world at large. The resemblance is even more obvious when you consider the original 1930s conception of Superman. Their powers are the same: great strength, skin so tough that it can withstand just about anything short of an explosive artillery shell, and the ability to jump so high and so far that it almost gives the impression of flight. And both, despite their superhuman status, espouse a political philosophy that celebrates the common human being over capitalist elites.
In Gladiator, readers will find the roots of other superheroic icons. Hugo Danner's scientific creation and upbringing by a scientist father recall Doc Savage's origins. And rarely mentioned are Gladiator's links to Spider-Man. The prototype for the famous scene in which the fledgling Spider-Man defeats a hulking wrestler to make money is found in Wylie's novel; Hugo's bout in the ring is eerily similar to Spider-Man's as seen in 1962's Amazing Fantasy #15 (a scene later filmed by Sam Raimi in 2002's Spider-Man). Even Spider-Man's famous motto""With great power comes great responsibility""is touched upon during Hugo's many ruminations about his place in the world. At one point, in this novel from the pre-superhero era, Hugo even considers using his powers as a vigilante crime fighter!
Gladiator is a brave novel that unflinchingly portrays people at their ugliest and pettiest, all the while reflecting on the better worlds that could be were it not for humanity's relentless failings.