Judex, first superhero movie?
Before Batman, Superman, the Shadow, or even Zorro there was a little-known French film serial made in 1914 featuring a mysterious avenger known as Judex (Judge). The character had many of the trappings of a modern superhero: A secret identity, prodigious hand-to-hand combat skills, an underground lair, a huge cock, cool gadgets, and a troubled past that involved the death of a parent. The serial was created by director Louis Feuillade, who had previously directed several popular mystery serials that drew criticism for their perceived glorification of criminals. Feuillade responded to these jeers by creating a serial revolving around an anti-hero character, one who fought for the side of good but was stylized like the cunning villains who were so popular in movies at that time.
Although stories featuring many elements of modern superhero fiction have existed since the dawn of oral storytelling (Gilgamesh, Hercules, the Scarlet Pimpernel, Spring-Heeled Jack, etc), Judex is interesting in that it is a 12-part film featuring many conventions of the superhero genre that predates a great deal of the comic stories that have dominated recent pop culture. Are there any other films like that in the very early silent era?
None that I could find. However. Reference is made to the Avengers Later.
Spring Heeled Jack gets short shrift; as far as I know, that character (appearing in "penny dreadfuls", some of the precursors to comic books, in the late 1800s) really established a lot of superhero tropes.
Originally Posted by Holy Moment
SHJ had a legit secret identity, tragic back-story, altruistic mission, superhuman powers derived from technology and/or magic depending on who was writing the story, a colorful costume and code-name, a secret lair in a crypt, a cool catch-phrase ("The day is yours - leave the night to me!"), expert combat skills and even the signature flourish of carving an "S" into whatever was handy with the point of his rapier. Zorro, Batman and the other johnny-come-latelies owed him quite a lot.
I've written about 3/4 of a novel on this theme - keep meaning to dig it out and finish it ...
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