November 11, 2008

Public Domain Drive-In: The Ballad of Hugo Danner

A little change of pace - although normally, I feature movies when I write about the public domain, I wanted to change the pace and feature a book that...well, much like Doc Savage, has had a major impact on popular culture, in more ways than can be counted.

That book is Philip Wylie's 1930 novel Gladiator. It would be easy to see it as an "early draft" of Superman (allegedly, both Siegel and Schuster were "inspired" by the novel, but there's nothing that can be proven in court). However, this is one of those books that, upon rereading it, seems especially prescient, not only foreshadowing current super-powered television series, but also providing an almost prescient forecast of contemporary culture.

Hugo Danner is the result of experimentation by his scientist father upon his pregnant mom. Hugo, as a result, is indestructible, has great strength, and quite frankly...leads a relatively complicated life. No matter what happens, happiness always befalls him, and this actually (as I have read in other articles) parallels Marvel comics' themes - that of the super-powered outsider, using their gifts for good, but with little recognition. In fact, the kind of "perverse celebrity" theme prevalent throughout the book seems relatively at-home in our modern time. In fact, Howard Chaykin and Russ Heath adapted the book as the four-issue Legend mini-series for Wildstorm back in 2005...and moved towards the latter half of the 20th century, only the ending seemed a little hackneyed. (In the 1930's, it would have had a pulp-flavored sense of irony; now, it seems a little trite. And no, I won't spoil it for you)

But this is one of those books that, regardless of whether you are a comic, pulp, or science fiction fan, you simply have to read. Thanks to the miracle of public domain, you can download and enjoy it for yourself.

Highly Recommended.

Download GLADIATOR from the Internet Archive


Nik said...

I've always been meaning to read this one, ever since the kind of goofy but oddly fun Young All-Star series from DC back in the '80s used it as a plot point. Good review, I'll have to track it down one of these days!

Scott said...

Simon and Schuster? Pregnant birth?

I love Gladiator and all connections Hugo Danner, but methinks your post could use a little editing...

Gordon D said...

Scott - thanks for the heads-up; that's the last time I blog in the morning without coffee.