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Gladiator (Bison Frontiers of Imagination) [Paperback]

Philip Wylie , Janny Wurts
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
Price: 13.99 & FREE Delivery in the UK. Details
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Book Description

1 April 2004 Bison Frontiers of Imagination
"'What would you do if you were the strongest man in the world, the strongest thing in the world, mightier than the machine?' He made himself guess answers for that rhetorical inquiry. 'I would run the universe single-handed. I would scorn the universe and turn it to my own ends. I would be a criminal. I would rip open banks and gut them. I would kill and destroy. I would be a secret, invisible blight. I would set out to stamp crime off the earth.'" Hugo Danner is the strongest man on earth, the result of a monstrous experiment by his scientist father. Nearly invulnerable, he can run faster than a train, leap higher than trees, lift a wrecked vehicle to rescue its pinned driver, and hurl boulders like baseballs. His remarkable abilities, however, cannot gain him what he desires most-acceptance-for Hugo Danner is desperately lonely, shunned and feared for his enormous strength. An enduring classic in speculative fiction and the reported inspiration for the original comic hero, Superman, Gladiator is a melancholic tale of a boy set apart because of his unique gift and his lifelong struggle to come to terms with it. Philip Wylie (1902-71) wrote several classic works of speculative fiction, including When Worlds Collide, available in the Bison Frontiers of Imagination series. Janny Wurts is the acclaimed author of many novels, including Peril's Gate, from the Wars of Light and Shadow series, and To Ride Hell's Chasm. She is the coauthor, along with Raymond Feist, of the internationally best-selling Empire trilogy.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 344 pages
  • Publisher: Bison; Reprint edition (1 April 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0803298404
  • ISBN-13: 978-0803298408
  • Product Dimensions: 22 x 14 x 2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,087,540 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


""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."--Claude Lalumiere, "Sci-Fi Weekly"--Claude Lalumi?re "Sci-Fi Weekly "

About the Author

Philip Wylie (1902-71) wrote several classic works of speculative fiction, including "When Worlds Collide," available in the Bison Frontiers of Imagination series. Janny Wurts is the acclaimed author of many novels, including "Peril's Gate," from the Wars of Light and Shadow series, and "To Ride Hell's Chasm." She is the coauthor, along with Raymond Feist, of the internationally best-selling Empire trilogy.

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Customer Reviews

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4.7 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Forget Hamlet, THIS is tragedy! 23 July 2012
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is one of the most page-turning, heart-melting, imagination-stirring sci-fi books I have every read. Sure, it doesn't take place on any alien environment or give you an eons-wide perspective on life. There are no plots-within-plots or time-travelling mind-benders to enjoy. But what it does, it does absolutely right, even to the point of painful destruction.

Blah blah, all the central characters are fleshed out to the max; the central hero in particular is someone you know, you want to sit down and have a drink with to explore his crazy situation. For me, the writing style was also pitch perfect for the subject matter; rich in description, seamless in expostulation, full enough in information, diverse in form, ranging from the action to the romantic-poetic to the farcical to the 'existential' and back again.

It probably soundly like I'm laying it on a little thick. But Wylie does everything he can to envelope you into the tale. He answers the questions you would ask the characters if you could. You don't feel as if you've been short-changed while he explores his central premise, which is: if you had superhuman strength and invulnerability, there's nothing much you could do to make the world a better place.

This might seem like a grim and even preposterous thesis to you at first. What about the spate of superhero action movies we've been subjected to of late? (I write this review as a lover of the genre and someone who just watched The Dark Knight Rises last night in the cinema.) Don't they all somehow 'save the world'? Two thoughts.

Firstly, Gladiator is without doubt the earliest superhero story I've come across, which makes it the daddy of DC and Marvel.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superman! 16 Feb 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is the story that inspired Superman - DC were the only publishers who risked publishing the Superman story, they knew that they might get sued, but if they did, they'd just pull the story. They didn't, and the greatest super hero is still going strong!
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4.0 out of 5 stars birth of an archetype 6 July 2014
By mark
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
this is not a great book but it is an important one to understand current pop culture... in this book we get a story of the first superhero set pre ww1 and written in the 1920's
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Amazon.com: 4.3 out of 5 stars  25 reviews
43 of 49 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Unsung Hero 19 Jan 2006
By Andrew Salmon - Published on Amazon.com
What if I told you that there was a superhero who could go toe to toe with the man of steel? Or that this hero's teenage years were filled with enough angst to make Spider-Man's adolescence appear well-adjusted? What if this hero possessed the speed of the Flash, the Hulk's rage, Batman's fortune and grim vision, could stride the battlefield like Captain America, master the denizens of the deep like Aquaman and be feared and mistrusted by society like the X-Men?

You would be intrigued. You'd wonder where this hero came from and risk several dozen paper cuts flipping through your Overstreet trying to track him down.

And if I told you this hero was named Hugo Danner, odds are you never heard of him.

And his creator? Siegel and Shuster? Stan Lee? Bob Kane? Will Eisner?

Philip Wylie.



In 1930, one year before The Shadow, three years before Doc Savage, six years prior to The Phantom, eight before Superman, the superhero was created by one man, author Philip Wylie. His creation, Hugo Danner, did not blast across the pages of a comic book but rather a novel (and not a graphic novel) called Gladiator, which tells the story of Danner's journey as the strongest man alive.

Danner grows up in rural farm country. Sound familiar?

He can bend steel, leap forty feet in the air, is impervious to all harm except an artillery shell, fights as WWI's first and only super soldier. Sound familiar?

Danner must hide his strength from a mistrustful society. Sound familiar?

Has his teenage years marred by a tragedy he caused. Sound familiar?

And dedicates himself to fighting for truth and justice. Sound familiar?

Gladiator is all of these things and so much more. This novel, which should be required reading for anyone who has thrilled to the exploits of caped crusaders, not only single-handedly creates the superhero, it somehow manages to encapsulate the themes and motifs of just about every comic ever printed since. All in one slim novel with no costumes and no eye-catching artwork. This is a staggering achievement. Gladiator is the mythical nutshell.

Listen to Danner's inner musings, years before comics' Golden Age, and see the creation of an industry:

"What would you do if you were the strongest man in the world, the strongest thing in the world, mightier than the machine?" He made himself guess answers to that rhetorical query. "I would -- I would have won the war. But I did not. I would run the universe single-handed. Literally single-handed. I would scorn the universe and turn it to my own ends. I would be a criminal. I would rip open banks and gut them. I would kill and destroy. I would be a secret and invisible blight. I would set out to stamp crime off the earth; I would be a super-detective, following and summarily punishing every criminal until no one dared to commit a felony. What would I do? What would I do?"

And there it is, the blueprint of a genre, springing from the mind of one man. The birth of the superhero and the supervillain. Siegel and Shuster have claimed that Gladiator was the inspiration for Superman and, reading Wylie's masterpiece, it is not hard to see the truth of that claim.

Gladiator has never been adapted to comics, has never appeared on the silver screen in a multi-million dollar movie franchise, nor on television in an animated series or prime time. There are no merchandising lines or theme parks. And I can't help but wonder if this is because Wylie's vision became a self-fulfilling prophecy, so uncannily predicting everything that followed that comic creators shied away from it lest the be considered plagiarists.

What Edgar Allan Poe did for the mystery story and H.G. Wells for science-fiction, Wylie did for superheroes. Gladiator reads like a comic book, a great comic book, on par with the original Superman, Batman, Stan Lee's best, Watchmen, Sin City, Dark Knight and League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

It has all the drama, daring, heartbreak and adventure comic readers could ever want. The novel's place in the history of the genre is unquestionable, but it is important to note that the story stands on its own as one heck of a superhero ride.

The novel is currently available from University of Nebraska Press and simply must not be missed. The writing is edgy, crisp and fast-paced, with surprising disregard for the conventions and morals of the '30's. Hugo Danner is no squaky-clean Superman but rather comes across as gritty as Frank Miller with a world view that would make The Punisher smile, coupled with a compulsion to do the right thing that would put Peter Parker to shame.

As an exciting superhero story, Gladiator delivers. As a piece of history, the novel rises above and beyond all expectation.

Here is another excerpt from the latter part of the novel when Danner is still agonizing over how to best use his gifts for the betterment of mankind. His newfound mentor offers a suggestion, the clarity of which sends chills up and down the reader's spine:

Hugo gasped -- "You mean -- other men like me?" "Exactly. Not one or two. Scores, hundreds. And women. Perfect bodies, intellectual minds, your strength. Don't you see? You are not the reformer of the old world. You are the beginning of the new. The New Titans! Then -- slowly -- you dominate the world. Conquer and stamp all these things to which you and I and all men of intelligence object. In the end -- you are alone and supreme."

In the end, Gladiator stands alone and supreme as an unparalleled work of speculative fiction and Hugo Danner and Philip Wylie deserve a place of honour in the great pantheon of those who came after.
26 of 29 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Tragic Hero 13 May 2004
By Dave_42 - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
"Gladiator" by Philip Wylie is thought to be the book from which Superman was derived. Hugo Danner is the strongest man on earth. His father, Professor Abednego Danner, attempts to duplicate the strength displayed by small insects. He tests a solution he creates on tadpoles, and a kitten, before finally drugging his pregnant wife, Matilda, and injecting it into her abdomen. The result is a bullet-proof, super strong, super fast baby boy.
Aside from similarities in abilities between Hugo and Superman, the stories are very different. "Gladiator" is the story of a man blessed with super abilities, and cursed because he has them. As he goes through life, he always must try to hide just how strong and fast he is. Time and time again, he feels he is forced to flee from his current situation when those around him learn of his abilities. He spends time as a Sports hero in college, a strongman in a sideshow on Coney Island, a war hero, and many others. Each time he thinks he has found a place, but each time he is disappointed.
This book was tied for 9th on the Arkham Survey of `Basic SF Titles' in 1949. It is not without flaws, but I found it to be entertaining. It is certainly not a great book, but just as certain it is worth reading. If the legacy of "Gladiator" is the Superman comics, then that alone would make it noteworthy. As an early SF novel, it is also of interest.
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Superman before Superman 5 April 2005
By Writerdana - Published on Amazon.com
Rejoice!! Gladiator is back in print!!!

Certainly as many people have observed this novel is the gestation of Superman and all that came after. The similarities are striking. The original Superman origin story read "Nothing less than a bursting shell could penetrate his skin" -- unlike the invulnerable hero he became later. Hugo Danner's adventures follow that description literally. At one point Wylie describes his hair as "so black it was almost blue". Anyone who has seen the early Superman comics knows that his hair has always had dark blue highlights. The original Superman had no super-senses either -- x-ray vision, super-hearing, and the like came later.

So here is the character in his raw-est original form. Yet (as other reviewers have noted) here he is a tragic figure. He does heroic things from time to time, but he never receives the accolades of his successors. More often the opposite.

This novel is worth reading for more than the origin of Superman. It is a fascinating look at the usual and the unusual. It is a tragedy about a man who is not a man, but with human flaws and a human need to belong. People's reaction to him -- disbelief, jealousy, fear, hatred -- show the way human beings always respond to anyone who is different. The ending of the book has gotten mixed reviews since it was first published. But truth be told there wasn't any other way to end it. Unless, of course, you are Hollywood and you want to make 45 sequels.

Wylie is a fascinating author. He takes unusual circumstances and examines what humans are as a species. Many people have lamented his apparent sexism -- especially in his early novels. Yet he must be judged by his peers -- peers of 75 years ago. And all of his characters -- women and men -- are more open than those created by most of his contemporaries.

So read it. Enjoy. And contemplate.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The first super human 8 Jan 2005
By C. M. Hiebert - Published on Amazon.com
This is one of my favorite novels of all time. It was the first super human story written in the 20th century and it triggered the cultural phenomenon of four-color comics. But it is not a super hero story. Main character, Hugo Danner, is 100 percent human being. Although Wylie had mythological characters like Achielles and Hercules to draw from, there was no such thing as a costumed hero flying around doing good for the world (published 1930). He is working from scratch.

The book deals with the realistic struggle of a man who is beyond Man. It is a picturesque journey of an individual who has choices to make, a super man who is seeking his place in a world of prejudice, politics, greed, war, and love. There are no super villains. There are no capes or costumes. It is raw and solid. The ending has been criticized by many over the decades, but for me, it fit into the structure and theme of the story perfectly.

Want a little more dimension out of your super heroes? Buy this book.

Matt Hiebert
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A fan boy MUST-READ 6 May 2006
By cinephile - Published on Amazon.com
I've pondered whether I would've found this book so affecting if I had read it at the time of first publication. It's unfortunate that I can't consider it on its own merits-- it is inextricably connected to the Superman mythology in my mind. Which means it's connected to the way Americans see America and her place in the world. Our culture is entwined with a nearly 70-year-old comic book character.

In a way, Superman embodies the spirit (however well or ill-founded) of American intervention for good. (Which is ALL tied up with Puritanism and Jeffersonian philanthropy... but this is a book review, so I'll get back to it-- sorry.) Superman is our sometimes delusional view of ourselves as the continual liberators of the oppressed-- always doing right, and never making a wrong decision.

The question is... if you had enough power, couldn't you solve everything? Wouldn't you? According to Siegel and Schuster, you could and would.

But Philip Wylie was a grown man, not a teenager drawing comic books. Superman doesn't show up here, except as a passing impulse of the protagonist. In fact, "Gladiator" reads like a modern deconstruction of Superman. It's amazing.

Any person raised in the comic-book culture would find this book very interesting. It's all here: bouncing bullets, a fortress of solitude, leaping over buildings... and alienation.

"Gladiator" feels like the missing piece you never knew about, and when it falls into place, it's almost...haunting.
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