In 1938 Superman became the world’s first modern super hero.
Taking it upon himself to stand for truth, justice, and the American way the Man of Steel spent most of his early career fighting against corruption, crime, and anything that threatened the American people. That being said, when you have the ability to leap over skyscrapers and bullets don’t do anything to you fighting gangsters and corrupt politicians gets a bit boring after a while. You need someone who can be your hero’s match, someone who is just as capable in terms of power but decides to use that power for evil. You need a super villain.
With that said, let’s talk about one of the first super villains published in modern comics, one of Superman’s most capable enemies who was first seen in Action Comics #13 published in June of 1939: the Ultra Humanite.
Although you would probably recognize him if he looked more like this
So how did Superman’s first great foe go from a wheelchair bound balding mad scientist to a ray gun wielding albino gorilla with an over sized brain? Hold on to your hats because this is going to get weird.
Origin and Career:
Ultra Humanite’s first appearance starts off with a pretty modest beginnings. Superman, under the guise of Clark Kent, learns that a corrupt union called the Cab Protection League is shaking down independent taxi cab companies and forcing them to join or else.
Clark vows to bring the racketeers to justice and when members of the corrupt union led by their boss Mr. Reynolds come to threaten one of the independent cab companies Superman defeats them and hands Mr. Reynolds to the police. However, Reynolds manages to escape using a cigarette containing knock out gas.
Superman tracks Reynolds to a cabin in the woods and when he bursts in he is introduced to Mr. Reynold’s boss, the Ultra Humanite.
The Ultra Humanite introduces himself as a criminal genius who gained great intelligence from a lab accident and he resolved to use his great mind to take over the world.
This sets up a rather interesting dichotomy. While Superman is incredibly strong and has abilities that surpass any human the Ultra Humanite possesses a superior mind. It’s brain vs. brawn and although the Ultra Humanite managed to shock Superman and render him unconscious he was unable to get past Superman’s skin and kill him. Superman does manage to save the day and attempts to capture the mad genius but unfortunately the villain escaped.
Superman and the Ultra Humanite would have several more battles following a similar format. Superman would investigate a company that was somehow defrauding the city of Metropolis and it would be revealed that the Ultra Humanite was behind it all. However, things came to a head in Action Comics #19 when the Ultra Humanite seemingly hypnotized Superman and made him assist in spreading a cargo of a specially designed disease called the Purple Plague over Metropolis. It turned out that Superman was simply faking and in the ensuing fight his nemesis was apparently killed.
However, death did not come to such a mad genius so easily and the Ultra Humanite was revived and managed to escape. Realizing that his wheel chair bound body can’t hold on much longer Ultra kidnaps an actress named Dolores Winters and transfers his mind into her body (told you this would get weird)
After a failed attempt to kidnap a group of fellow actors and hold them for ransom Ultra discovers a scientist named Terry Curtis who has developed an atomic weapon. After seducing and kidnapping Terry, Ultra forces him to build her a nuclear arsenal and threatens Metropolis for a ransom of $2 million. Superman tracks Ultra to a volcano fortress (because of course) and manages to defeat his/her robot guards, because every good super villain needs robot guards.
Ultra manages to keep Superman at bay by threatening to end the life of Terry Curtis and to destroy Metropolis unless Superman steals some crown jewels for her. Superman reluctantly agrees and when he returns intact with the jewels Ultra goes crazy and attacks Superman. Superman easily defeats his old nemesis and the Ultra Humanite dives into the crater of the volcano, apparently falling to her death.
So what happened?
Although the Ultra Humanite did survive the plunge she would die one issue later. She would be replaced by another super intelligent mad genius with grand plans to take over the world and act as the arch enemy of Superman, a little known man by the name of Lex Luthor.
The Ultra Humanite would disappear for the rest of the Golden Age until the Silver Age of Comics came around in the 1950’s. DC used this new era of science fiction heavy comic books to reveal the existence of multiple universes where anything could happen and any story could be told. The Ultra Humanite would make a come back in DC’s Earth-2 continuity where he would transfer his consciousness into the albino gorilla form he is known for today.
Most of his later appearances would follow the same theme of a brilliant but physically crippled scientist learning how to transfer his mind into the body of an ape. That being said, his most modern appearance changed him into a alien monster who feeds off of fear.
Although the Ultra Humanite has changed over the past sixty years he will always be remembered as one of Superman’s first continuous villains and as one of the most dangerous minds in the entire DC universe.