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3.75  ·  Rating Details ·  356 Ratings  ·  66 Reviews
First published in 1930, Gladiator is the tale of Hugo Danner, a man endowed from birth with extraodinary strength and speed. But Danner is no altruist. He spends his life trying to cope with his abilities, becoming a sports hero in college, later a sideshow act, a war hero, never truly finding peace with himself. The character of Danner inspired both Superman's creators, ...more
Paperback, 148 pages
Published June 1st 2004 by (first published 1930)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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Dan Schwent
Feb 07, 2008 Dan Schwent rated it really liked it
Shelves: early-sf
I picked up Gladiator because I heard it was an inspiration for Doc Savage and Superman. That is an understandment.

Gladiator is the story of Hugo Danner. Hugo is the son of a scientist who injected him with a serum when he was still in the womb, giving him unbelievable strength. For example, Hugo kills a bully at school with his superhuman strength, branding him an outsider for the rest of his life.

Over the course of the book, Hugo goes from relationship to relationship, works in a circus, figh
Jul 24, 2013 Jim rated it really liked it
A friend of mine reviewed this saying it was progenitor of Superman & Doc Savage. Dan's review is here:
I found it for free on

This is a story of angst, a coming of age story. An experiment, Hugo Danner is as strong as the Hulk & quite intelligent with only his conscience as a guide. As Dan mentions in his review, I can see the early seeds of almost every super hero in this book. It's the mother of them all. A must-read.
Dec 25, 2015 Jonathan rated it really liked it
In which all the new-fangled emotional and psychological complexity claimed for modern superhero movies is found to have been there from the start

"When you were little more than a mass of plasm inside your mother, I put a medicine in her blood that I had discovered. I did it with a hypodermic needle. That medicine changed you. It altered the structure of your bones and muscles and nerves and your blood. It made you into a different tissue from the weak fibre of ordinary people. Then—when you we
I read the free edition available online at Project Gutenberg. I chose this edition because it's the original hardcover -- and has the coolest cover art.

Even allowing for the fact this book is 85 years old, it's not especially well-written. That said, the ideas it contains are fairly electric, and one can see how it inspired teenagers Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster to create Superman. Mostly because they lifted parts of it wholesale for their creation. I don't blame though, since as teenagers we m
Dec 11, 2008 Nicolaas rated it it was amazing
I first heard of Gladiator when it was mentioned as the inspiration to Superman. I wouldn't say that the two have all that much in common, but its clear to see to what degrees it influenced the basic elements of Superman.

Gladiator is not very long and reads rather fast. The language is old, but doesn't bother when you read at all. It follows the life oh Hugo Danner, which has amazing powers. The story revolves around him trying to fit in with different people and circumstances - just wanting ac
Tim Heard
Jul 15, 2010 Tim Heard rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
If Superman introduced modern-day superheroes in comic books, then the protagonist of this book, Hugo Danner, would be considered the progenitor of the concepts. Born as a result of his father's experiments in "muscular strength and the nervous discharge of energy," Hugo is capable of feats that are beyond that of the majority of mortal men, such as running with abnormal speed, lifting massive boulders, setting bear traps with his teeth, killing sharks with his bare hands, and ripping open a two ...more
Oct 08, 2010 Dan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a great book, way ahead of its time. It is a lot deeper than people may think from the storyline. My dad recomended this book to me when I was a teenager. He had read it in High School in the 50's. I in turn recomended it to my friends who all loved it. It covers a lot (historically) of the early 20th century. War, college football, steel mills, Coney Islands & Mayan Excavations. Many of the topic's that it covers are pertenant today, such as bullying. I have read a lot of books and ...more
Ed Wyrd
Sep 11, 2011 Ed Wyrd rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Speculative fiction by Philip Wylie. It was published in 1930 Alfred A. Knopf. Many people point to this novel as the origins for many pulp and comic-book superheroes. The story is about a young man, Hugo Danner, whose father, while Hugo was still in the womb injected him with a serum that turned Hugo into a superior man (Captain America). He grows up to be stronger, faster, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound... he's bullet-proof (Superman).

The story is about Hugo's search to find out
I bought this because it was cheap and is supposed to be one of the influences for Superman. Which you can see in the superstrong guy who at one point is described as a "being of steel" even. Though the origin is a lot different. Basically a mad scientist experiments on his pregnant wife. Ironically it's pretty much the origin used in Ang Lee's "Hulk."

What happens after that is much different than the Man of Steel's comics, though in another irony it is a lot like 2013's "Man of Steel" in its pr
Jun 27, 2013 Ron rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Nov 04, 2011 Dennis rated it it was amazing
Definitely a product of it's time, but a fascinating story. You can really tell how this started the trend of super hero stories.
MB Taylor
Apr 20, 2011 MB Taylor rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I finished reading Gladiator last Thursday before going on vacation. It’s a classic work of science fiction by the co-author of When World’s Collide (1933). This is the first novel that I read partly on my Nook and partly with a paper copy.

I read the first half of from a free eBook I downloaded from and the other half from a paperback book published by Bison books.

When I started into the paperback in took me a while to find my place and noticed that I had two different versions o
This was pretty stunning. I knew that Superman took some elements from Doc Savage but it stole even more liberally from this, however i also saw elements of Spider-Man and many other superhero stories, there's even a little Teen Wolf too.

So its a superhero story, or rather THE superhero story, i can't stress how bizarre this is to read as being from 1930 its essentially inventing the superhero genre but its also a deconstruction of the superhero.
It is at times light and even farcical but it has
Dec 29, 2011 Dale rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I've been meaning to read Gladiator for years, since it is something which I consider "geek homework" (subcategory "further reading") - most anyone who has delved into the genesis of American superhero concepts knows how the creators of Superman were in no small part influenced by a pulpy novel about a super-strong, nigh-invulnerable young man named Hugo Danner. I always advocate going back to sources firsthand - and I always advocate reading pulp adventure. Gladiator hasn't been revered through ...more
Aug 15, 2013 Oliver rated it it was amazing
I really liked this book.
If your looking for an easy read with some superman smashing it up with villains and ending where he wins the day and gets the girl, well this isnt it.
It is a story which illuminates human nature.
It is a story of a man, who was given a gift and the price he had to pay for it, for there is always a price to be paid for any kind of a gift.

It is a natural order of things, you can newer get anything without giving something in return.

Be a decent human being with real moral,
Paul Riches
Feb 21, 2013 Paul Riches rated it liked it
Gladiator: Before Kal-El, Clark Kent and Superman

Tracing genealogy is never an easy task. The DNA of humans are hard enough to track, but doing the same excavation on characters becomes even more problematic.

One fictional hero whose murky inspirations, while populated with the likes of Hercules and Mercury, does have a very stable definitive father figure. The son is Superman. The daddy would be Gladiator. Siegel and Shuster the midwives? Tortured metaphors are now my superpower.

Gladiator is a q
white men and their fantasies are truly fucking wild.
Norman Cook
Nov 27, 2015 Norman Cook rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: e-book
This book is not particularly well written, but does contain some very interesting ideas reflecting some of the concerns of its time. It is the story of someone with incredible gifts unable to find his place in the world, much as many people in the world were struggling with the Great Depression and the rise of fascism. The notion that an all-powerful man could usher in a new age of accomplishment and enlightenment undoubtedly appealed to the downtrodden of the time. While there is no direct con ...more
Jan 05, 2009 Dave rated it liked it
"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 Supe
Alejandro Orradre
Cualquier fan de Superman que se precie debería tener en su biblioteca particular un pequeño hueco entre los centenares de cómics para este libro, clave para la existencia del que hoy es seguramente el superhéroe (con permiso de Spiderman) más conocido del mundo.

Lo primero que destaca cuando uno tiene la novela en las manos, aparte de una portada muy lograda y un tamaño sorprendentemente pequeño (esperaba una novela más extensa) es la cuidada edición de su interior, con páginas blancas y una tip
Nov 02, 2012 Paul rated it really liked it
Ever wondered where Superman came from?
There's no way anybody will ever manage to convince me Siegel and Shuster never read this book and directly copy many of it's concepts.
I'm not saying that was a bad thing, as it did give us Superman, but if you ever want to know who Superman's daddy really was... this is the book you have to read.
Steve Sanderson
Dec 04, 2012 Steve Sanderson rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is the precursor to Superman. Hugo Danner is strong, smart, and incredibly arrogant. He's also a self-interested bastard. I really liked this, and though I read it a couple of years ago I still think of it from time to time.

I'm interested in any book that covers superheros and super-powered individuals through prose, and this is one of, if not the first.
Feb 16, 2012 Adam rated it liked it
If I could, I'd give it 3 1/2 stars., lots of fun ideas. I was expecting a more rollicking adventure. This was a rather depressing exploration of what a superman would actually experience. Pretty good read.
Dec 27, 2010 Adam rated it it was amazing
The origin of the Superman character. Timeless anti-hero, dystopian superhero existence. This book pre-dates the modern comic book hero and places him in a more realistic experience.

What would it really be like for a person with superhuman strength and speed?
Don Massi
Feb 08, 2012 Don Massi rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very interesting book. A thoughtful look at what a superhuman would be like in the real world. I thouroughly enjoyed it.
Jul 22, 2013 Brandon rated it really liked it
Better than I expected it to be. A bit short, but an interesting precursor to the modern day super hero.
Catherine Weaver
Aug 20, 2012 Catherine Weaver rated it really liked it
This book is the predecessor of Superman, Spiderman and the Hulk- very interesting!
Michael Durant
Jan 15, 2010 Michael Durant rated it liked it
Shelves: classics, superheroes
Full Review

"I mean, wow. There's an anticlimax for you."
Good book, the ending came abruptly as if he had a page quota to fill and then ended asap.
Timothy Boyd
Jan 15, 2016 Timothy Boyd rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Excellent pulp era SiFi story. The inspiration for the original concept of Superman. Very recommended
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Born in Beverly, Massachusetts, he was the son of Presbyterian minister Edmund Melville Wylie and the former Edna Edwards, a novelist, who died when Philip was five years old. His family moved to Montclair, New Jersey and he later attended Princeton University from 1920–1923. He married Sally Ondek, and had one child, Karen, an author who became the inventor of animal "clicker" training. After a d ...more
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“A thought that had been in the archives of his mind for many months came sharply into relief: of all human beings alive, the scientists were the only ones who retained imagination, ideals, and a sincere interest in the larger world. It was to them he should give his allegiance, not to the statesmen, not to industry or commerce or war.” 3 likes
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