It's been said by multiple people that superheroes like Captain America were born in America out of a need to tell stories about their own homegrown heroes. The United States is a relatively young country, which means they have not been around long enough to make their own Hercules, King Arthur or Momotaro in much the same way other countries have. Superheroes were therefore birthed to fill that void.
Other countries don't have that problem, however, as they can draw upon their own cultural heroes for reference. Even the US' immediate neighbours have their own takes on what does or doesn't constitute heroism, despite not having their own version of a Marvel or DC Comics. So, how do other countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America and Europe tackle this idea? We at CBR asked that same question. The result? This list. Let's go around the world and see their heroes!
15 The Amazing Mister X (Britain)
Created by artist Jack Glass and billed as England's first superhero, "The Amazing Mister X" (not to be confused with the American mutant, Professor X), was one of the few adventure-fiction comics that ran during issues of the British gag strip collection "The Dandy." Mister X was the costumed alter-ego of a dashing young man named Les Manners and possessed superhuman strength, being able to tear steel with a single yank. Despite this, he didn't exactly use his powers for anything important. Rather than fight Nazis or other costumed vigilantes, Mister X dedicated his time to stopping small-time bank robbers and people who stole lead from rooftops. Guess that's why his series only ran for fourteen issues.
Mister X appeared again in later issues of "The Dandy," including a one-off story by Dudley D. Watkins and in a partially-animated strip "The Dandy" ran in 2012 called Retro Active. Sadly, he didn't have much staying power past that. It probably has something to do with him beating up poor people all the time.
14 Kwezi (South Africa)
The first of our African heroes, Kwezi comes to us from graphic designer Loyiso Mkize. His name means "star" in the Xhosa and Zulu dialects and the titular comic he's featured in is most certainly about that star's rise.
Kwezi is a nineteen-year-old obsessed with social media who one day discovers that he has the power of flight, endurance, and super-strength. While he uses his powers for good, stepping in to stop bank robbers in his Metropolis-meets-Johannesburg home city of Gold City, his main objective is more to wow his followers on Twitter. His days of self-indulgence don't last forever, however, as he ends up inducted by a group of other African superheroes who try telling him about his destiny.
Even though Kwezi's world is considerably different from what we live through here in North America, the message that young people have the power to change the world and should focus their efforts is one we can call relate to.
13 Latifa (Saudi Arabia)
Latifa is a new character in the comics world - so new that her first issue dropped the same month as this list. Since she's still fresh, there's not much to say for the time being. However, the premise of this character and her proposed background are interesting to say the least.
Created by Fahad Al Saud and written by "Batman Beyond" scribe Stan Berkowitz, Latifa is one of many protagonists found in New Arab Media's "Saudi Girls Revolution" universe. The goal of this brand is to create content with female leads that are, as the design doc put it, "not constrained by any religious or political status quo." Latifa herself would be best described as the Red Sonja of a post-apocalyptic world, scouring the land with a talking sword in search of vengeance.
A cool idea to say the least, so we're very excited to see where Al Saud and Berkowitz plan on taking Latifa going forward.
12 Black Lightning (Russia)
Russia's been trying to tap into the superhero subgenre for some time. Their most recent attempt is "Guardians," an X-Men-style team that features a werebear with a mini gun. We could talk about that (and believe us: we will) but for now let's show off a lesser-known character found in another hidden gem of a film: "Black Lightning."
Our hero is Dima, a university student living in Moscow whose father gives him a modified Volga '66 for his birthday. Said car turns out to be a piece of old Soviet Union black tech, outfitted with rocket boosters and the ability to fly. At first, Dima uses the car to escape gridlock and make a killing as a delivery boy but a tragic accident makes him change his ways and uses the car to save people in need.
Essentially, the premise of the character is "What would happen if Peter Parker got his hands on KITT?" Needless to say, this sounds like a winner.
11 Judge Dredd (Britain)
While technically not a superhero per se, Judge Dredd is a noteworthy masked crime fighter from across the pond so not including him in this list would be, well, a crime.
Created by John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra for "2000 AD" Magazine, Dredd is a lawman working in the dystopian metropolis of Mega-City One. As one of the city's Judges, he has the authority to arrest, sentence or execute whomever he wants -- usually in public. In essence, Dredd is England's answer to the Punisher, only working on the side of the law rather than as a vigilante. He is also the walking embodiment of the police state, a nightmarish version of a riot cop who wouldn't hesitate to end millions of lives if it meant saving billions more.
An interesting fact about the "Judge Dredd" books is that everyone ages in real time, meaning that Dredd himself is actually in his seventies. Way to go, old timer! Please don't shoot us.
10 The Pitiful Human Lizard (Canada)
Years ago, Toronto-based artist and writer Jason Loo noticed something interesting about Canadian superheroes: they are generally defined by their Canadian identity. Characters like Captain Canuck and Alpha Flight are dipped in stereotype and we have to admit he has a point. After all, Spider-Man and Batman are American heroes, and there's nothing necessarily American about spiders and bats.
Enter Lucas Barrett, an office clerk who's constantly down on his luck but patrols the night as the masked hero The Human Lizard. Lucas is also not very good at being a hero (which is why "pitiful" is in the series' title) but what he lacks in ability, he makes up for in pure gumption. He does luck out when a science experiment gives him regenerative properties, however. This is particularly useful given the number of monsters and crooks plaguing his home city of Toronto, including (but not limited to) Gull Girl, Johnny Bodyrocks and Rabb The Malevolent, who is basically infamous ex-Toronto mayor, Rob Ford, as a Jack Kirby-style supervillain.
9 The Miraculous Ladybug (France)
If stories about a pitiful human lizard don't tickle your fancy, then how about a miraculous ladybug?
Aspiring fashion designer Marinette Dupain-Cheng is a young Parisian gifted with a magical entity called a kwami which allows her to become the superhero Ladybug. Her kwami gives her the ability to create objects from thin air and to locate other essential objects that can be combined together to overcome obstacles. Marinette is joined by Cat Noir, a stylish cat-themed hero who has the ability to destroy whatever he touches. Together, they protect Paris from the mysterious Hawk Moth, a mysterious sorcerer who preys on people's weaknesses and converts them into villainous versions of themselves.
The idea for Ladybug came from French animator Thomas Astruc, who was apparently influenced by mountains of Japanese anime and manga, as well as a woman in a ladybug t-shirt Astruc saw one day. Marinette's positive outlook on life was also apparently influenced by the main character of the film "Amelie."
8 Guardian Prime (Nigeria)
Guardian Prime is billed by creator Jide Martin as Nigeria's answer to Superman. As part of Nigeria's COMIC Republic universe, Prime is the latest in a long line of Earth Guardians, the physical embodiment of the fifth element: Man.
Young Eko City native and fashion designer, Tunde Jaiye, has been selected by Earth spirit Gaya to be the newest incarnation of the Guardian. As Guardian Prime, he possesses the stock superhero powers of flight, invincibility, strength and speed but can also generate fire and pass his own invulnerability onto something other than himself.
The COMIC Republic universe is similarly populated with other characters like the Ghost Rider-esque Eru and warrior queen Ireti, who make up part of Prime's crew The Vanguards. Martin hopes to inspire young Nigerians and this passion is best exemplified in a line that Prime himself delivers in: "All it takes for evil to succeed is for good men to stand by and do nothing. I won’t stand by. I am Nigerian."
7 Ultraman (Japan)
There was a period in Japanese cinematic history that's called the Kaiju Boom, when so much of the media that was being produced centred around giant rubber monsters rampaging through some metropolitan area. It was during this period that special effects wizard Eiji Tsuburaya came up with an idea for a serialized television series that dealt with giant monster-on-giant monster brawls. When his original idea to have a bird-like monster as a lead was canned, he replaced it with the idea for Ultraman.
Ultraman is a colossal alien peacekeeper who protects Earth from giant monsters, usually aliens, subterranean abominations or rare species of animal gone feral. Generally, Ultraman cannot survive on Earth for very long and so has to inhabit a human body, transforming only when the time comes for him to lay a beat-down on some titanic terror. He's also sometimes supported by an organization dedicated to studying the unknown and defending ordinary folk.
There have been multiple iterations of the character since his inception, including Ultraseven, Max, Nexus, and the newest series Orb. The Gridman incarnation even got the Power Rangers treatment in the '90s, resulting in the U.S. show called "Superhuman Samurai Syber -Squad."
6 Cybersix (Argentina)
Created by Carlos Meglia and Carlos Trillo, Cybersix is a genetically-engineered vampire created by Doctor Von Richter, a Nazi super-scientist living in the fictional city of Meridiana. She is the last in a line of humanoids that the mad scientist designed to be a servant race until they started exhibiting free will, causing him to order that they all be destroyed. Cybersix escaped the massacre and began living a double-life. By night, she stalks the rooftops for Richter's servants as a caped crusader and by day she masquerades as a male high school teacher named Adrian Seidelman.
Cybersix is a noteworthy character on our list for having a wicked design and concept. She's also one of the few characters on this list to have her own television series, even if it was somewhat short-lived and several mature elements from the books (such as Richter's Nazi heritage and all the sex scenes) were removed. They did manage to keep her male secret identity, however, and the fact that her side-kick is a panther with her brother's brain embedded in it.
5 El Santo (Mexico)
El Santo is something of an anomaly on our list and with good reason: he was actually a real person.
Jesus Guzman Campuzano, known by his ring name of El Santo, was a popular Mexican luchadore (masked wrestler) during the 1940s. The El Santo persona itself was so popular that artist Jose G Cruz created a comic book series about him which ran from 1952 to 1987. Almost as popular as the comics was the series of lucha libre films starring Santo himself, often alongside other luchadores like the Blue Demon and Mil Mascaras. There were fifty-two films in total, each one featuring Santo using his superhuman strength and professional wrestling skills to thwart criminal syndicates, mad scientists, zombies, and other horrible creatures.
Fans of Mystery Science Theatre 3000 will recognize El Santo. One of his films, "Santo versus las Mujeres Vampiro," was dubbed into English and released under the title "Samson versus The Vampire Women."
4 Burka Avenger (Pakistan)
Our protagonist is Jiya, a teacher at an all-girls' school who masquerades as a burka-clad vigilante. Using a fighting style employing books and pens, she protects the fictional city of Halwapur from evil. Said evil generally takes the form of the evil magician Baba Bandook or the Lex Luthor-style politician Vadero Pajero. It also takes the form of fundamentalists who want to shut down Jiya's school.
The television series ran for four seasons and garnered a lot of attention. Certainly, the premise of an older Malala Yousef who fights evil using weaponized literature must have turned a few heads, but it's the use of the burka that's particularly interesting. The series' creators commented that the burka was part of Jiya's disguise and was meant to offset the number of sexualized women characters in comics. There's also something to be said about an article of clothing generally being seen as a tool of oppression being thrown in the face of evildoers and making our heroine look tough as nails while she does it.
3 Kamen Rider (Japan)
Ultraman might have the upper-hand when it comes to skyscraper-sized opponents terrorizing Japan, but what about regular man-sized villains? Answer: call the Kamen Rider (or Masked Rider in its English adaptation).
The original Kamen Rider was brought to life by artist Shotaro Ishinomori. A motorcyclist and renowned scientist, Takeshi Hongo's life was changed forever when he was kidnapped by the terrorist organization Shocker and transformed into a cybernetically enhanced half-man, half-grasshopper. He would break free of their control and dedicate his life to waging a one-man war against his kidnappers. Each episode of the live-action television series would pit the Rider against another Shocker cyborg, who were almost always based on plants or other animals. He even fought a giant starfish-man once!
While the "Ultraman" series didn't stray too far from the "paramilitary science squad/silver giant tag team" premise, the Kamen Rider series became increasingly more gimmick-focused. Each Rider series would be based around a new theme, such as card games, trains and even fruit.
2 EXO (Nigeria)
Our final African hero comes to us from Nigerian artist Roye Okupe. Based in the fictional Lagoon City sometime in the near future, "E.X.O.: The Legend of Wale Williams" is about a young man whose father, a brilliant inventor, bestowed upon him a powerful suit of armour called the E.X.O. (Endogenic Xoskeletal Ordinance) shortly before disappearing. The series isn't some "Iron Man of Nigeria" story, though. Donning the name EXO for himself, Wale seeks to find out what happened to his father, all the while struggling to understand the machinations of Lagoon City's corrupt government and trying to stop the criminal organization CREED from hurting more innocent people.
"E.X.O." is part of a greater African superhero comic universe created by Okupe's studio, YouNeek. There's an aim in mind to make more stories in this world, and Okupe's certainly keen on populating it with cool and clever characters like the daring Fury and the sinister Oniku. Mister Okupe, we're waiting for the next book!
1 Nelvana of the Northern Lights (Canada)
Topping off this list is the Canadian superhero Nelvana of the Northern Lights. Nelvana stands out because she's not only Canada's first superhero, but also a superheroine who predates Wonder Woman by a few months. She came to life after Canadian painter and Group of Seven member, Franz Johnston, came back from a long expedition to Northern Canada and shared his idea with illustrator Adrian Dingle.
Nelvana is credited as the defender of the frozen north. An Inuit demi-goddess whose father is the King of the Northern Lights, she is gifted with the ability to fly at light speed, turn invisible, change her form and even generate a heat-ray powerful enough to melt steel. Nelvana went on many adventures battling Nazis, inter-dimensional invaders, and subterranean mammoth-folk.
Sadly, Nelvana had a very sporadic and brief run, but eventually comics historian Hope Nicholson put together a Kickstarter to have all her adventures collected and reprinted into one mega-volume.
What are your favorite non-American heroes? Let us know in the comments!