Superman's Enemies: The Ultra-Humanite
When Superman first debuted in DC's Action Comics (1st series)#1 (June 1938), he initially fought common criminals, corrupt politicians, and foreign dictators -- but creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster knew that if the Man of Steel's popularity was to endure for decades to come, he needed enemies who would definitely challenge him and his super powers, since the character's history was rooted in both science fiction and fantasy.
The most famous and enduring of Superman's enemies remains Lex Luthor, who first appeared in Action (1st series)#23 (April 1940), thanks in part to his criminal intelligence and cunning which has, more often than not, nearly brought about the Last Son of Krypton's downfall. But almost a year before Luthor's first appearance, another criminal mastermind clashed with Superman -- and a villain who, after his last appearance during the early-1940's, would have to wait forty years for a comeback: the Ultra-Humanite.
The Ultra-Humanite, who first appeared in Action (1st series)#13 (June 1939), was inspired by the mad scientists who had been a staple of both fiction and mass media since the 19th Century, including prose novels, short stories, motion pictures, and radio. In point of fact, it was Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster's 1933 science-fiction story "The Reign Of The Superman (published in the third issue of Science Fiction, the anthology magazine which Siegel and Shuster self-created), in which the title character was a bald-headed villain (and not to be confused with the Superman created by Siegel and Shuster five years later), that played a significant role in the creation of the Ultra-Humanite (and later on, to a greater degree, Lex Luthor).
In the Ultra-Humanite's first comic book appearances, he was an elderly man confined to a wheelchair, yet far from addled, given his high I.Q., the result of a scientific experiment. In the villain's first three appearances, he attempted to control Metropolis' taxi businesses (in Action [1st series]#13), cause a subway accident and create an invisibility ray (in Action [1st series]#14 [July 1939]), and unleash a deadly chemical virus not unlike those that have struck in the real world for centuries (in Action [1st series]#19 [December 1939]). By the end of Superman's third encounter with the Ultra-Humanite in Action (1st series)#19, the villain supposedly died, a victim of one of his inventions.
But the Ultra-Humanite did survive his brush with death -- as revealed in Action (1st series)#20-21 (January-February 1940), when his brain was transplanted in the body of a beautiful film actress, as the villain attempted to first kill some rich kidnapping victims, then use an atomic death ray in an attempt to destroy Metropolis. By the end of Action (1st series)#21, the Ultra-Humanite supposedly died (again) -- and that was the villain's last comic book appearance.
That is, for the next forty years. The Ultra-Humanite's next appearance would be in Superman Family#201 (May-June 1980), in one of four Mr. & Mrs. Superman stories; the others would occur in Superman Family#213-215 (December-February 1981-82). (And for those of you reading this who are probably a bit confused, the Ultra-Humanite originated on Earth-Two, the birthplace of the Justice Society of America -- and where that Earth's Superman and Lois Lane did get married.)
In Justice League Of America (1st series)#195-197 (October-December 1981), writer Gerry Conway and artist George Perez brought back the Ultra-Humanite, his brain now transplanted in the body of a giant and muscular albino ape, as he and the Secret Society of Super-Villains clashed with both the JLA and the JSA -- later on, during the mid-1980's, the revived Ultra-Humanite clashed with Infinity, Inc. in several issues of the super-hero team's comic book, as well as making appearances in the 1985 limited series Crisis On Infinite Earths. (Infinity, Inc. first appeared in All-Star Squadron#25 [September 1983], in which the Ultra-Humanite came back from the dead to clash with DC's Golden Age super-heroes during World War II.)
By the end of Crisis On Infinite Earths in 1985, the DC Universe was revamped, as the Multiverse was replaced by a new single Earth in which the Ultra-Humanite fought not the original Superman (who ceased to exist post-Crisis, but would reappear next in 2005-06's Infinite Crisis, which brought back the Multiverse), but a number of DC's Golden Age super-heroes who did survive the effects of Crisis. The Ultra-Humanite's last appearances during the 1980's occurred in New Teen Titans (2nd series)#38 and Infinity, Inc.#45 (both in December 1987) and a three-part World War II-era story in The Young All-Stars#12-14 (May-July 1988). During the 1990's, the Ultra-Humanite appeared in two Elseworlds limited series published by DC: The Golden Age (1993), which took place during the early-1940's, and Superman & Batman: Generations (1999), one of a trio of limited series written and illustrated by John Byrne.
In the first three issues of Legends Of The DC Universe (February-April 1998), the then-present-day Superman, at the start of his super-hero career, squared off with a scientist who became the U.L.T.R.A. Humanite (a nod of sorts to one of the Man of Steel's earliest foes, while having no connection to the original Ultra-Humanite in the post-Crisis era), as he attempted to destroy Lex Luthor in the wake of his minions killing his wife (and almost ending his own life).
The first Ultra-Humanite wouldn't reappear until 2002, in JSA#32-37 (March-August 2002), in which the villain takes over the body of 1940's super-hero Johnny Thunder in an attempt to conquer the Earth -- and which results in the second Crimson Avenger supposedly killing the super-villain. In addition to making various appearances in a number of DC comics in almost the past decade, including Power Girl (2nd series)#2 (April 2010), in which the Ultra-Humanite's back-story was revealed (including why he became a super-villain), and 2014's Superman: Doomed (which featured a revamped version of the villain) -- the super-villain has also appeared in several animated TV shows featuring DC super-heroes in the past decade (including several episodes of Justice League), as well as several video games in the past few years, including DC Universe Online.
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