Do we know much about the origin of the suffix -Man or man in relation to comic book heroes?

To my knowledge, the first use was in June 1938:

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But was it ever used before then in a published comic or animated feature?

  • 1
    Admittedly not conclusively the first, but Superman’s publication history on Wikipedia points to a story published in a fanzine in 1933 with a character of the same name: en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Superman
    – alexwlchan
    Commented Dec 18, 2015 at 9:41
  • 2
    The etymology is clouded by the fact that '-man' has long been a suffix denoting 'person relating to, or concerned with'; eg 'ant-man' has a pre-superhero meaning of 'man who deals with ant problems'; 'spider-man' has a pre-superhero meaning of 'man who works on high steel structures etc'. Batman is a military term originally to do with baggage; as well as being a man who carries a bat. And so on. If Superman is the first -man superhero, I suspect that's going to be your earliest relevant use.
    – AakashM
    Commented Dec 18, 2015 at 14:19
  • @AakashM that's really interesting, thanks for the comment!
    – Daft
    Commented Dec 18, 2015 at 14:32
  • 1
    Possible dupe? Were the -man/-woman/-boy/-girl... Commented Dec 18, 2015 at 14:49
  • 1
    should this also be tagged "comics" and/or "superhero" or something more than just "history of"?
    – RedCaio
    Commented Jan 16, 2016 at 4:19

2 Answers 2


The very first Superman by Jerry Siegel was a man, not an alien. He wrote and published "The Reign of the Super Man" years before the first Action Comic. This work was based on the Nietzche philosophy concept of the Übermensch, the Beyond-Man, wich was a contrast with the christian concept of a supreme (non-human) being.

While the comic characters have evolved to a place where a superhero can be christian (Captain America), other can be atheist (IronMan) and other can be a god himself (Thor), the idea of a world dominated by real-flesh-and-blood characters instead of spiritual ones subsists on the comic literature. From there the need of the "man" suffix: all power can be achieved by men alone, there is no need to believe in a supremal force, as Nietzche would wanted.

  • « all power can be achieved by men alone » — I suspect Supergirl and her posse of Girl Powerites would beg to differ on that one. ;-) Commented Mar 16, 2016 at 6:19

The very first *-man was Superman a play and inversion on Nietzche's Übermensch especially the version used by the Nazis. Siegel and Shuster gave him dark wavy hair and a Hebrew real name Kal-el to subvert the Aryan business. He was not the first hero with superpowers. Heracles, Gilgamesh, John Carter etc. beat him by a few years but he is the first cape (Zorro and the Pimpernel belonging to a different trope). The other *-men Batman was the next one that had any success. So yeah all the -man and -woman superheroes are influenced directly or indirectly by Superman.

  • Wikipedia says, on his name... "the baby "Kal-L", and his biological parents "Jor-L" and "Lora";[148] their names were changed to "Jor-el", and "Lara" in a 1942 spinoff novel by George Lowther." ... Also, who, in real life, is named Kal-el?
    – Malady
    Commented Dec 2, 2020 at 18:48

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