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I think the mind immediately goes to Superman's shield, but I wonder if any other character's prominent symbol predates him?

The Phantom might be a contender with his Death's-Head belt buckle and ring, but it's pushing it to call it prominent in the early renderings.

  • a symbol they wear, or a symbol that represents them – Himarm Jun 30 '15 at 13:50
  • A symbol distinct to the character or of special meaning and significance to the character. A Christian Cross wouldn't work generally (a symbol for something other than the character or a meaning not unique to the character). – manofsteelanswers.com Jun 30 '15 at 13:58
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    my mind goes to zorro but he may not fit what your looking for, originally released in 1919 his Z symbol was in some of the very first publications, however hes pre comic book. so while there were illustrations of him, his stories were published in basically a short story magazine. – Himarm Jun 30 '15 at 14:10
  • Doesn't this predate comics by alot? I'm thinking knights like King Arthur and coat of arms. – user16696 Jun 30 '15 at 14:19
  • comicvine.com/zator/4005-107646 - Zator predates Superman by over 2 years and clearly wears a distinctive symbol – Valorum Jun 30 '15 at 19:45
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The earliest (illustrated) heroic figure that associates with a symbol would appear to be The Scarlet Pimpernel. Introduced in both play & novel forms in 1905, The Scarlet Pimpernel was an English nobleman who used a Zorro-like identity to fight the French authorities. He taunted his opponents by leaving behind a playing card with the namesake flower emblazoned on it.

Later in 1919, the public was introduced to Zorro, a Mexican hero who was very similar in nature to The Scarlet Pimpernel and was known for leaving a stylized "Z" as his calling card.

Introduced in 1936, The Phantom was known for his skull motif, although it could be debated whether or not the skull was actually his emblem or logo.

This brings us to 1938, when Action Comics #1 introduced the world to Superman, a hero widely known for the "S" emblazoned across his chest. Although Superman would appear to be the first hero who actually WORE his symbol (unless you count The Phantom), he was soon followed by Batman in 1939 - a darker character with a bat symbol on his chest.

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