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Hugo Danner (Gladiator) from the Marvel adaptation

Hugo Danner

(Philip Wylie's Gladiator)


Power Level:
Game system: DC Heroes Role-Playing Game

Context

Gladiator was a genre novel by Philip Wylie, published in 1930. It is historically significant – it precedes both Doc Savage (1933) and Superman (1938), and deploys many of the themes these seminal stories will use.

The protagonist is very much a small-s superman, though it was never formally confirmed whether Schuster and Siegel used it as inspiration.

The story is clearly not in four-colour  vein, though.


Background

  • Real Name: Hugo Danner
  • Other Aliases: The Mighty Hogarth, Carnival Strongman. The curious will note he was referred to as “Man-God” in the Marvel comics adaptation of the first half of the book.
  • Marital Status: Single.
  • Known Relatives: Abednego (father), Matilda (mother), Hugo (maternal uncle).
  • Group Affiliation: None.
  • Base Of Operations: Mobile.
  • Height: 5’10” Weight: 211 lbs. Age: Twenties, mostly.
  • Eyes: Dark Blue Hair: Black


Powers and Abilities

Hugo is an extraordinarily powerful human being. While not, like some who shall remain nameless, faster than a speeding bullet, he may very well be more powerful than a locomotive and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. Similarly, a bursting shell did little more than knock the wind out of him.

After hours of brutal combat, though, Hugo was hurt and knocked unconscious. The damage, however, was healed long before he reached a base hospital or awoke.


History

Abednego Danner, a biology professor at a local college in Indian Creek, Colorado, created a formula. It would enhance the offspring of animals injected with it. Experiments took place with tadpoles and a cat named Samson. The cat had to be poisoned after killing and eating several local horses. Then, Dr. Danner concluded that the next proper step was to test the formula on humans.

While Hugo’s mother was unexpectedly pregnant with him, his father injected her with the drug.

From birth, then, Hugo was clearly special. He was strong enough to destroy his crib and playpen. His mother took it upon herself to make sure that moral instruction took hold in her son. She impressed upon him her Christian values.

In school, fearing his difference would keep him from making friends, he kept away from the other children. Instead, immersed himself instead in any book he could get his hands on. This lasted until a bully chose to pick on the poor child. The bully survived, but Hugo’s social life did not. “Helping” save a man trapped under a wagon did nothing to help his status, either.

Anna and college

Eventually, though, Hugo’s strangeness was forgotten by Indian Creek. Thus, he was able to have a semblance of a normal life. He was the star of the football team, and courted the girl to whom he was always attracted, young Anna Blake.

Mutual attraction dodged around the courtship. It became a physical romance that raised many eyebrows across the tiny town. Hugo’s power, however, was more than Anna could take in the long term. And so the two parted ways, Anna moving to live with relatives, and Hugo going off to Webster College on the east coast.

At Webster, Hugo came into his own, if only briefly. He joined the football team, which led indirectly to a prostitute stealing his money. To raise the train fare back to school, a homeless man led him to enter the boxing ring. Hugo fought Battling Ole Swenson, Terror of the Docks, for a hundred dollars.

Hugo ended the school year mostly normally, and prepared to head home for the summer. Before he could, though, a telegram from his father informed him that the family had run out of money. He would need to work through the summer to stay at his school.

Odd as it may seem, Hugo spent that summer in what nearly resembled a normal life. He worked as a circus strongman, lived with a dancer named Charlotte, and had a friend in young artist Valentine Mitchel.

Life. Don’t tell me about life.

This was not to last, either. The summer wound down. Charlotte, thinking that she would only keep Hugo from returning to school, seduced his friend Mitchel and ran away with him. This relieved Hugo of any responsibility he might feel toward her.

Heartbroken, Hugo returned to Webster and its football team. He quickly became the star—and almost the only—player on the field. Worried at the team’s reliance on him, he attempted to bow out of the final game. He did for the most part, but was convinced to step in at the end, while the team was losing badly.

The jealous captain refused to bring him into play, and finally attacked Hugo. Danner lost control and accidentally killed the boy.

Knowing he could not survive the stress, Hugo left Webster that night, telling only his coach. He worked at odd jobs until winding up on the ship Katrina.

Drink before the war

On the Katrina, Hugo managed to save several lives. He also collected himself a small fortune in pearls. After a year, he found himself and his ship stranded in France when World War I was declared. He, and newfound friend Thomas Matthew Shayne, immediately enlisted in the French Foreign Legion, hoping to make a difference.

Hugo did make a small difference, here and there. It was mostly limited to destruction of enemy ranks and carrying supplies to keep his division fresh. When questioned about his origins, he claimed to be an American Indian from Colorado, and “thus” naturally strong.

After four years, though, which included the horrible death of Shayne, Hugo tired of the war. He wished to end it. He requisitioned a plane, and intended to assassinate the German leaders himself. However, as his plane was about to take off, news of the Armistice came, deflating Hugo entirely.

Back to the United States

On returning to America, Hugo visited Shayne’s family. He had formed a relationship with them after the death of their son. The industrial giant took a special interest in Hugo’s financial affairs while he was at war, making him a millionaire.

However, Hugo could not accept the money, finding it was made from munitions investments. He insisted that all the money be passed on to his parents.

Penniless, Hugo again drifted from job to job. He worked as steelworker and farmhand, among other pastimes. Eventually, news came of his father’s illness. Hugo left for home, and, fearing to disappoint his dying father, exaggerated his exploits. He made himself out to be a spectacular success.

Abednego, thrilled at his son’s evolution, tasked Hugo with carrying on the work. He gave him the journals of the original experiments that led to Hugo’s abilities. If Hugo alone had made a difference, an army of men like him could save the world.

Mister Danner goes to Washington

First, though, Hugo (with his money returned to him by his mother) went on to Washington, D.C., becoming a part of high society. Behind the scenes and with displays of strength in front of those he wished to intimidate, he tried to manipulate the political scene.

He found, however, too many comparisons to the mythological hydra. Many corrupt men were willing to take the place of any Hugo could remove. And yet more were willing to oppose those who were not corrupt.

Crestfallen, Hugo looked for a new purpose. He found it in an expedition to ruins in the Yucatan. He convinced Dr. Daniel Hardin, leader of the expedition, to allow him to come along. Hugo eventually befriended the professor. The friendship was made mutual—a first for Hugo’s life—when Hugo needed to reveal his abilities in order to save Hardin.

Dr. Hardin

The archaeologist helped Hugo finally come to terms with his abilities. On finding out about the work of Abednego Danner, he began to help Hugo bring his father’s dream to fruition. They planned to claim some lesser ruins as a city to populate.

Since the formula had been found not to breed true by Abednego, they would then collect, cultivate, and educate the children of the best parents from around the world, raising them all in secret. They agreed to meet the following night to discuss more concrete plans.

Those plans were not to be, however. During the night, Hugo reflected upon his friend’s idea, and found himself unable to commit to it. He had come so far, only to be kept from a life without fear by his own misgivings. This frustrated him. He took Abednego’s journals and ran to a secluded mountaintop, for the first time in his life in prayer.

Look ! Up in the sky !

Begging himself, his universe, and even God for a sense of what his purpose might be in the world, Hugo failed to notice the quickly approaching storm. Finally, as he shouted out to a god he wasn’t even sure existed, Hugo was struck down. He was burned to a cinder along with his clothing and journals, by a bolt of lightning.

Hardin found Hugo’s body several days later, and instructed his men to give him a decent burial.


Timeline

In brief, for those that want a quick timeline of events, Hugo was born around 1894. His affair with Anna came at the end of high school, which would be around 1912. The summer of 1913, he worked as Hogarth, and he left Webster in early 1914 (the end of the football season). By late summer of 1914, he’s in Paris and enlists.

Probably another two or three years (1919-21) of various jobs and drifting, until his father dies. Hugo then spends another year or two in Washington, until he gets fed up and heads for New York, again. In the DC Universe, Hugo stops back home at this point to knock up Anna with Arn “Iron” Munro.

By 1923-4, he’s on Hardin’s expedition, and probably dies at around 30 years of age.


Description

“At ten, he was a stalwart and handsome lad. His brow was high and surmounted by his peculiarly black hair. His eyes were wide apart, inky, unfathomable. He carried himself with the grace of an athlete.”

“Extremely dark of hair, of eyes and skin, moderately tall, and shaped with that compact, breathtaking symmetry that the mail figure sometimes assumes, a brilliantly devised, aggressive head topping his broad shoulders, graceful, a man vehemently alive, a man with the promise of a young god. Hugo at eighteen. His emotions ran through his eyes like hot steel in a dark mold. People avoided those eyes; they contained a statement from which ordinary souls shrank.

“His skin glowed and sweated into a shiny red-brown. His voice was deep and alluring.”


Personality

Hugo is a man in turmoil, on a level that even the X-Men would probably have trouble coping with. Unique in his world, he is desperate to find his place in it. Or, at least, something of consequence he can do with his abilities. He fears and dreads the possibility that humanity will find out what he can do and hate him for it.

More than that, though, he is terrified that he will lose control of himself as he has in the past. His work to save lives superficially helped his outlook, but that is mostly a façade.

That façade, however, serves Hugo well. After his father passed on, he learned to control at least the expression of his emotions. He became almost aristocratic in his dealings with politicians. He certainly became able to play the role of an expert host.

On the other hand, enraged, in the heat of battle, Hugo can also become a wild juggernaut. For example, in trenches with German forces, Hugo quite literally slaughtered dozens without a thought.

Perhaps ironically, though, Hugo still harbors a surprising sense of wonder about the world. In particular, the Yucatan ruins and the mills of New Jersey impressed him greatly.


Quotes

“God damn you dirty sons of bitches. I’ll make you pay for this. You got him, got him, you bastards ! I’ll shove your filthy hides down the devil’s throat and through his guts. Oh, Jesus !”

“What would you do if you were the strongest man in the world, the strongest thing in the world, mightier than the machine ? I would — I would have won the war. But did not. I would run the universe single-handed. Literally single-handed. I would scorn the universe and turn it to my own ends. I would be a criminal. I would rip open banks and gut them. I would kill and destroy. I would be a secret, invisible blight. I would set out to stamp crime off the earth ; I would be a super-detective, following and summarily punishing every criminal until no one dared to commit a felony. What would I do ? What will I do ?”

“It’s all right, buddy.”

“Give me a bucket of water—and put on about five steaks. Five.”

“I expect to go to Washington soon to right the wrongs of politics and government. Vicious and selfish men I shall force from their high places. I shall secure the idealistic and the courageous. The pressure I shall bring against them will be physical and mental. Here a man will be driven from his house mysteriously. There a man will slip into the limbo. Yonder an inconspicuous person will suddenly be braced by a new courage ; his enemies will be gone and his work will progress unhampered. I shall be an invisible agent of right—right as best I can see it. You understand, father ? The most splendid thing on earth ! And I have you to thank, you and your genius to tender gratitude to I am merely the agent. It is you that created and the whole world that benefits.”


DC Universe History

The DC Universe already contains Hugo Danner. He was the father, by way of an later, illicit affair with his high school sweetheart, of Arnold “Iron” Munro of the Young All-Stars. He also faked his death and created his Sons of the New Dawn, who fought the All-Star Squadron and Munro in early 1943.

That’s fine, as far as it goes. With all due respect to Roy Thomas, however, we can probably do quite a bit better.

An alternative

At the age of 18, Hugo and Anna had a torrid affair. At the end of the summer, she became weak and irritable. As a result, her family sent her away, just before Hugo left for college. While Wylie seems to discount the possibility, it seems otherwise obvious that Anna is pregnant.

Assuming this, and also assuming that Abednego’s earliest experiments (like Hugo) could breed true (perhaps because, not knowing the full effects, he used a higher dosage which could be found in Hugo’s bodily fluids), this child would have been about 25-26 in 1938. This just the right age for a Golden Age Superman.

Add a cape to allow him to glide down from his leaps, some trained ability to disguise himself, and a way to develop heat vision (I favor a link of some sort to Baron Blitzkrieg at this point). What you’ll have is a fairly good match for the Earth-2 Man of Steel.

I’m fond of the idea of Anna naming her son Daniel (retaining part of his father’s surname, and the -El suffix we’re all so fond of). She found that she couldn’t handle the superpowered tyke. After a desperate search, she finally finds a family to adopt Daniel, John Eben and Mary Sarah Small, a farming couple.

New Dawn

Later, rather than Hugo (sigh) faking his death, he “died” and healed his wounds just before burial. He then worked with Daniel Hardin, creating his Sons of the New Dawn. Whether or not they fight the All-Stars, the group (or remnants of the culture) settles down and propagates a futuristic culture in South America.

Soon after the Justice Society comes out of retirement (the first time), though, the mountaintop city of the Sons of the New Dawn is destroyed through volcanic activity. The sole survivor, a young blonde woman named Kara comes to the United States, becomes Power Girl, and joins the Justice Society.

Alternatively, Kara could be exiled from the city (for whatever reason). Then, the Eradicator could use the Sons of the New Dawn as the basis for its rebuilt Krypton. Heck, if you want to be all subversive about it, send them back in time and let them colonize Krypton. That probably greatly fouls continuity in 17 new ways, but it’s not like anyone would notice.

And, either way, it’s *much* better than that embarrassing Arion origin story for Power Girl…

The Wayne connection, and Samson

Oh, it’s also conceivable that the Shayne family, in the DCU, would have been the Wayne family.

In this case, Thomas Matthew Shayne would likely be the brother of one of Bruce Wayne’s ancestors, perhaps a great-uncle (or so) for whom Bruce’s father was named. Or, if you have a Golden Age Bruce, then Thomas Matthew is Dr. Thomas’s cousin.

Bonus points for any GM who resurrects Samson and makes him the Post-Crisis Streaky, the Super-Cat…


Other Universe History

Not part of the DCU, but Marvel has also published at least the first portion of Hugo’s adventures under the title “Man-God.”

Also outside the DCU, I’ve seen mention that Daniel Hardin is, potentially, a pseudonym for Clark Savage, Sr. Personally, I don’t buy it, since the man actually advocates stealing thousands of babies to populate Hugo’s “wonder society.” But, if that’s what floats your boat, and you want to diminish his impact on his son, go right ahead…


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Game Stats — DC Heroes RPG Print Friendly

Tell me more about the game stats

Hugo Danner

Dex: 06 Str: 08 Bod: 09 Motivation: Unwanted Power
Int: 06 Wil: 09 Min: 08 Occupation: Various
Inf: 09 Aur: 08 Spi: 08 Resources {or Wealth}: 016
Init: 021 HP: 035

Powers:
Jumping: 05, Regeneration: 15, Running: 07, Sealed Systems: 11

Bonuses and Limitations:

  • Regeneration cannot help Hugo regain consciousness, regardless of damage healed.
  • Regeneration does not accelerate the healing of damage from poisons.
  • Hugo cannot keep track of his surroundings when running at high speed.

Advantages:
Attractive, Connoisseur.

Connections:
Shayne family [High].

Drawbacks:
Dark Secret (Superpowers), Guilt, MIA (Exploration), Misc (Hugo often needs to eat heavily after performing his feats).


Design notes

I toyed with replacing the Dark Secret with an Irrational Fear of people learning his secret, since he does seem to freeze up for that reason. I finally decided to chalk it up to role-playing.


By John Colagioia

Source of Character: Gladiator by Philip Wylie.

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