International House of Heroes
All-Might: [internal monologue] “I’m afraid that I barely have a minute left in this form. My power is declining faster than I thought it would. Even so, I have to stop these villains. Because I am… the world’s symbol of peace and justice!” – My Hero Academia, “All-Might” (Season 1, Episode 12)
America has cornered the market on superheroes. Between Marvel, DC, and other publishers, there’s an almost limitless number of characters ranging from household names like Superman, Wonder Woman, and Spider-Man, lesser known heroes like Scarlet Witch and The Flash, and even former nobodies like Cyborg and the Guardians of the Galaxy making big bucks at the box office.
But America ain’t the only one in the superhero biz. Every country has superhero comics and movies starring their own homegrown heroes. So who are the top 5 non-American superheroes? Grab your passport, and let’s find out!
Honorable Mention: Super Sentai
Country of origin: Japan
Connor: What would they know about Power Rangers in Japan? – Power Rangers: Dino Thunder, “Lost and Found in Translation” (Season 1, Episode 19)
Super Sentai (task force) is a franchise created in 1975 by Shotaro Ishinomori. This archetypal Tokusatsu (special effects heavy) series features a team of multi colored superheroes fighting monsters with advanced technology and magic. Each season is an individual series that is connected to the others by crossover movies.
Super Sentai was popular, but exploded once they took a note from Toei’s Spider-Man and added giant robots. Marvel expressed interest in bringing Super Sentai to America, but never did.
Businessman Haim Saban succeeded in bringing Sentai to America by taking the superhero scenes from Kyoryu Sentai Zyuranger, adding in a teenage sitcom, and packaging the show as Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. The rest is history.
Super Sentai only gets an honorable mention because their heroic deeds are split between 42 teams of 3-10 heroes each. With over 2,000 episodes and dozens of movies, Super Sentai is one of the longest ongoing series in the world. And it ain’t stopping anytime soon.
#5 Super Commando Dhruva
Country of origin: India
Sanjay Gupta: “Our first goal was to make a total Indian character. We didn’t want to copy. That wasn’t going on in our heads. But we were definitely inspired by them [Batman and Superman]. We are still inspired by them. Even today we don’t copy… We are inspired by them. After all, everything has an origin.” – 2012 Indian Comic Con Festival
Super Commando Dhruva was created by Anupam Sinha in 1987. He has become one of the most popular superheroes in India and the signature character of Raj Comics.
Much like Robin, Dhruva was born into circus life with acrobat parents. He learned various acrobat routines, martial arts, and even learned how to talk to animals. Unfortunately the Robin parallel deepened when crooked businessmen burned the circus to the ground, killing Dhruva’s parents. He swore to fight crime his whole life and was adopted by the Superintendent of Police.
Dhruva created several tools and weapons to fight crime. These include throwing stars called Star Blades, a wrist mounted grappling hook, and a remote controlled motorcycle. Dhruva’s exploits earned him an invitation to join the Brahmand Rakshak, his world’s version of the Avengers.
Countries outside India rarely notice Super Commando Dhruva. One notable example was when the Boston Globe ran an article rating non-American superheroes. Writer Chris Wright gave Dhruva an 8 out of 10 before writing, “It’s hard to find fault with Super Commando Dhruva – he’s completely nuts in the best possible way.”
#4 El Santo
Country of origin: Mexico
Professor: “I spoke to you about that strange and extraordinary lad who saved Rebecca’s life. The documents say he would also have a descendant. An outstanding young man of enormous strength, destined to hide his face under a silver colored mask. Santo, that extraordinary young man… is obviously you.“ – Santo vs the Vampire Women
Born Rodolfo Guzmán Huerta, El Santo (The Saint) is considered one of the greatest Luchadores of all time. At the height of his career Santos was approached by Fernando Oses, an actor and former luchador. Oses wanted to make a series of films starring Santo as a superhero.
Santo was reluctant and worried it would force him to abandon his wrestling career. He decided to do both simultaneously and made 52 B-movies alongside his rival, Blue Demon. Only four of those films were dubbed into English, and all of those changed the hero’s name to Samson. One of them, Samson vs. The Vampire Women, was featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000.
Rodolfo Huerta passed away in 1984, but the El Santo character has endured. El Santo’s likeness was infamously stolen in the Turkish film 3 Dev Adam, where an unmasked Santo teamed up with equally stolen Captain America to fight a gang led by Spider-Man. Santo was paid homage by El Santos in Jesus Christ: Vampire Hunter. Finally, Santos appeared in the Land of the Dead in Pixar’s Coco.
Country of origin: Japan
Narrator: “Born in the nebula known as M78, together they fight for peace and justice throughout the galaxy. Warriors of great compassion and courage.” – Mega Monster Battle: Ultra Galaxy Legends
There have been almost as many Ultramen as Sentai teams, so we’re just gonna cover the original and most famous one.
Ultraman debuted in 1966 and was created by Eiji Tsuburaya, co-creator of Godzilla. Monsters and aliens begin appearing in Japan, opposed only by a government agency called the Science Patrol. During a mission, a member of the Science Patrol named Hayata is killed when his plane is destroyed by two balls of light.
One of the lights was revealed to be an alien made of energy called Ultraman. He bonded to Hayata, resurrecting him in the process. Hayata learned that he could use Ultraman’s power to turn into a superpowered giant and began using this power to fight threats that were too tough for the Science Patrol.
Ultraman didn’t start the Tokusatsu genre, but he sure as hell popularized it. Ultraman has been paid homage and ripped off countless times. Two rip-offs, Zone Fighter and Jet Jaguar, even became Godzilla’s sidekicks. Ultraman appeared in the climax of Ready Player One, but was replaced by The Iron Giant and the Gundam in the film version due to rights issues. An Ultraman anime will debut on Netflix in 2019.
#2 Judge Dredd
Country of Origin: England
Rico: “Why do you judge me?!”
Dredd: “You killed innocent people!”
Rico: “A means to an end.”
Dredd: “You started a massacre!”
Rico: “I caused a revolution!”
Dredd: “YOU BETRAYED THE LAW!” – Judge Dredd (1995)
Judge Dredd debuted in 2000 AD #2 in 1977. He was created by John Wagner and Carlos Equarzaer.
Best described as a law enforcement version of The Punisher, Judge Dredd is a “Street Judge”, a police officer with the right to convict criminals he catches. He even has the authority to execute them on the spot if their crimes warrant. Dredd patrols a dystopian city called Mega-City One, always on the lookout for crime.
Sylvester Stallone played Judge Dredd in the eponymous 1995 movie. The film dropped most of the comic’s dark humor and stylistic choices for a bog-standard action flick plot. It was so horrible that Stallone’s performance was nominated for a Worst Actor Razzie. A more faithful remake called Dredd was released in 2012 with Star Trek’s Karl Urban in the lead role.
A television show called Judge Dredd: Mega-City One is currently in production.
#1 The Doctor
Country of Origin: England
The Doctor: “Is this world a threat to the Atraxi? [beat] Well, c’mon, you’re monitoring the whole planet. Is this world a threat?”
Atraxi: [scans files] “No.”
The Doctor: “Are the peoples of this world guilty of any crimes by the laws of the Atraxi?”
Atraxi: [scans again] “No.”
The Doctor: “O.K. one more, just one. Is this world protected? [holograms of various monsters appear] Oh, you’re not the first lot to have come here. Oh, there have been so many. And what you’ve got to ask is, what happened to them? [hologram slideshow of the previous Doctors, finishing with Eleven walking through Ten’s face.] Hello. I’m The Doctor. Basically… run.” – Doctor Who, “The Eleventh Hour” (Season 5, Episode 1)
The Doctor is our pick for the greatest non-American superhero. No, not Doctor Who, just The Doctor.
Debuting in 1963, Doctor Who became one of television’s longest running shows. The Doctor is a time traveling alien who is fond of the planet Earth. He often takes human companions traveling through time only to get mixed up with alien menaces.
The Doctor has the ability to “regenerate”, which resurrects him if he is killed at the cost of changing his appearance and personality. This has let The Doctor be played by David Tennant, Tom Baker, and Christopher Eccleston, among others. The Doctor is currently played by Jodie Foster, the first woman in the role. Male, female, young, old, the Doctor is proof that anyone can be a hero.
Who is your favorite non-American superhero? Let us know in a comment.
Jared Bounacos has written for Movie Rewind since 2017.