The Nyctalope, real name Léo Saint-Clair, is a pulp fiction hero created by French writer Jean de La Hire in 1911. He may be the first cyborg (an individual with both organic and mechanical body parts) in literature and is seen as a significant precursor to the superhero genre. The character has an artificial heart and powers such as excellent night vision, which is the source of his name.
Jean de La Hire (the pen name of Adolphe d'Espi) began his series involving the Nyctalope in 1908 with the novel L'Homme Qui Peut Vivre dans l'Eau (The Man Who Could Live Underwater). The Nyctalope himself does not appear in the story, which stars his father. Léo Saint-Clair, alias the Nyctalope, debuted in the 1911 novel Le Mystère des XV, later translated as The Nyctalope on Mars. The Nyctalope has an artificial heart and other organs, which give him powers and improved senses. Most notably, his enhanced eyes give him excellent night vision, hence the name "Nyctalope".
Stories typically depict the Nyctalope fighting threats to humanity such as dictators, mad scientists, and aliens. Following Le Mystère des XV, La Hire wrote a number of other books and stories featuring the character into the 1940s. The 1933 story L'Assassinat du Nyctalope (The Assassination of the Nyctalope) includes his origin story. The Nyctalope predated comic book superheroes like Superman and Batman by three decades, and is sometimes seen as an early superhero or "proto-superhero". In addition, the fact that he has both mechanical and organic body parts may make him the first cyborg character in fiction, prefiguring characters like Iron Man, who similarly has an artificial heart.
The Nyctalope remained obscure for years after La Hire's death in 1956. In the 21st century, several of the original Nyctalope stories were anthologized and translated into English.
The Nyctalope also stars in two collections of new stories written by other writers, The Nyctalope Steps In (2011) and Night of the Nyctalope (2012).
Shadowmen: Heroes and Villains of French Pulp Fiction: Published in 2003, by Jean-Marc Lofficier and Randy Lofficier, published by Black Coat Press is an encyclopedic guide to some of the most important characters from French Fiction, including Nyctalope.
The Nyctalope is one of the main characters in Serge Lehman's Chimera Brigade comic book (2009-2010), set just before World War II. He is also mentioned in volumes 2 and 3 of the graphic novel The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen by Alan Moore.