Action Comics vol 1 #39 - cover date August 1941
What constitutes a super-villain, exactly? Superman has already had his share of mad scientists, and two – Ultra and Luthor - of them have been repeatedly christened as his nemeses. Likewise, he’s had to deal with saboteurs and spies using colorful sobriquets like The Yellow Mask, the Laughing Gas Bandits and the seemingly pseudonymous Mister Deutch.
His foes at this point have had colorful names, imaginative weapons and devilish schemes supreme, but still, are they super-villains? If super-heroes have particular characteristics – which Superman, being the grandpappy of them all, helped establish; the alternate identity, the striking costume, the strange powers and telling nom de guerre – then, as the opposite of a super-hero, a proper super-villain would have those characteristics too.
Enter THE GHOST, secretly presumed-dead physicist Brett Bryson - cloaked in a white hood and suit, glowing ominously, possessed of tremendous strength and a touch of death! Although an unrepentant thief – and, well, he murdered a few people along the way, too – we discover that the explosion which seemingly killed him and cursed him with these terrible powers was rigged by one of his coworkers. The scheme – to give Bryson deadly super-powers and trick him into using them to steal!
As plans go, it’s got flaws, and Bryson murders his conniving fellow physicist before succumbing to radiation poisoning himself, thus ending the short-lived career of what might be Superman’s first super-villain – unless he returns as a ghost…