For the first thirty to forty years of super hero comics, it was a rarity for a super hero to meet his maker. While the death and resurrection of super hero characters has now become de rigeur, for much of the publishing history of such characters, stories of this nature were few and far between. So that leads us to the question: who was the first super hero to be killed off?
And the answer to that question is The Comet. The Comet was created in PEP COMICS #1 by Jack Cole (who would later go on to introduce Plastic Man). Cole only stuck with the strip for four issues–and it was a crazy and violent series. The Comet had injected himself with a serum that allowed him to fly and also to shoot disintegrating rays from his eyes–rays which he kept in check with the sort of visor that Cyclops of the X-Men would eventually make fashionable. But apparently, the Comet’s popularity waned without Cole’s hand on the tiller, and so the decision was made to replace his feature with that of a new character–the Hangman.
The Grand Comics Database lists the writer of this story as being either Harry Shorten or Abner Sundell, both of whom worked under the house name Cliff Campbell at different times. The artwork, crude as it is, is the work of George Storm.
The Hangman was Archie/MLJ’s attempt at a Batman-like character, and he was successful for several years. Like batman, he possessed no super-powers, and like the early Batman, he was violent as hell. No due process for the Hangman–his nom de guerre told you what his intent was in terms of the criminals he hunted.
The Hangman was Bob Dickering, the brother of the Comet, who adopted his costumed guise to avenge the murder of his super hero brother by criminals. As origins go, it’s like the Batman story twisted up strangely.
It’s a pretty understated and perfunctory death, all things considered. I don’t think the folks at MLJ quite understood what they had stumbled on to here (though, in fairness, neither would anybody else until around 1980.)
Despite the fact that he wasn’t shy about going after criminals, the Hangman did follow the super hero’s unwritten code and didn’t carry a firearm. Apart from that, all bets were off.
That’s the last that readers would see of the Comet until he was brought back again in the 1960s–making him also the very first super hero to be resurrected after he was killed off as well.