THE COMETOriginal Medium: Comic books
Published by: MLJ Comics
First Appeared: 1939
Creator: Jack Cole
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Before Jack Cole created Plastic Man, his most lasting contribution to the comics field, he was involved with a host of minor characters put out by a host of publishers. These included The Claw at
Lev Gleason Publications, Midnight at Quality Comics — and The Comet at MLJ Comics, the company that later changed its name to that of its best-selling character, Archie.
The Comet occupied a few back pages in Pep Comics, where the covers featured a flag-draped superhero called The Shield. The first issue (January, 1940) didn't have a full-length, detailed origin story, but a quick "recap" gave the background. John Dickering was a young scientist who discovered a gas much lighter than hydrogen — so light, that by shooting it into his veins, he could fly. Repeated use, however, had an unfortunate side effect, as his eyes began emitting uncontrollable rays that disintegrated whatever he looked at. Luckily, the rays were stopped by ordinary glass, so as long as he wore goggles, those around him were safe. (Marvel Comics' Cyclops, a charter member of X-Men, milked a similar schtick for years, but this guy beat Cyke into print by almost a quarter-century.)
Like so many comic book characters of the time, John put on flashy skin-tights (with a raisable visor), and used his great powers to battle crime as The Comet. Apparently, despite its current clean, wholesome image, back then the company considered death at a glance a useful super power for a good guy.
In his fifth outing, he picked up with reporter Thelma Gordon, who remained his girlfriend and confidant for the rest of his life — which didn't require all that long a commitment. In the 17th issue (July, 1941), he put away a gangster named "Big Boy" Malone. Malone's henchmen tracked The Comet to John's apartment and killed him — probably the first successful murder of a superhero in comics history. John's brother, Bob Dickering, witnessed the crime, and was thus inspired to become a superhero himself. As The Hangman, Bob was a considerably more successful one. He also took over John's relationship with Thelma.
That would have been the end of The Comet, if this had happened anywhere but a comic book. Long after most people forgot there had ever been any such character, a guy by that name turned up in a later batch of Archie Comics superheroes. His first appearance was in The Fly #30 (October, 1964). This new Comet, with a rainbow-colored helmet, pencil-thin moustache and no eyewear, didn't look a thing like the old one. And having suddenly descended from outer space, he didn't seem to have the old one's back-story, either. But in 1966 an improbable new origin story, which involved romance with an alien princess while casually dismissing the murder, claimed they were the same person.
The Comet became a charter member of The Mighty Crusaders, which now seems to include most of the company's superheroes, at least during the rare periods when it's publishing any. For a couple of months in 1983, he even had his own comic. He was also included when, in the early 1990s, Archie licensed its superheroes to DC for use in the latter's short-lived imprint, !mpact Comics.
In his original incarnation, The Comet didn't make much of an impact, but did have the distinction of a boffo conclusion to his brief series. Now, he seems doomed to an eternal half-life, flickering in and out of print for short periods, widely spaced — and still isn't making much of an impact.
And by the way, Jack Cole was even less faithful to him than Thelma Gordon. Cole hung around only until Pep Comics #8.