Don Markstein's Toonopedia: The Hangman
The good guy is the one on the left. Artist: George Storm.


Original Medium: Comic books
Published by: MLJ Comics
First Appeared: 1941
Creators: Cliff Campbell (writer) and George Storm (artist)
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Like Batman's, The Hangman's career as a costumed crime fighter was motivated by revenge. But he carried his "grim avenger" role much farther — not just in his motif, far more …

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… terrifying to a criminal than a mere bat, but also in his methods. One reason The Hangman struck fear into the hearts of his foes was the gallows and noose he often projected in shadow form to herald his arrival. Another was his propensity for killing them whenever that struck him as appropriate.

The Hangman was Bob Dickering, whose brother, John, was a minor superhero called The Comet. After putting away a gangster named "Big Boy" Malone, The Comet was attacked in his home by Malone's henchmen. They mistook Bob for John, however, and kidnaped him. The real Comet came to the rescue. He succeeded in saving Bob, but was himself killed in the process. Bob swore an oath of vengeance against all criminals, and next thing you know, there was a new scourge of evildoers in town. He took over The Comet's sparse supporting cast, including girlfriend Thelma Gordon.

This happened in Pep Comics #17 (July, 1941), published by MLJ Comics (which changed its name to Archie Comics a few years later). The story was written by Cliff Campbell (known mostly for hard-boiled detectives in pulp magazines) and drawn by George Storm (creator of Phil Hardy and Bobby Thatcher, a couple of early adventure comics in the newspapers). That same issue, The Hangman began sharing Pep Comics' covers with The Shield, first of the flag-wearing super guys. Storm, whose other comic book work includes Bugs Bunny and Buzzy, left after four issues, reportedly uncomfortable with the character; and after he left, the elements he was uncomfortable with only got worse — the only thing in Pep Comics more horrifying than The Hangman was Madam Satan. The artist most associated with The Hangman is Bob Fujitani, whose credits range from Holyoke Comics' Cat-Man to Gold Key's Doctor Solar, Man of the Atom.

The Hangman continued meting out grisly justice for several years, not just in Pep but also, starting with a Winter, 1941 cover date, in a comic of his own. At first, the title was Special Comics, and he shared it with Boy Buddies (kid sidekicks of The Shield and The Wizard), but starting with #2, it was called Hangman Comics. It was replaced after eight issues with one devoted to The Black Hood, but even then, The Hangman got a story in the back pages. When it became de rigeur for superheroes to fight Nazis and Japs, he got himself an arch-foe in the person of Captain Swastika. Eventually, tho, the superheroes mostly dropped out of comics, and The Hangman dropped with them. His last appearance was in Pep Comics #47 (March, 1944).

He was next seen two decades later, when Archie Comics brought back nearly all its old superheroes for at least a walk-on. The Hangman got more prominent treatment than most, tho hardly better. In Fly Man #33 (September, 1965), with absolutely no mention made of the oath he'd sworn against criminals, he became one himself. He was a recurring villain in The Mighty Crusaders for the duration of that title's mercifully short first run. Afterward, he was played as a hero in a couple of issues of Mighty Comics, but that part of his career is scarcely remembered.

In The Comet #1 (October, 1983), as part of another superhero revival at Archie Comics, his son, Steve Dickering, assumed the Hangman identity to prove himself to Dad. But this version made little or no impact, and the superheroes soon went back into storage.

Since then — nothing, unless you count an obscure and heavily altered version that wasn't even done by Archie Comics. (In the early 1990s, DC Comics licensed the Archie superheroes for a separate imprint, !mpact Comics; and in The Comet #6, they introduced a new Hangman as an inconspicuous supporting character.) While most of the old MLJ superheroes have made at least a few brief reappearances in various Archie titles over the years, The Hangman has not been among them.

Seems like a guy with his style would be right at home in today's grim'n'gritty comics scene — but Archie Comics, which currently projects a wholesomer-than-thou image, would apparently rather not remind us it used to publish characters like this.


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Text ©2002-08 Donald D. Markstein. Art © Archie Comics.