So I’m reading through my new copy of NBM’s Happy Hooligan collection, when I come across the remarkable strip from 22 November 1902. According to the title, it features “Happy Hooligan’s Great-Great-Great-Great-Great-Grandfather, Joyful Hooligan” who “lands on Plymouth Rock”.
Joyful looks awfully like Happy (right down to the tin-can on the head) except in slightly more pilgrim-y gear. And, more to the point, he acts just like Happy and gets unjust comeuppance just like him, too. So he tries to do a good deed, it goes awry, and the last panel shows his punishment by the law.
Which, frankly, blew my mind (not easily blown). For here in 1903 we see the inklings of that superhero trope beloved by Alan Moore among many lesser lights, viz. the past/future/other-dimensional counterpart of the hero who is identical to the hero in all but setting. Is this the first appearance of the trope in comics? Surely you’d be hard-pressed to find an earlier example.