Golden Age Spectre Archives volume 1


By Jerry Siegel & Bernard Baily with various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-56389-955-3

The Spectre is one of the oldest characters in DC’s vast stable of characters, created by Jerry Siegel and Bernard Baily in 1940 and debuting with a 2-part origin epic in More Fun Comics #52 and 53 where he was the first superhero to star in the previously all-genres adventure anthology. For a few years the Ghostly Guardian reigned supreme in the title with flamboyant and eerily eccentric supernatural thrillers, but gradually slipped from popularity as firstly Dr. Fate and successively Johnny Quick, Aquaman, Green Arrow and finally Superboy turned up to steal the show. By the time of his last appearance the Spectre had been reduced to a foil for his own comedic sidekick Percival Popp, the Super-Cop

Just like Siegel’s other iconic creation, the Dark Man suffered from a basic design flaw: he was just too darn powerful. Unlike the vigorously vital and earthy early Superman however, the ethereal champion of justice was already dead, so he couldn’t be logically or dramatically imperilled. Of course in those far-off early days that wasn’t nearly as important as sheer spectacle: grabbing the reader’s utter attention and keeping it stoked to a fantastic fever pitch. This the Grim Ghost could do with ease and always-increasing intensity.

Re-presenting the first 19 eerie episodes and following a fulsome Foreword from pre-eminent Comics historian Dr. Jerry Bails, detailing the state of play within the budding marketplace during those last months of the 1930s, the arcane action commences in this stunning full-colour deluxe hardback with ‘The Spectre: Introduction’ from More Fun Comics #52 (February 1940).

This wasn’t the actual title: like so many strips of those early days, most stories didn’t have individual titles and many have been only retroactively designated for collections such as this.

The Ghostly Guardian was only barely glimpsed in this initial instalment. Instead the action rested upon Jim Corrigan, a hard-bitten police detective, who was about to marry rich heiress Clarice Winston when they were abducted by mobster Gat Benson. Stuffed into a barrel of cement and pitched off a pier, Corrigan died and went to his eternal reward. Almost…

Rather than finding Paradise and peace, Corrigan’s spirit was accosted by a glowing light and disembodied voice which, over his strident protests, ordered him return to Earth to fight crime and evil until all vestiges of them were gone…

Standing on the seabed and looking at his own corpse, Corrigan began his mission by going after his own killers…

In #53 ‘The Spectre Strikes’ found the furious revenant swiftly, mercilessly and horrifically ending his murderers and saving Clarice, before calling off the engagement and moving out of the digs he shared with fellow cop and best friend Wayne Grant. After all, a cold, dead man has no need for the living…

The origin ends with Corrigan implausibly sewing himself a green and white costume and swearing to eradicate all crime…

Splendidly daft, this two-part yarn is one of the darkest and most memorable origins in comicbook history and the feature only got better with each issue as the bitter, increasingly isolated lawman swiftly grew into most overwhelmingly powerful hero of the Golden Age.

In MFC #54 the Supernatural Sentinel tackled ‘The Spiritualist’, a murderous medium and unscrupulous charlatan who almost killed Clarice and forever ended the Spectre’s hopes for eternal rest, after which #55 introduced ‘Zor’: a ghost of far greater vintage and power, dedicated to promulgating evil on Earth. He too menaced Clarice and only the intervention of the Heavenly Voice and a quick upgrade in phantasmal power enabled The Spectre to overcome the malign menace.

More Fun Comics #56 was the first to feature Howard Sherman’s Dr. Fate on the cover but the Spectre was still the big attraction even if  the merely mundane bandits and blackmailers instigating ‘Terror at Lytell’s’ were no match for the ever-inventive wrathful wraith. Far more serious was ‘The Return of Zor’ in #57, as the horrific haunt returned from beyond to frame Corrigan for murder and again endanger the girl Jim dared not love…

An embezzler turned to murder as ‘The Arsonist’ in #58, but was no match for the cop – let alone his eldritch alter ego – whilst ‘The Fur Hi-Jackers’ actually succeeded in killing the cop yet were still brought to the Spectre’s unique brand of justice.

In #60 ‘The Menace of Xnon’ found a super-scientist using incredible inventions to frame the ghost and even menace his ethereal existence, prompting The Voice to again increase its servant’s power – this time by giving The Spectre the all-powerful Ring of Life – but not before the Ghostly Guardian had been branded Public Enemy No. 1.

With Corrigan now ordered to arrest his spectral other self on sight, #61 (another Dr. Fate cover) featured ‘The Golden Curse Deaths’ wherein prominent citizens were dying from a scientific terror with a deadly Midas Touch, after which ‘The Mad Creation of Professor Fenton’ pitted the Phantom Protector against a roving, ravaging disembodied mutant super-brain…

In #63 a kill-crazy racketeer got his just deserts in the electric chair only to return and personally execute ‘Trigger Daniels’ Death Curse’ on all who had opposed him in life. Happily The Spectre proved to be more than his match but ‘The Ghost of Elmer Watson’ was a far harder foe to face. Murdered by mobsters who had also nearly killed Corrigan’s only friend Wayne Grant, the remnant of the vengeful dead man refused to listen to The Spectre’s brand of reason and its dreadful depredations had to be dealt with in fearsome fashion…

‘Dr. Mephisto’ was a spiritualist who utilised an uncanny blue flame for crime in #65, after which the Ghostly Guardian battled horrendous monsters called forth from ‘The World Within the Paintings’ probably written by the series’ first guest writer – Gardner Fox – before Siegel returned with ‘The Incredible Robberies’ which found the phantom policeman battling deadly mystic Deeja Kathoon to the death and beyond…

With MFC #68 The Spectre finally lost his protracted cover battle to Dr. Fate even though, inside, the ‘Menace of the Dark Planet’ featured a fabulously telling tale of Earthbound Spirit against alien invasion by life-leeching Little Green Men, before in #69 ‘The Strangler’ murders led Corrigan into an improbable case with an impossible killer…

This first fearful tome terminates with issue #70 and ‘The Crimson Circle Mystery Society’ in which a sinister cult employed a merciless phantasmal psychic agent named Bandar to carry out its deadly schemes…

Still a mighty force of fun and fearful entertainment, The Spectre’s Glory Days – and Nights – were waning and more credible champions were coming to the fore. He would be one of the first casualties of the post-War decline in mystery men and not be seen again until the Silver Age 1960’s…

Moreover, when he did return to comics, the previously omnipotent ghost was given strict limits and as he continued to evolve through various returns, refits and reboots The Spectre was finally transmogrified into a tormented mortal soul bonded inescapably to the actual embodiment of the biblical Wrath of God. Revamped and revived in perpetuity, revealed to be the Spirit of Vengeance wedded to a human conscience, Jim Corrigan was finally laid to rest in the 1990s and Hal (Green Lantern) Jordan replaced him. Returning to basics in recent years, the latest host is murdered Gotham City cop Crispus Allen.

They’re all worth tracking down and exhuming: spooky comic champions who have never failed to deliver an enthralling, haunted hero rollercoaster – or is that Ghost Train? – of thrills and chills.
© 1940, 1941, 2003 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.