By David Lapham, Eric Battle, Prentis Rollins & Tom Mandrake (DC Comics)
ISBN13: 978-1-84576-668-9

Completing the intense horror-drama begun in Crisis Aftermath: The Spectre (ISBN13: 978-1-84576-577-X – an absolute prerequisite before you tackle this tome) murdered detective Crispus Allen, newly bonded to the all-powerful supernatural force known as the Spectre, finds himself irresistibly drawn back to the tenement house where slum-lord Leonard Krieger was murdered.

Eventually murdered. Prior to that he was chained in the basement for two weeks, starved, tortured, abused and generally made to regret the miseries he had inflicted on his many tenants. One man has already paid the ghostly guardian’s ghastly price for killing him, but somehow the sin remains unpunished and Allen, as well as Gotham cops Marcus Driver and Josh Azeveda, are convinced there’s more to know and further horror to come from God’s Spirit of Vengeance…

The Spectre premiered in More Fun Comics #52 (February 1940), the brainchild of Superman writer Jerry Siegel and artist Bernard Baily. Jim Corrigan, a murdered police detective, was ordered to fight crime and evil by a glowing light and disembodied voice, as the most overwhelmingly powerful hero of the Golden Age.

He has been revamped and revived many times, and revealed to be God’s Spirit of Vengeance wedded to a human conscience. Corrigan was finally laid to rest in the 1990s and Hal (Green Lantern) Jordan replaced him.

Jordan had nearly destroyed the universe when possessed by the alien fear-parasite Parallax, yet sacrificed his life to reignite Earth’s dying sun in the Final Night miniseries (ISBN-13: 978-1-56389-419-0). The fallen hero’s soul bonded with the Spectre to become a Spirit of Redemption as well as Retribution. Following a complex series of events in the wake of the Infinite Crisis Jordan was resurrected as a mortal superhero and the Spectre was left without human guidance.

But even now the human ameliorating influence is having little effect as the Spectre, unable to leave Gotham, goes on a rampage of grotesque and baroque retribution in the murder capital of the World. As the police chip away at the mystery of Krieger’s death and the wall of silence from the other tenants of the seemingly accursed Granville Towers, Crispus Allen is becoming more and more inured to the atrocities humanity perpetrates on a daily basis. Without intervention, he may become more ruthless and relentless than the Spectre itself…

Featuring outstanding guest-appearances by Batman and the Phantom Stranger (the latter fully illustrated by veteran Spectre artist Tom Mandrake) this volume reprints issues #4-8 of the lead strip in DC’s anthological revival Tales of the Unexpected, including original cover’s by Bernie Wrightson, Mike Huddleston, Bill Sienkiewicz, Art Adams & Prentis Rollins and Eric Battle & Dave Stewart.

A harsh, uncompromising exploration of justice, provocation and guilt, this is not a story for the young or squeamish and the mystery, engrossing though it be, is secondary to the exploration of the events that produced it. Can the modern world still use an Old-Testament solution to sin, or is every crime now too complex for prescribed punishments?

It’s rare for superhero comics to be this challenging but Tales of the Unexpected manages that and still delivers a visceral, evocative thriller that is a joy to read.

© 2007 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.