Showcase Presents the Spectre volume 1


By Gardner F. Fox, Bob Haney, Mike Friedrich, Steve Skeates, Dennis J. O’Neil, Mark Hanerfeld, Michael L. Fleisher, Len Wein, Paul Kupperberg, Mike W. Barr, Murphy Anderson, Carmine Infantino, Ross Andru & Mike Esposito, Neal Adams, Jerry Grandenetti, Jack Sparling, Bernie Wrightson, Jim Aparo, Frank Thorne, Ernie Chan, Jim Starlin, Michael R. Adams & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-3417-1 (TPB)

Created by Jerry Siegel & Bernard Baily in 1940 and debuting via a 2-part origin epic in More Fun Comics #52 and 53, The Spectre is one of the oldest characters in DC’s vast character stable. Crucially, just like Siegel’s other iconic creation, he soon began to suffer from a basic design flaw: he was just too darn powerful.

Unlike Superman however, this relentless champion of justice was already dead, so he can’t really be logically or dramatically imperilled. Of course, in those far off early days that wasn’t nearly as important as sheer spectacle: forcibly grabbing the reader’s utter attention and keeping it stoked to a fantastic fever pitch.

Starting as a virtually omnipotent phantom, the Grim Ghost evolved, over various revivals, refits and reboots into a tormented mortal soul bonded inescapably to the actual embodiment of the biblical Wrath of God.

The story is a genuinely gruesome one: police detective Jim Corrigan is callously executed by gangsters before being called back to the land of the living. Commanded to fight crime and evil by a glowing light and disembodied voice, he was indisputably the most formidable hero of the Golden Age.

He has been revamped many times, and in the 1990s was revealed to be God’s own Spirit of Vengeance wedded to a human conscience. When Corrigan was finally laid to rest, Hal (Green Lantern) Jordan and murdered Gotham City cop Crispus Allen replaced him as the mitigating conscience of the unstoppable, easily irked force of Divine Retribution…

However, the true start of that radically revitalised career began in the superhero-saturated mid-1960s when, hot on the heels of feverish fan-interest in the alternate world of the Justice Society of America and Earth-2 (where all the WWII heroes retroactively resided), DC began trying out solo revivals of 1940’s characters, as a counterpoint to such wildly successful Silver Age reconfigurations as Flash, Green Lantern, Atom and Hawkman

This sublime and colossal Showcase selection collects and documents the almighty Man of Darkness’ return in the Swinging Sixties, his landmark reinterpretation in the horror-soaked, brutalised 1970s and even finds room for some later appearances before the character was fully de-powered and retrofitted for the post-Crisis on Infinite Earths DC Universe.

As such, this mammoth monochrome tome (624 peril-packed pages!) contains Showcase #60, 61 and 64; The Spectre #1-10; team-up tales from The Brave and the Bold #72, 75, 116, 180 & 199 and DC Comics Presents #29; the lead strips from Adventure Comics #431-440 and one last hurrah from horror-anthology Ghosts #97-99, cumulatively encompassing the end of 1965 to the middle of 1983.

DC had tried a number of Earth-2 team-iterations (Starman/Black Canary – with Wildcat – in The Brave and the Bold #61-62, whilst Showcase #55 & 56 spotlighted Doctor Fate & Hourman with a cameo from the original Green Lantern), but inspirational editor Julie Schwartz and scripter Gardner F. Fox only finally achieved their ambition to launch a Golden Age hero into his own title with the revival of the Ghostly Guardian in Showcase. It was hard going and perhaps ultimately benefited from a growing general public interest in supernatural stories…

After three full length appearances and many guest-shots, The Spectre won his own solo series at the end of 1967, just as the super-hero craze went into a steep decline, but arguably Showcase #60 (January/February 1966) anticipated the rise of supernatural comics by re-introducing Corrigan and his phantom passenger in ‘War That Shook the Universe’ by Earth-2 team supreme Fox & illustrator Murphy Anderson.

This spectacular saga reveals why the Heroic Haunt had vanished two decades previously, leaving the fundamentally human Corrigan to pursue his war against evil on merely mortal terms – until a chance encounter with a psychic investigator frees the spirit buried deep within him.

A diligent search reveals that, 20 years previously, a supernal astral invader broke into the Earth plane and possessed a mortal, but was so inimical to our laws of reality that both it and the Grim Ghost were locked into their meat shells – until now…

Thus began a truly spectre-acular (feel free to groan, but that’s what they called it back then) clash with the devilish Azmodus that spans all creation and blew the minds of us gobsmacked kids…

Issue #61 (March/April) upped the ante when the even-more satanic Shathan the Eternal subsequently insinuates himself into our realm from ‘Beyond the Sinister Barrier’, stealing mortal men’s shadows until he is powerful enough to conquer the physical universe. This time The Spectre treats us to an exploration of the universe’s creation before narrowly defeating the source of all evil…

The Sentinel Spirit re-manifested in Showcase #64 (September/October 1966) for a marginally more mundane but no less thrilling adventure when ‘The Ghost of Ace Chance’ takes up residence in Jim’s body. By this time, it was established that ghosts need a mortal anchor to recharge their ectoplasmic “batteries”, and this unscrupulous crooked gambler is determined to inhabit the best frame available…

The try-out run concluded, the editors sat back and waited for sales figures to dictate the next move. When they proved inconclusive Schwartz orchestrated a concerted publicity campaign to further promote Earth-2’s Ethereal Adventurer.

The Brave and the Bold #72 (June/July 1967) saw the Spectre clash with Earth-1’s Scarlet Speedster in ‘Phantom Flash, Cosmic Traitor’ (by Bob Haney, Carmine Infantino & Charles “Chuck” Cuidera). This sinister saga sees the mortal meteor arcanely transformed into a sinister spirit-force and power-focus for unquiet American aviator Luther Jarvis who returns from his death in 1918 to wreak vengeance on the survivors of his squadron – until the Spectre intervenes…

Due to the vagaries of comicbook scheduling, Brave and the Bold #75 (December 1967/January 1968) appeared at around the same time as The Spectre #1, although the latter had a cover-date of November/December 1967. In the Batman team-up tale – scripted by Haney and drawn by Ross Andru & Mike Esposito – Ghostly Guardian joins Dark Knight to free Gotham City’s Chinatown from ‘The Grasp of Shahn-Zi!’: an ancient oriental sorcerer determined to prolong his reign of terror at the expense of an entire community and through the sacrifice of an innocent child, after which the Astral Avenger finally, simultaneously, debuted in his own title…

The Spectre #1 featured ‘The Sinister Lives of Captain Skull’ by Fox & Anderson, divulging how the botched assassination of American Ambassador Joseph Clanton and an experimental surgical procedure allows one of the diplomat’s earlier incarnations to seize control of his body and, armed with mysterious eldritch energies, run amok on Earth.

These “megacyclic energy” abilities enable the revenant to harm and potentially destroy the Ghostly Guardian and compel the Spectre to pursue the piratical Skull through a line of previous lives until he can find their source and purge the peril from all time and space…

With issue #2 (January/February 1968) artistic iconoclast Neal Adams came aboard for the Fox-scripted mystery ‘Die Spectre – Again’ wherein crooked magician Dirk Rawley accidentally manifests his etheric self and severely tests both Corrigan and his phantom lodger as they seek to end the double-menace’s string of crimes, mundane and magical. At this time, the first inklings of a distinct separation and individual identities began. The two halves of the formerly sole soul of Corrigan were beginning to disagree and even squabble…

Neophyte scripter Mike Friedrich joined Adams for #3’s ‘Menace of the Mystic Mastermind’ wherein pugilistic paragon Wildcat faces the inevitable prospect of age and infirmity even as an inconceivable force from another universe possesses petty thug Sad Jack Dold, turning him into a nigh-unstoppable force of cosmic chaos…

‘Stop that Kid… Before He Wrecks the World’ was written & illustrated by Adams with a similar trans-universal malignity deliberately empowering a young boy as a prelude to its ultimate conquest, whilst #5’s ‘The Spectre Means Death?’ (all Adams again) appears to show the Ghostly Guardian transformed into a pariah and deadly menace to society, until Jim’s investigations uncover the emotion-controlling Psycho Pirate at the root of the Heroic Haunt’s problems…

Despite all the incredible talent and effort lavished upon it, The Spectre simply wasn’t finding a big enough audience. Adams left for straight superhero glory elsewhere and a hint of changing tastes came as veteran illustrator of horror comics Jerry Grandenetti came aboard.

Issue #6 (September/October 1968) saw his eccentric, manic cartooning adding raw wildness to the returning Fox’s moody thriller ‘Pilgrims of Peril!’ Murphy Anderson also re-enlisted, applying a solid ink grounding to the story of a sinister quartet of phantom Puritans who invade the slums of Gateway City, driving out the poor and hopeless as they hunt long-lost arcane treasures. These would allow demon lord Nawor of Giempo access to Earth unless The Spectre can win his unlife or death duel with the trans-dimensional horror…

As the back of issue #7 was dedicated to a solo strip starring Hourman (not included in this collection), The Spectre saga here – by Fox, Grandenetti & Anderson – was a half-length tale which followed the drastic steps necessary to convince the soul of bank-robber Frankie Barron to move on. Since he was killed during a heist, the astral form of aversion therapy used to cure ‘The Ghost That Haunted Money!’ proves not only ectoplasmically effective but outrageously entertaining…

Issue #8 (January/February 1969) was scripted by Steve Skeates and began a last-ditch and obviously desperate attempt to turn The Spectre into something the new wave of anthology horror readers would buy.

As a twisted, time-lost apprentice wizard struggles to return to Earth after murdering his master and stealing cosmic might from the void, on our mundane plane an exhausted Ghostly Guardian neglects his duties and is taken to task by his celestial creator.

As a reminder of his error, the Penitent Phantasm is burdened by a fluctuating weakness – which would change without warning – to keep him honest and earnest. What a moment for the desperate disciple Narkran to return then; determined to secure his elevated god-like existence by securing ‘The Parchment of Power Perilous!’

The Spectre #9 completed the transition, opening with an untitled short from Friedrich (illustrated by Grandenetti & Bill Draut) which sees the Man of Darkness again overstep his bounds by executing a criminal. This prompts Corrigan to refuse the weary wraith the shelter of his reinvigorating form and when the Grim Ghost then assaults his own host form, the Heavenly Voice punishes the spirit by chaining him to the dreadful Journal of Judgment: demanding he atone by investigating the lives inscribed therein in a trial designed to teach him again the value of mercy…

The now anthologised issue continued with ‘Abraca-Doom’ (Dennis J. O’Neil & Bernie Wrightson) as The Spectre attempts to stop a greedy carnival conjurer signing a contract with the Devil, whilst ‘Shadow Show’ – by Mark Hanerfeld & Jack Sparling – details the fate of a cheap mugger who thinks he can outrun the consequences of a capital crime…

The next issue gave up the ghost. The Spectre folded with #10 (May/June 1969), but not before a quartet of tantalising tales by – writer or writers unknown – shows what might have been…

‘Footsteps of Disaster’ with art from Grandenetti & George Roussos, follows a man from cradle to early grave, revealing the true wages of sin, whilst ‘Hit and Run’ (probably drawn by Ralph Reese) proves again that the Spirit of Judgment is not infallible and even human scum might be redeemed…

‘How Much Can a Guy Take?’ (Sparling) offers salvation to a shoeshine boy pushed almost too far by an arrogant mobster before the series closed with a cunning murder mystery involving what appeared to be a killer ventriloquist’s doll in the Grandenetti & Roussos limned ‘Will the Real Killer Please Rise?’

With that the Astral Avenger returned to comicbook limbo for nearly half a decade until changing tastes and another liberalising of the Comics Code saw him arise as lead feature in Adventure Comics #431 (January/February 1974) for a shocking run of macabre, ultra-violent tales from Michael L. Fleisher & Jim Aparo.

‘The Wrath of… The Spectre’ offered a far more stark, unforgiving take on the Sentinel Spirit; reflecting the increasingly violent tone of the times. Here, a gang of murderous thieves slaughter the crew of a security truck and are tracked down by a harsh, uncompromising police lieutenant named Corrigan. When the bandits are exposed, the cop unleashes a horrific green and white apparition from his body which inflicts ghastly punishments that horrendously fit their crimes…

With art continuity (and no, I’m not sure what that means either) from Russell Carley, the draconian fables continue in #432 as in ‘The Anguish of… The Spectre’ assassins murder millionaire Adrian Sterling and Corrigan meets the victim’s daughter Gwen. Although the now-infallible Wrathful Wraith soon exposes and excised the culprits, the dead detective has to reveal his true nature to the grieving daughter. Moreover, Corrigan begins to feel the stirring of impossible, unattainable yearnings…

Adventure #433 exposed ‘The Swami and… The Spectre’ as Gwen seeks spiritual guidance from a ruthless charlatan who promptly pays an appalling price when he finally encounters an actual ghost, whilst in #434 ‘The Nightmare Dummies and… The Spectre’ (with additional pencils by the great Frank Thorne), a plague of department store mannequins run wild in a killing spree at the behest of a crazed artisan who believes in magic – but can’t imagine the cost of his dabbling…

Issue #435 introduces journalist Earl Crawford who tracks the ghastly fallout of the vengeful spirit’s anti-crime campaign as ‘The Man Who Stalked The Spectre!’ Of course, once he sees the ghost in grisly action, Crawford realises the impossibility of publishing this scoop…

Adventure #436 finds Crawford still trying to sell his story as ‘The Gasmen and… The Spectre’ sets the Spectral Slaughterman on the trail of a gang who kill everyone at a car show as a simple demonstration of intent before blackmailing the city. Their gorily inescapable fate only puts Crawford closer to exposing Corrigan, after which, in #437’s ‘The Human Bombs and… The Spectre’ (with pencils from Ernie Chan & Aparo inks) a kidnapper abducts prominent persons – including Gwen – to further a merciless mad scheme of amassing untold wealth… until the Astral Avenger ended the depredations forever…

In #438, ‘The Spectre Haunts the Museum of Fear’ (Chan & Aparo again) sees a crazed taxidermist turning people into unique dioramas until the Grim Ghost intervenes, but the end was in sight again for the Savage Shade. Issue #439’s ‘The Voice that Doomed… The Spectre’ (all Aparo) turns the wheel of death full circle, as the Heavenly Presence who created him allows Corrigan to fully live again so that he can marry Gwen. Sadly, it is only to have the joyous hero succumb to ‘The Second Death of The… Spectre’ (#440, July/August 1975) and tragically resume his never-ending mission…

This milestone serial set a stunning new tone and style for the Ghostly Guardian which has informed each iteration ever since…

From midway through that run, Brave and the Bold #116 provides another continuity-coshing supernatural team-up with Batman – a far less graphically violent struggle against the ‘Grasp of the Killer Cult’ (Haney & Aparo). When Kali-worshipping Thugs from India seemingly target survivors of a WWII American Army Engineer unit, Detective Corrigan and the Dark Knight clash on both the method and motives of the mysterious murderers…

DC Comics Presents #29 (January 1981, by Len Wein, Jim Starlin & Romeo Tanghal) revealed what happened after Supergirl is knocked unconscious during a cataclysmic battle and sent hurtling through dimensions measureless to man. When her cousin tries to follow, the Ghostly Guardian is dispatched to stop the Metropolis Marvel from transgressing ‘Where No Superman Has Gone Before’

By the early 1980s, the horror boom had again exhausted itself and DC’s anthology comics were disappearing. As part of the effort to keep them alive, Ghosts featured a 3-part serial starring “Ghost-Breaker” and inveterate sceptic Dr. Terry 13 who at last encounters ‘The Spectre’ in issue #97 (February 1981, by Paul Kupperberg, Michael R. Adams & Tex Blaisdell), wherein terrorists invade a high society séance and are summarily dispatched by the inhuman poetic justice of the freshly-manifested Astral Avenger…

Now determined to destroy the monstrous revenant vigilante, Dr. 13 returns in #98 as ‘The Haunted House and The Spectre’ finds the Ghost-Breaker interviewing Earl Crawford and subsequently discovering the long-sought killer of his own father. Before 13 can act however, the Spectre appears and steals his justifiable retribution from the aggrieved psychic investigator…

The drama closed in Ghosts #99 as ‘Death… and The Spectre’ (inked by Tony DeZuñiga) sees scientist and spirit locked in one final furious confrontation.

This staggering compendium of supernatural thrillers concludes with two more team-up classics from Brave and the Bold, beginning with ‘The Scepter of the Dragon God’ by Fleisher & Aparo (from #180, November 1980). Although Chinese wizard Wa’an-Zen steals enough mystic artefacts to conquer Earth and destroy The Spectre, he gravely underestimates the skill and bravery of merely mortal Batman, whilst in #199 (June 1983) ‘The Body-napping of Jim Corrigan’ (Mike W. Barr, Andru & Rick Hoberg), finds the ethereal avenger baffled by the abduction and disappearance of his mortal host. Even though he cannot trace his own body, the Spectre knows where the World’s Greatest Detective hangs out…

Ranging from fabulously fantastical to darkly, violently enthralling, these comic masterpieces perfectly encapsulate the way superheroes changed over a brief 20-year span, but remain throughout some of the most beguiling and exciting tales of DC’s near-80 years of existence. If you love comicbooks you’d be crazy to ignore this one…
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