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…
© 1966, 1967, 1968, 1969, 1974, 1975, 1981, 1983, 2012 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

The Spectre volume 1: Crimes and Judgements


By John Ostrander & Tom Mandrake (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-4718-8

The Spectre is one of the oldest characters in DC’s vast stable, created by Jerry Siegel & Bernard Baily in 1940 for More Fun Comics #52 and 53, but just like Siegel’s other iconic co-creation, he soon began to suffer from a basic design flaw: he was just too darn powerful. In fact, unlike Superman, he’s already dead, so he can’t really be dramatically imperilled by anything.

Starting out as a virtually omnipotent ghost and single-minded fighter of evil, the Sinister Spirit ultimately resolved – over various returns and refits spanning more than five decades – into a succession of tormented souls bound to the merciless personification of the biblical Wrath of God. That last revelation came about thanks to a piece of inspired rethinking in a revival from the early 1990s.

The character had been rebooted and resurrected many times, but none better than this superbly incisive iteration, wherein scripter John Ostrander shifted the narrative spotlight onto the relative Tabula Rasa that was Jim Corrigan, a depression era cop whose brutal murder unleashed The Spectre into the burgeoning world of costumed heroes.

His story was a genuinely gruesome one: on the eve of his wedding police detective Corrigan was captured by the Gat Benson mob, shoved in a barrel of cement and pitched off a pier. Called back to the land of the living, he was commanded by a glowing light and disembodied voice to “confront Evil”.

Over the following decade in his subsequent dark crusade fighting crime and crushing demonic monsters, the Avenging Astral Angel was indisputably the most formidable hero of the Golden Age.

For most of the Spectre’s time on Earth, Corrigan had been its human face: a way for readers to glimpse the softer side of a relentless punisher of misdeeds. Ostrander’s take on the character delved deeper. For nearly five years he and artistic collaborator Tom Mandrake lent a tragic, barbaric humanity to a champion who was simply too big and too strong for periodical comics.

After far too long a wait DC recently began releasing compilations of Mandrake’s stellar run. Initial offering Crime and Judgements gathers issues #1-12 of The Spectre (volume 3 from December 1992 to November 1993) in a deliriously dark trade paperback of macabre mood and shocking suspense in which Corrigan and the Spectre finally learned the truth about their relationship…

It begins as Corrigan visits the bedside of dying thug Louis Snipe in ‘Crimes of Violence’. Fifty years previously this gunsel was one of the gang who murdered Corrigan, but before their potentially final exchange can progress they are interrupted by social worker Amy Beitermann, who gets a strange vibe off the ex-policeman…

Moments later she inadvertently witnesses his uncanny secret in action as the Spectre emerges to deliver gory justice to gangbangers perpetrating a drive-by shooting on the steps of the hospital…

She keeps the unbelievable details of the resultant bloodbath from Police Inspector Nate Kane. She knows the older man has a crush on her, and isn’t above using his doting interest to ply him with questions about a former cop named Corrigan…

Later, as the Spectre is concluding his business with Snipe, somewhere in the city, a blood-spilling serial killer takes his latest victim and Corrigan once more questions the point of his existence.

Half a century of punishing the guilty and nothing has changed…

‘Crimes of Passion’ opens with the Ghostly Guardian drawn to a house where a repeating phantom constantly relives her own murder. When she refuses to disclose any details of the crime or perpetrator Spectre reacts with typical furious overkill…

Elsewhere Amy is entering the storefront of fortune teller Madame Xanadu. Her enquiries have traced private eye Corrigan to an office in the building, but an abrupt meeting with the sultry seer proves more than she can handle after the sorceress summarily demands she find Corrigan for her…

The driven spirit they’re pursuing has been just as inquisitive. Unfortunately his questioning of the unquiet ghost’s husband, lover and sister leads to nothing but death and damnation for all the wrong people…

And at the docks Nate Kane inspects the site of the latest atrocity attributed to “the Reaver” but finds himself unexpectedly encumbered with two bodies: one of them encased in cement and in a fifty year old barrel…

‘Crimes and Punishments’ finds Amy visiting Kane at the Precinct house. Poking around, she is aghast to find a concrete corpse and beyond words when she sees it has Jim Corrigan’s agonised face…

Across town commercial artist Danny Geller is thinking about passion and the kind of woman he likes, but the Spectre is busy, or at least Corrigan is.

Having caused the suicide of an innocent, the human half of the Astral Amalgamation is in need of confession and seeks out Amy. He can’t understand why, but Jim is inexplicably drawn to her…

It’s exactly the wrong moment for a street gang to jump them and the Spectre’s revolting response-in-kind utterly disgusts the stunned social worker. When she questions why such violence is necessary, Spectre mystically shows her Corrigan’s savage childhood with an abusive, travelling-preacher father and later how the cop he became met his eventual end.

Although that panorama is too awful to bear, Amy takes some solace in seeing how happy Jim once was with his fiancée Clarice Winston

The revelatory visions conclude with ‘Crime and Judgment’ as Corrigan re-experiences his meeting with God’s Will in Limbo. Amy intangibly observes his mission laid out again and realises the newly dead man missed something the first time: the Voice actually saying “Confront Evil. Confront and Comprehend”…

Flashing back in time to the moment the Spectre began, Amy watches as Clarice is killed and how Corrigan dragged her back from Heaven. His beloved lived again… but she shouldn’t have…

Challenging the Spectre only causes him to turn his excoriating gaze upon Amy. He probes and exposes her greatest guilt. Once she was married to an unfaithful man. When she caught her spouse in his lustful betrayals she spitefully reacted just like him and unknowingly passed on the killer contagion he had afflicted her with to many of her one-night partners.

In her own eyes she is every inch a killer too…

However when the aroused Spectre seeks to administer judgement, Corrigan rises to resist his other half and, after a tremendous struggle, a deal is struck…

A new story arc begins with a road accident that leaves a kidnapper dead before the missing child can be found. With no hope remaining, Amy asks Jim for specialised help and the detective follows the abductor’s soul to its reward in The Pit. Ignoring his own justly-suffering father, Corrigan probes deeper into the Abode of the Damned and meets again Shathan the Eternal. Their epic battle triggers ‘A Rage in Hell’ before the Ghostly Guardian gets what he needs and the child is saved…

The Devil landed a last telling blow, however, citing the legend of how a demonic Prince of the Damned escaped Hell. This Spirit of Wrath volubly and piously repented and was bound to a human. Together they roam Earth, doing Heaven’s work. The story deeply unsettles the Spectre…

With uncomfortable suspicions of infernal taint destabilising his usually implacable composure, the Ghostly Guardian seeks out Amy. Although her condition has forced her to avoid intimacy with guys like poor Nate, she feels comfortable in the arms of a dead man, and takes the opportunity to talk Jim into trying to ameliorate his alter ego’s excesses. The inconclusive initial results are seen as Spectre goes on a rampage against a succession of callous casual murderers and greedy gangbangers in ‘The Bleeding Gun’.

Greater forces are in play, however. Xanadu, urgently seeking her ghost lodger, unleashes magic forces against uncooperative Amy even as Danny Geller makes another killing. Every day he’s getting closer to the one woman he really wants…

With Jim and Amy trapped in a fantastic realm, ‘Vision and Power’ reveals that whilst Xanadu was sheltering Corrigan after his latest resurrection, she began tapping tiny slivers of the Spectre’s mystic energies and has become addicted. Taunting her victims by claiming this magic could even cure Amy – something the Spectre would never allow – the seer then steals all that arcane might but is promptly overwhelmed by the force of the mission underpinning the power…

With Xanadu on a brutally bloody rampage of distorted judgment and punishment, Corrigan – free and free-thinking for the first time in decades – has no choice but to convince her to surrender the infinite force before picking up his burden once again…

The second act of Shathan’s vengeance begins when his diabolical lieutenant Azmodus – carried back to Earth in the wrathful Spectre’s wake – begins possessing mortals and sowing destruction. Nate, meanwhile, discovers all the Reaver’s victims were HIV-positive like Amy and gets an uncanny inkling of what’s really going on when he finally realises the ex-cop she was asking about and the concrete corpse both have the same face as the creepy new guy she’s been seeing…

When he confronts them his ‘Righteous Anger’ leads to a shattering series of further revelations…

Kane learns ‘No Good Deed Goes Unpunished’ as news of the HIV angle goes public and he’s made the police’s scapegoat for their failure to catch the Reaver. As the Spectre is dragged from Amy’s side when body-hopping Azmodus begins a campaign of spectacular slaughter, the Astral Avenger is trapped by his own zealousness within the demon whilst it continues its appalling kill-spree…

Geller too has been busy and although his body-count is far less impressive it has a single purpose. All this time he’s been hunting the harlot who infected him with a vile death-sentence and now he’s found her. The ‘Unforgivable Acts’ by all the players then continue with the restored Xanadu pondering Amy’s destiny, well aware that not even the Spectre is mighty enough to foil Fate.

The Supernal Spirit has other ideas however and follows the killer’s latest victim to the Gates of Heaven, determined to glean the Reaver’s identity. Unfortunately Archangel Michael won’t permit that and the Spectre finally finds a foe he cannot defeat…

‘The Deepest Cut’ begins the end as cashiered Nate Kane – who has pluckily stationed himself outside Amy’s home – also falls to the Reaver, but the inevitable attack is delayed once Azmodus arrives.

The devil has been gathering power with each possession and bloodbath but now he has found the perfect host in Danny Geller. Drawing the Spectre into the Greater Realms for a catastrophic final confrontation, Azmodus leaves Danny enough autonomy to fulfil his dark dream and deal Amy her ‘Final Fate’

The physical and ethereal demons have both made the same mistake, however: underestimating the victim’s will to live, Madame Xanadu’s desire to atone and Nate’s dying wish to save the woman he loves…

And as always the Spectre will be there at the end to scourge the truly guilty…

With a stunning cover gallery by Mandrake, Glen Fabry, Sandy Plunkett, Charles Vess, Garry Leach, Dan Brereton, Matt Wagner, Michael Wm. Kaluta, Greg Hildebrandt & Bryn Barnard, this tome offers a powerful and deviously convoluted tale that goes beyond the genre’s usual cause-&-effect, calamity-&-rescue mode to examine the nature of Love and Hate and Good and Evil.

Powerful, scary and often shocking, the intricate developing relationships and interactions all compel The Spectre’s mortal aspect to confront the traumas of his long-suppressed childhood as he relives his own death and the ghastly repercussions of his return.

With intense, brooding art from Mandrake, this incarnation of the character was by far the most accessible and successful and if it had launched a year or so later might well have been a star of the budding Vertigo imprint, but even as a spooky of the mainstream DC Universe it stood alone in its maturity and complexity.

This is a book no lover of grown-up super-sagas can afford to miss.
© 1992, 1993, 2014 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Crisis on Multiple Earths: the Team-Ups volume 2


By John Broome, Gardner Fox, Mike Friedrich, Neal Adams, Murphy Anderson, Gil Kane, Carmine Infantino & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-1228-5

Super-Editor Julius Schwartz ushered in the Silver Age of American Comics with his Showcase successes Flash, Adam Strange and Green Lantern, directly leading to the Justice League of America which in turn inspired Fantastic Four and the whole Marvel Empire and changed the way comics were made and read…

Whereas the 1940s were about magic and macho, the Silver Age polished everything with a thick veneer of SCIENCE and a wave of implausible rationalistic concepts quickly filtered into the dawning mass-consciousness of a generation of baby-boomer kids.

The most intriguing and rewarding was, of course, the notion of parallel worlds…

It all began, naturally enough, in The Flash, flagship title of the Silver Age Revolution. After ushering in the triumphant return of the costumed superhero concept, the Crimson Comet, with key writers Gardner Fox and John Broome at the reins, set an unbelievably high standard for superhero adventure in sharp, witty tales of technology and imagination, illustrated with captivating style and clean simplicity by Carmine Infantino.

Fox didn’t write many Flash scripts at this time, but those few he did were all dynamite; none more so than the full-length epic which literally changed the scope of American comics forever.

‘Flash of Two Worlds’ (Flash #123, September 1961) introduced the theory of alternate Earths to the continuity which grew by careful extension into a multiversal structure comprising Infinite Earths. Once established as a cornerstone of a newly integrated DCU through a wealth of team-ups and escalating succession of cosmos-shaking crossover sagas, a glorious pattern was set which would, after joyous decades, eventually culminate in a spectacular Crisis on Infinite Earths

During a benefit gig Flash (police scientist Barry Allen) accidentally slips into another dimension where he finds the comic-book hero upon whom he based his own superhero identity actually exists. Every adventure he had absorbed as an eager child was grim reality to Jay Garrick and his comrades on the controversially designated “Earth-2”. Locating his idol, Barry convinced the elder to come out of retirement just as three Golden Age villains were making their own wicked comeback…

The floodgates were opened, as over the months that followed many Earth-1 stalwarts met their counterparts either in annual collaborations in the pages of Justice League of America or in their own series. Schwartz even had a game go at reviving a cadre of the older titans in their own titles. Public approval was decidedly vocal and he used DC’s try-out magazines to take the next step: stories set on Earth-2 exclusively featuring Golden Age characters.

Showcase #55 and 56 saw Doctor Fate and Hourman as a dynamic duo battling Solomon Grundy and the Psycho-Pirate and, still searching for an concept that would support its own series, Schwartz, Fox and Murphy Anderson debuted the team of Starman and Black Canary in The Brave and the Bold #61 (September-October 1965); the first of two stunning sagas which somehow led to nothing…

All those stories can be found in the previous edition (Crisis on Multiple Earths: the Team-Ups volume 1) whilst this second splendid collection – chronologically re-presenting The Atom #29 & 36, Flash #170 & 173, Green Lantern #45 & 52 and The Spectre #3 , cumulatively spanning October/November 1965 to April/May 1968 – opens with Brave & Bold #62 and a second Starman/Black Canary case wherein the resurgent champions ferociously face off against husband-and-wife criminals Huntress and Sportsmaster who had been stalking superheroes for kicks and profit. By the time Feline Fury Wildcat became their victim our heroes were on the case and ready for anything…

This compelling thriller was originally augmented by a text feature biography of the original Starman and that is reprinted here before Earth-2 Emerald Gladiator Alan Scott reunites with “our” Hal Jordan (Green Lantern #45, June 1966, by Broome, Gil Kane & Sid Greene) to thwart ‘Prince Peril’s Power Play’ as Scott’s comedy foil Doiby Dickles was romanced by an alien princess. The only fly in their ointment was a gigantic and ambitious space warrior who needed her to cement his own plans for conquest, but judicious use of green energies soon taught him that nobody likes a pushy tyrant…

Earth-2’s Tiny Titan was Al Pratt, a short man with super-strength, whilst we had size changing physicist Ray Palmer. When they met in Atom #27 (February/March 1967, by Fox, Kane & Greene) it was for an all-out cataclysmic clash between the Mighty Mites and one of the most dangerous villains of DC’s Golden Age in ‘The Thinker’s Earth-Shaking Robberies!’

With Green Lantern #52 (Broome & Kane, April 1967) Alan Scott and Doiby popped over from Earth-2 to aid Hal against the scurrilous return of his arch nemesis Sinestro in camp-crazed and frankly rather peculiar fight-frenzied fist-fest ‘Our Mastermind, the Car!’ after which a brace of Scarlet Speedsters at long last reunited in Flash #170 to face the ‘The See-Nothing Spells of Abra Kadabra!’ (May 1967 by Broome, Infantino & Greene) which found the Vizier of Velocity hexed by the cunning conjuror and rendered unable to detect the villain’s actions or presence.

Sadly for the sinister spellbinder, Jay Garrick was visiting and called on the services of JSA pals Doctors Fate and Mid-Nite to counteract the wicked wizard’s wiles…

Promptly following, Flash #173 (September 1967 by Broome, Infantino & Greene again) featured a titanic team-up as Barry, Wally “Kid Flash” West and Jay were sequentially shanghaied to another galaxy as putative prey for alien hunter Golden Man in ‘Doomward Flight of the Flashes!’

However, the sneaky script slowly revealed devilish layers of intrigue and his Andromedan super-safari concealed a far more arcane purpose for the three speedy pawns, before the wayward wanderers finally fought free and found their way home again…

Eventually Schwartz finally achieved the ambition of launching a Golden Age hero into his own title; sadly just as the superhero bubble was bursting and supernatural stories were again on the rise…

After three Showcase appearances and many guest-shots, The Spectre won his own book at the end of 1967. From #3 (March/April 1968) comes this all Earth-2 team-up by neophyte scripter Mike Friedrich and artistic iconoclast Neal Adams which exposed the ‘Menace of the Mystic Mastermind’ wherein pugilistic paragon Wildcat confronted head-on the inevitable prospect of age and infirmity even as an inconceivable force from another universe possessed petty thug Sad Jack Dold and turned him into a nigh-unstoppable force of cosmic chaos…

This fabulous peek into forgotten worlds and times concludes with one of the very best team-up tales of the Silver Age as the Earth-2 Atom returns in ‘Duel Between the Dual Atoms’ (April/May 1968, by Fox, Kane & Greene) wherein a radiation plague plays hob with victim’s ages on both worlds simultaneously. Sadly the deadly situation also turns normally hyper-rational Ray Palmer into an enraged maniac and almost more than his aging counterpart can handle…

Still irresistible and compellingly beautiful after all these years, the stories collected here shaped the American comics industry for decades and are still influencing not only today’s funnybooks but also the wave animated shows, movies and TV series which grew from them. These are tales and this is a book you simply must have.

© 1965-1968, 2007 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Showcase Presents the Spectre volume 1


By Gardner F. Fox, Bob Haney, Michael L. Fleisher, Paul Kupperberg, Murphy Anderson, Neal Adams, Jim Aparo & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-3417-1

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

Unlike Superman however, this 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 ghost, the Grim Ghost evolved, over various returns, 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 was callously executed by gangsters before being called back to the land of the living. Ordered 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 and revived many times, and in the 1990s was revealed to be God’s Spirit of Vengeance wedded to a human conscience. When Corrigan was finally laid to rest, Hal (Green Lantern) Jordan and latterly murdered Gotham City cop Crispus Allen replaced him as the mitigating conscience of the force of Divine Retribution…

However the true start of that radically revised and 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 opposed to their wildly successful Silver Age reconfigurations such as Flash, Green Lantern, Atom and Hawkman

This sublime and colossal Showcase selection collects and documents the 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, encompassing the end of 1965 to the middle of 1983.

As previously mentioned, DC tried out a number of Earth-2 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 Schwartz and 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 – but it was hard going and perhaps 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 maybe 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 Gardner F. Fox & Murphy Anderson.

This spectacular saga revealed that 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 freed the ghost buried within him.

A diligent search revealed that, twenty years previously, a supernal astral invader had broken 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 (don’t groan – that’s what they called it back then) clash with the devilish Azmodus that spanned 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 insinuated himself into our realm from ‘Beyond the Sinister Barrier’, stealing mortal men’s shadows until he was powerful enough to conquer the physical universe. This time The Spectre treated us to an exploration of the universe’s creation before narrowly defeating the source of all evil…

The Sentinel Spirit returned in Showcase #64 (September/October 1966) for a marginally more mundane but no less thrilling adventure when ‘The Ghost of Ace Chance’ took up residence in Jim’s body. By this time it was established that ghosts needed a mortal anchor to recharge their ectoplasmic “batteries”, and the unscrupulous crooked gambler was 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 saw the mortal meteor transformed into a sinister spirit-force and power-focus for unquiet American aviator Luther Jarvis who returned from death in 1918 to wreak vengeance on the survivors of his squadron – until the Spectre intervened…

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 title – scripted by Haney and drawn by Ross Andru & Mike Esposito – the Ghostly Guardian joined the 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, and divulged how the botched assassination of American Ambassador Joseph Clanton and an experimental surgical procedure allowed one of the diplomat’s earlier incarnations to take over his body and, armed with mysterious eldritch energies, run amok on Earth.

Those “megacyclic energy” abilities enabled the revenant to harm and potentially destroy the Ghostly Guardian and compelled the Spectre to pursue the piratical Skull through a line of previous lives until he could 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 manifested his etheric self and severely tested both Corrigan and his phantom partner as they sought 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…

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

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

Despite all the incredible talent and effort lavished upon it, The Spectre simply wasn’t finding a big enough audience. Adams departed 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!’ and Murphy Anderson also re-enlisted to apply a solid ink grounding to the story of a sinister invasion by a quartet of phantom Puritans who invaded the slums of Gateway City, driving out the poor and hopeless as they sought lost arcane treasures. These would allow demon lord Nawor of Giempo access to Earth unless The Spectre could 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!’ proved to be 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 struggled to return to Earth after murdering his master and stealing cosmic might from the void, on the mundane plane an exhausted Ghostly Guardian neglected his duties and was taken to task by his celestial creator.

As a reminder of his error, Penitent Phantasm was 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 and opened with an untitled short from Friedrich (illustrated by Grandenetti & Bill Draut) which saw the Man of Darkness again overstep his bounds by executing a criminal. This prompted Corrigan to refuse the weary wraith the shelter of his reinvigorating form and, when the Grim Ghost then assaulted his own host form, the Heavenly Voice punished 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 attempted to stop a greedy carnival conjurer from signing a contract with the Devil, whilst ‘Shadow Show’ by Mark Hanerfeld & Jack Sparling detailed the fate of a cheap mugger who thought he could outrun the consequences of a capital crime…

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

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

‘How Much Can a Guy Take?’ (Sparling) offered salvation to a shoeshine boy pushed almost too far by an arrogant mobster, and the series closed with a cunning murder mystery involving what appeared to be a killer ventriloquists doll in the Grandenetti & George Roussos illustrated ‘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 return as the lead feature in Adventure Comics #431 (January/February 1974) in a shocking run of macabre, ultra-violent tales from Michael L. Fleisher & Jim Aparo.

‘The Wrath of… The Spectre’ offered a far more stark and unforgiving take on the Spirit Sentinel and reflected the increasingly violent tone of the times as a gang of murderous thieves slaughtered the crew of a security truck and were tracked down by a harsh, uncompromising police lieutenant named Corrigan.

When the bandits were exposed, the cop unleashed a horrific green and white apparition from his body which inflicted ghastly punishments that horrendously fitted their crimes…

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

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

Issue #435 introduced journalist Earl Crawford who tracked the ghastly fallout of the vengeful spirit’s anti-crime campaign and became ‘The Man Who Stalked The Spectre!’ Of course once he saw the ghost in grisly action Crawford realised the impossibility of publishing this scoop…

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

In #438 ‘The Spectre Haunts the Museum of Fear’ (Chan & Aparo again) saw a crazed taxidermist turning people into unique dioramas until the Grim Ghost intervened, but the end was in sight again for the Savage Shade and #439’s ‘The Voice that Doomed… The Spectre’ (all Aparo) turned the wheel of death full circle, as the Heavenly Presence who created him allowed Corrigan to fully live again so that he could marry Gwen.

Sadly it was only to have the joyous hero succumb to ‘The Second Death of The… Spectre’ (#440, July/August 1975) and tragically resume his endless 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 provided another continuity-crunching supernatural team-up with Batman in a far less graphically violent struggle against the ‘Grasp of the Killer Cult’ (Haney & Aparo). When Kali-worshipping Thugs from India seemingly targeted survivors of a WWII American Army Engineer unit, Detective Corrigan and the Dark Knight clashed 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 was knocked unconscious after a cataclysmic battle and sent hurtling through dimensions measureless to man. When her cousin tried to follow, the Ghostly Guardian was dispatched to stop the Metropolis Marvel from transgressing ‘Where No Superman Has Gone Before’

By the early 1980s the horror boom had 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 encountered ‘The Spectre’ in issue #97 (February 1981, by Paul Kupperberg, Michael R. Adams & Tex Blaisdell), where terrorists invaded a high society séance and were summarily dispatched by the inhuman poetic justice of the Astral Avenger…

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

The drama closed in Ghosts #99 as ‘Death… and The Spectre’ (Kupperberg, Michael R. Adams & Tony DeZuniga) found the scientist and the 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 stole enough mystic artefacts to conquer the world and destroy the Spectre, he foolishly underestimated the skill and bravery of the merely mortal Batman, whilst #199 (June 1983) ‘The Body-napping of Jim Corrigan’, by Mike W. Barr, Ross Andru & Rick Hoberg, found the ethereal avenger baffled by the abduction and disappearance of his mortal host.

Even though he could not trace his own body, the Spectre did know where the World’s Greatest Detective hung out…

Ranging from fabulously fantastical to darkly – violently – enthralling, these comic masterpieces perfectly encapsulate the way superheroes changed over a brief twenty 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…
© 1966, 1967, 1968, 1969, 1974, 1975, 1981, 1983, 2012 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved

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.

THE SPECTRE: TALES OF THE UNEXPECTED


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.

The Spectre: Crimes and Punishment

The Spectre: Crimes and Punishment

By John Ostrander & Tom Mandrake (DC Comics)
ISBN: 1-56389-127-1

The Spectre is one of the oldest characters in DC’s vast stable of characters, created by Jerry Siegel and Bernard Baily in 1940 for More Fun Comics #52 and 53. And just like Siegel’s other iconic creation, he suffers from a basic design flaw: he’s just too darn powerful. But, unlike Superman, he’s already dead, so he can’t really be dramatically imperilled. Starting as a virtually omnipotent ghost, he evolved, over various returns and refits into a tormented soul bonded to the incarnation of the biblical Wrath of God.

With his superb version from the early 1990s, John Ostrander shifted the narrative onto the Tabula Rasa that was Jim Corrigan, a depression era cop whose brutal murder released The Spectre into the world of costumed heroes. This take on the character ran for nearly five years and lent a tragic, barbaric humanity to a hero who was simply too big and too strong for periodical comics.

Collected here is the first four-part story-arc wherein the troubled and Earth-bound Corrigan meets the vulnerable Amy Beitermann, a social worker who is the target of a serial killer – and somehow a living link to the detective’s own murder fifty years ago.

Powerful and often shocking, the developing relationship forces The Spectre’s mortal aspect to confront the traumas of his long suppressed childhood as he relives his own death and the ghastly repercussions of his return. With intense, brooding art by long-time collaborator Tom Mandrake, this incarnation of the character was by far the most accessible – and successful. If it had launched a year or so later and it might well have been a star of the budding Vertigo imprint.

The masterful interpretation seems largely forgotten these days but hopefully with DC trawling its back catalogue for worthy book-fodder this tale – and the issues that followed it – might make a speedy reappearance on book store shelves. Let’s hope so…

© 1992, 1993 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.