Friends, much like with Marvel Comics the DC comic book universe is naturally filled with all manner of amazing amazing heroes and villains – although I feel that the latter has more than it’s fair share of what I would consider more frightening and supernatural heroes. Case in point is none other than the Spectre, which depending on what iteration you are reading is a vengeful spirit tasked with combating the forces of evil with his supernatural abilities to being the embodiment of the ‘Wrath of God’. While I was first introduced to the character of the Spectre thanks to the wonderful ’80s Who’s Who in the DC Universe – which you can see a little of the artwork for the character’s entry by the late Jim Aparo at the top of this article – the Spectre originally made his appearance in the February 1940 issue of More Fun Comics #52. Co-created by Jerry Siegel and artist Bernard Baily – although apparently I have read online that more than a few people feel that it was solely Siegel who created the supernatural hero.
In this Golden Age incarnation the character was once Police Detective James Brendan Corrigan, a celebrated cop who while en route to his engagement party with his fiance Clarice Winston, is kidnapped by a crime boss known as Gat Benson. Corrigan is murdered by being placed in a barrel that is filled with cement and thrown off a wharf – his spirit is blocked from reaching it’s eternal reward however by an entity known as “The Voice” who informs Corrigan he must return and punish evil doers as the Spectre. Corrigan takes retribution on Benson and manages to rescue his fiance – for a while he continues to work as a Police Detective before eventually becoming a charter member of the Justice Society of America.
The character received an even more frightening boost of power when the Spectre returned after being phased out in’45 with 1966’s Showcase #60 – I am talking about omnipotent levels of power. Which might in fact be why the character after finally getting his own comic book the following year – was cancelled after only ten issues – it was too difficult for writers to come up with something to challenge the Spectre while he wielded such an unlimited amount of power. Having said that though it is perhaps the ’70s version that is one of the most memorable iterations of the character… and most frightening even if his power levels had been lowered significantly – there is also an interesting reason for the Spectre’s return to comics as was stated by Les Daniels in DC Comics: Sixty Years of the World’s Favorite Comic Book Heroes:
“…a new lease on life after editor Joe Orlando was mugged and decided the world needed a really relentless super hero. The character came back with a vengeance … and quickly became a cause of controversy. Orlando plotted the stories with writer Michael Fleisher, and they emphasized the gruesome fates of criminals who ran afoul of the Spectre. The Comics Code had recently been liberalized, but this series pushed its restrictions to the limit, often by turning evildoers into inanimate objects and then thoroughly demolishing them. Jim Aparo’s art showed criminals being transformed into everything from broken glass to melting candles, but Fleisher was quick to point out that many of his most bizarre plot devices were lifted from stories published decades earlier.”
This version of the Spectre was wonderfully represented in one of the 5 animated DC Showcase shorts – with Gary Cole doing double duty as both the voice of Jim Corrigan and his avenging alter-ego. Here is a clip from that very short which also has the added bonus of being presented in a sort of a grindhouse fashion in terms of the ‘picture quality’.
All of that frightening power the character once wielded returned beginning with The Spectre #1 in 1992 – thanks to writer John Ostrander (Suicide Squad) the character was given a hefty amount of backstory in addition to meting out justice on a grander scale. Not only do we learn that Coririgan is one of many Human souls who have been bonded with The Spectre but the entity has it’s origins during the War in Heaven. The Wikipedia entry for the character points out a pretty fine example of the character’s change from his earlier appearances – when the Spectre learns of a man who is innocent of the crime he has been charged of in New York… he warns that if the death sentence isn’t altered he will unleash his wrath and wipe out all of the people living in the state.
Can you imagine how frightening living in a World where a ‘hero’ who had that ability was popping up and making such demands? I mean even with other heroes like Superman or magic-wielding do-gooders such as Dr. Fate or Zataana… what could be done to stop him? Which as the series explains is why a Human host is needed – someone to temper the vengeful nature of The Spectre – although that doesn’t always work. As is demonstrated in the 13th issue of that series, originally published in December of ’93 – when the Spectre enraged by the violence of the fictional country of Vlatava destroys every Man, Woman, and Child and beast in that country.
My collection of The Spectre comics is made up mostly of the Ostrander series – which ran for five years with 62 issues in total, and I am happy to say that DC Universe just so happens to have the complete run if you feel like reading it. Over the years the character of the Spectre has received different hosts – from Hal Jordan, the former Green Lantern, to a fallen Gotham City Police Officer named Crispus Allen. With the New 52 event as I understand it – a reboot of the DC comic book universe from 2011 – Jim Corrigan is now once more the reanimated vessel housing the Spectre.
I can’t help but wonder what the future holds for the Spectre – with DC Universe producing live action series such as The Doom Patrol and Teen Titans as well as the excellent new Stargirl series… perhaps now is the time for the character to get either the big screen or TV show treatment?