The Spectre is one of DC Comics oldest, most powerful characters. He’s the Wrath of God incarnate and has near-infinite power to deliver holy judgment to those deserving of it. By early 1940, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster’s Superman had become a multimedia sensation, with three comic books titles showcasing his epic exploits and further adventures, newspaper strips seven days a week and a soon-to-be-smash hit radio show in the works, an animation masterpiece by the Fleischer Studios on the horizon and yet, despite this humongous success, Jerry Siegel was NOT resting on his laurels. Nope!!! In fact, Siegel was about to launch his second most-famous co-creation: The Spectre. The Spectre, created by Superman co-creator/writer Jerry Siegel and artist Bernard Baily, first appeared in More Fun Comics #52, cover date February 1940. It had to be an interesting collaboration between the writer and the artist. As The Spectre’s adventures began in More Fun Comics #52, things in the dark become interesting. “No one suspects that Jim Corrigan is in reality the earthbound Spectre, whose mission is to rid the world of crime.” The Spectre: A superhero ghost who can accomplish anything he wants, up to and including murder, as long as his motives lie within the confines of American “Justice”, rather than the restricted sense of regular American “law”. Whether you know it or not, The Spectre does not adhere to our mortal system of democratic rules. No way. He judges from a higher authority. Guess what? I’ll admit it. I’m a sucker for this kind of stuff. Yup, it’s true. I dig it, man.
Talk about the ultimate fantasy character. I mean, what would you do, if in fact, you could do anything? Absolutely anything. Anything to the bad guys. You can make bullies into the tears that they gave others. You could turn gang members blocking your safe passage home into tasty hamburgers and feed them to hungry dogs. You could turn the local child molester into a living piece of sidewalk that will be forever trampled on and run over by freewheeling children. You could shove a chainsaw right up the ass of those that chose to oppress you so they wouldn’t do it again. You could do a lot things, but I think you get the point. You work with what you got. However, the comic book world has certain limitations and specifically as an art form marketed to kids in 1940, it damn well should have had boundaries to its presentation. The Spectre was forging a new medium in the land of superheroes. Now, despite what many may claim, you can’t just grow giant-size and crush somebody inside your fist. Oh, wait a minute. Yes, YOU can.
If you’re The Spectre and you’re getting rid of the “bad guys”, you can…and he DID!!!! In More Fun Comics #56 (with Dr. Fate on the cover) a couple of gangster goons run Jim Corrigan off the road with the intent to shoot him when he gets out of his car. Yet, emerging from the vehicle comes The Spectre!!!! The men jump into their comic book yellow car and try to escape, but The Spectre grows into a giant green-costumed ghost, larger and larger and larger and larger and larger—until the getaway vehicle appears no bigger than a child’s toy. He picks up the little car. The men inside say (via world balloon) “Mercy—please spare us!!!” “Why?” says The Spectre. “Cold-blooded killers deserve but one fate!!!!” The next panel: The Spectre’s closed fist. The caption above reads: “As The Spectre’s huge fist contracts, the car and its occupants are crushed to a pulp”. Pulp is right, classic pulp era comic book storytelling and I loved reading every moment of the nefarious villain’s ghastly demise. I loved watching it happen. That’s just fantastic stuff and frankly, I don’t mind my drinking buddies reading that sort of thing at all. Bad guys getting crushed in the end. Okie-dokie. Works for me!!! Again, talk about the ultimate fantasy character.
After all, what else would you expect from the co-creator of Superman, Jerry Siegel? Exactly!!! Only the best!!!! With Jerry Siegel flexing the same muscles that made one of he and Joe Shuster’s first creations, Dr. Occult, such a hit, The Spectre debuted in More Fun Comics #52 (February 1940), with the wicked adventures illustrated by Bernard Baily. Now, why Baily and not Joe Shuster? The answer is because Shuster was accomplishing so many Superman projects for National Periodical Publications (today DC Comics) and the company did not want him to work on anything else. Only Superman related material. Shockingly enough, The Spectre told the haunting tale of Jim Corrigan, a young policeman gunned down in the line of duty by ruthless gangsters and vicious mobsters. His soul is then called by “The Voice” (a not-so-vague analogue for God) to remain on Earth and battle crime, intolerance, terrorism and injustice. The ghostly Spectre, possessing a vast array of cosmic and mystical powers, emerges, seeking vengeance on Corrigan’s murderers, as well as other nasty criminals and mystic threats.
The tale starts off feeling oddly sophisticated, almost as though we’re watching a movie. It doesn’t take long before it starts to feel more like a Golden Age comic, but it never gets inane, feather-brained or goofy and it’s taut and no-nonsense all the way through. In any case, it’s good to see Det. Corrigan as The Spectre dishing out some Wrath of God stuff to the senseless criminals of this world and beginning his career as he means to go on. Somehow, I’d assumed The Spectre would have enough power to magic-up a fancy costume from thin air. I guess not. Yet, there is a wondrous potency in seeing him first discovering his powers and cutting his ties with his dear friends and loved ones before vowing to strike out alone against the hideous forces of evil. The Spectre walks our world alone. It’s how the character operates. The way I look at it, you are left in no doubt that this is a character who makes the dark, brooding, angst-ridden Batman look as silly as Plastic Man, Ambush Bug or even Bouncing Boy. Yeah, he’s terrifying, folks!!!! Obviously, right from the beginning, there’s the question of how you can weave tales of drama and tension around a character who can do anything he wants to. Speaking of Jerry Siegel, the same could be said for the mighty Superman. Still, the tale makes it clear that the idea of The Spectre is an eerie concept, in more ways than one. The Spectre’s stories originally were quite dismal, dark and moody, even by Golden Age standards. Though they became increasingly lighter in tone following the introduction of Percival Popp: The Super-cop. A bumbling comic-relief sidekick character in More Fun Comics #74 (December 1941). Was a sidekick necessary? Remember, just about everybody in comics back in those days had a partner or a sidekick in some nature. Batman fought crime in Gotham City with Robin. Captain America had Bucky. Wonder Woman would sometimes receive an assist from Wonder Girl. The Spirit occasionally works alongside Ebony White. Superman’s pal is Jimmy Olsen. Green Arrow accomplishes crime-fighting tactics with Speedy. Believe it or not, the list of superhero sidekicks is endless!!!! Like with Red, White and Blue, another one of Jerry Siegel’s creations, the character’s popularity was high. In addition to More Fun Comics, the character was featured in solo adventures in the first two issues All-Star Comics and continued to make regular appearances as part of the Justice Society of America, beginning with issue #3. Siegel’s final Spectre story came in late 1942. Despite his absence, however, the character continued to be a staple of More Fun Comics and alongside the Justice Society, All-Star Comics until late 1944. The Spectre’s final Golden Age appearance came in More Fun Comics #101. Coincidentally, the same issue that featured the debut of another Siegel and Shuster creation, Superboy!!!! Then, without warning, The Spectre magically vanished for more than two decades before being revived by Gardner Fox and Murphy Anderson, deep within the pages of Showcase and Justice League of America in 1966.
When you take a moment to think about it, 1966 was a great year for superheroes and comics. It was a stupendous time when imaginations ran wild, not just in the pages of comics, but also within other mediums, even in places where you would never see comics or superheroes ever mentioned…and yet they were. Bill Finger and Bob Kane’s Batman was a colossal hit on television as a campy version of The Dark Knight and The Boy Wonder. The Man of Steel of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster was a successful short-lived Broadway Musical and a Saturday morning cartoon sensation, along with Superman’s Marvel Comics friends, like Captain America, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man, The Mighty Thor and The Sub-Mariner. Reruns of the classic and memorable “Adventures of Superman” television show with George Reeves became available for the first time. The return of the George Reeves SUPER program was so profound, it even kicked off its own trading card series, something that was absent when the show was on originally during the 1950’s. Comics and superheroes also made the leap into pop art at local museums with the work of Roy Lichtenstein and others and cemented themselves deep in pop culture. It only seems fitting that the superheroes of the past would also still be important and revelant in the future as well. The Spectre was brought back from the abyss of the past and he was surprisingly a success with comics readers. A new generation had discovered what was once popular in the early 1940’s. Say what you want, say what you’d like, The Spectre is a classic. We’re talking an old school occult superhero from the first generation of supers and now, you can own a hardback collection of The Spectre in “The Golden Age Spectre Archives Volume 1”, (published in 2003) collecting The Spectre appearances from More Fun Comics #52 to #70.
You have to understand that the success of The Spectre happened at a time when the majority of comics was loaded with a unique array of superheroes, mostly bruisers in tights. The Spectre has been a mainstay of DC Comics ever since, supporting extended runs of his own series on several occasions, not to mention recurring roles in ensemble books and frequent guest appearances, with legendary creators such as Jim Aparo, Michael Fleischer, Neal Adams and John Ostrander among those chronicling his grim adventures. In the 1970’s, DC Comics needed a new star attraction for their struggling Adventure Comics title, so they brought out the long dormant Spectre for a series of tightly scripted supernatural revenge stories written by Michael Fleisher and drawn by the wonderful Jim Aparo. They were collected in a full color 200 page paperback called “Wrath of The Spectre” in 2005 and it’s still available via Amazon for just a bit above $15. Beware of bad behavior. Whether you like it or not, it’s time for you to man up. You must buy this book. Now. Trust me, it’s worth the cash!!!! Also, you can totally see where the inspiration for Freddy Krueger’s over the top gory killing style comes from in these pages and it’s something The Spectre has done since the 1940’s, but it’s cool and hip to see that sort of retribution dished out in a more modern context. These days, The Spectre has become more of a force of the universe and doesn’t seem to have time to take out the everyday scum and villainy that he cut his teeth with. We’ve got a whole new breed of criminal out there that’s just begging to get strangled with a giant gold chain, anally raped with an enormous forged credit card or smoked inside of the world’s biggest crackpipe. Look, I’m a collector of the DC Archives, Showcase Presents, Marvel Masterworks and the Marvel Essential series, so yeah, once again, I am a sucker for this kind of stuff and granted, while The Spectre might not be the greatest collection you can purchase out of those four titles, it’s a must have for anyone who wants a real taste and therefore a real treat, from The Golden Age of DC Comics supernatural superhero books.
Within DC Comics continuity, other characters have taken up The Spectre’s mantle, as well, making the concept into a legacy character and providing even more opportunities for stories. The Spectre has also leaped off the comics page and into animated form in at least three episodes of “Batman: The Brave and The Bold” (voiced by The Joker and Luke Skywalker himself, Mark Hamill!!!!), as well as his own direct-to-DVD animated short in 2010 (voiced by Gary Cole). He also has been given appearances in video games, such as DC Universe Online, action figures, was visually referenced in an episode of “Smallville” and as of late 2011, reportedly was being developed by Fox for his own live-action show. When you think about it, The Spectre is in dire need of having his own TV show. You put that action on HBO, you’ll smell a ratings winner in no time, man!!!! The way I look at it, The Spectre is just another legendary character in a long line of brilliant writing greatness, courtesy of the genius that is Jerry Siegel.
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