Showcase Presents: The Spectre Vol. 1

This volume reprints stories from Showcase 60-61, 64, The Brave and the Bold 72, 75, 116, 180, 199, The Spectre 1-10, Adventure Comics 431-440, DC Comics Presents 29 and Ghosts 97-99. Stories are written by Gardner Fox, Bob Haney, Mike Friedrich, Neal Adams, Steve Skeates, Denny O'Neil, Mark Hanerfeld, Michael Fleisher, Len Wein, Paul Kupperberg and Mike Barr. Pencils are by Murphy Anderson, Carmine Infantino, Ross Andru, Neal Adams, Jerry Grandenetti, Bernie Wrightson, Jack Sparling, Jim Aparo, Ernie Chan, Jim Starlin and Michael R. Adams.

The Spectre is not an easy character to write. Created to combat supernatural foes and with a seemingly unlimited array of powers, it's difficult to create drama utilizing him as a centerpiece. He's just too powerful, and even when he is fighting major league occult menaces, there's never really the sense that he might lose. In fact, he tends to be his own worst enemy. This probably has a lot to do with the uneven nature of the contents of this collection.

Really, this is two different books in one. In the first part, as the Spectre was reintroduced into the Silver Age (I'm purposely omitting his Justice League of America appearances), he's written very much like a standard superhero, albeit one who fights supernatural menaces as opposed to supervillains with flashy gadgets and death traps. While there was apparently enough interest in the character for him to get his own title, it was obvious reading through these stories that the writers were searching for pretty much anything to make them more interesting. Unfortunately, cute little children, oddly garbed menaces and the occasional team-up just plain didn't work. In fact, I'd say the team-ups underscored just how much the Spectre didn't fit in amongst the likes of the Flash, Batman and Superman.

However, in the second half of the book, they decided to take a different tack with the character by giving him a different purpose. There was still the occasional magical threat that needed to be dealt with, but mostly the Spectre focused on passing judgment and meting out justice to the evil, with more of a horror theme. Additionally, Jim Corrigan was given a love interest that managed to breathe a little more tension into the stories. Interestingly enough, likely in order to appease the Comics Code, while the judgments meted out are bloodless, they're actually more macabre than if they were bloody and gory. These stories work much better for the character as the nigh-omnipotence of the Spectre forces the reader to look at the stories differently. Oh, and don't think the Spectre wasn't challenged on the murders he committed, as both a freelance reporter and Terence Thirteen challenge him on his cold-blooded killings of murderers.

Would I recommend this book? Yes, I think there's more good than bad here. Many of the later stories are quite good (and if you ever wanted to see Superman get his butt kicked, there's a story for you here), and there's some excellent artwork from Neal Adams, Jack Sparling and Jim Aparo, especially from the latter. As I said, the stories are uneven and those featuring the Spectre as a super hero really don't have much tension, but ultimately I think it's worthwhile.

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Just started reading this.

I agree with Randy about the first part of the book.

I have just gotten to the start of his own title.

It's practically a different Spectre in all his B&B appearances!

Yes.  As I mentioned, the character is handled differently throughout the collection.  Plus, we know Bob Haney had his own ideas of how various characters were supposed to behave.

Philip Portelli said:

It's practically a different Spectre in all his B&B appearances!

True but Haney wrote one Spectre team-up like the 60s version and one like the 70s Adventure version. 



Philip Portelli said:

True but Haney wrote one Spectre team-up like the 60s version and one like the 70s Adventure version. 


Gotta love Haney.

I'm looking forward to reading these. Is the second half of the book just the Aparo short series where the final issue was only published in the 80's? I have that in back issues. It's great, but mightn't have been a good longterm basis for stories anyway.

The 90's Ostrander series was outstanding, if a little cyclical. It's way under-rated.

I haven't read much of the Moench series, but I'm sure it'd be well worth collecting in Showcase format. My understanding is that creators are reluctant to agree to the cut offered of Showcase/Essentials because it is quite low, and so later series don't get reprinted in that format.

The newest story in this collection is from The Brave and the Bold #199 in 1983. None of the Ostrander or Moench stories are included.

I love the idea of a collection that takes the character from his silver age reintroduction up to almost COIE. Possibly the Spectre's next appearances were in COIE and Moore's Swamp Thing?

The fact that it is a cheap thick Showcase makes it almost a virtue that so many creators and different interpretations of the charcter are represented. More like this!

A collection of Moench's Spectre would be sweet though. 20+ issues of one creator's vision and a sustained ongoing story is also a good use of the Showcase format.

Besides making four JLA/JSA team-ups in Justice League of America, the Ghostly Guardian also appeared in DC Special #29 (S'77), Paul Levitz's origin of the Justice Society. Roy Thomas used him (carefully) in All Star Squadron and America Vs the Justice Society (an under-rated gem IMHO). Of course, the Spectre played a major part in the Last Days of the Justice Society Special.

I don't know the details behind that story,but most likely these are the stories you're looking for. There are a large number of Fleisher penned stories, so my guess is that what you're looking for is in this collection.

George Poague said:

Does this include the Michael Fleischer-written stories that prompted Harlan Ellison to call Fleischer "crazy" and "bugf---" (among other names), which in turn prompted Fleischer's lawsuit against Ellison and the Comics Journal? I'd like to read those stories.

I'd say it's the short series he did with Aparo, where the villains met their ends in all sorts of gruesome ways.  Good point Randy, on the irony that the Comics Code restriction on showing bloodshed probably meant the villains endured even worse fates that chilled the readers more. I hadn't thought of that.

 

These stories were very strong stuff for the essentially children's market of the time.  Perhaps that's what Ellison was reacting too?

Yes that was Fleischer's Adventure Comics run beginning with #431 (F'74). From what I remember, either Fleischer or editor Joe Orlando was mugged and that brought up the idea of an uber-vengeful Spectre. The Spectre himself was blown to bits in Justice League #84 (S'70), apparently never to return again to plague writers trying to craft a suspenseful story around him.

But his battle with Zor from More Fun Comics #57 (Jl'40) was reprinted in Superman #252 (Ju'72) and, more importantly, his first appearance and origin from More Fun #52-53 (F-Ma'40) took over the entire issue of Secret Origins #5 (D'73), the only time in its brief run.

The Adventure stories were later rereleased in the 80s as The Wrath of the Spectre.

But his battle with Zor from More Fun Comics #57 (Jl'40) was reprinted in Superman #252 (Ju'72)

 

Another instance of yourself and Morrison reading the same comics at the same time in your youth, I'd guess, going by Zor's appearance in the Zatanna section of SSoV.

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