This hefty tome can be broken into three sections (the 1960s, the 1970s and the 1980s), and that's how I'm going to handle it. the introduction by Peter J. Sanderson is dated 2005 and was obviously originally written for an earlier collection of the 1970s material. But it's the 1960s material I'm most interested in. We have discussed the 1960s era Spectre on this board from time to time in the past, and I remember some not too kind things being said about it. I was eager to read, though, so some time ago I bought a "DC Showcase Presents" edition just so I'd have it, but I really wanted it in color. I'm glad I waited.
It starts with three tryout issues of Showcase (#60-61 and #64) by Gardner Fox and Murphy Anderson. I'd buy anything by Fox and Anderson, and the first two of these comics I would rank among the best of any DC Silver Age comics. (The third didn't appeal to me as much, but they can't all be winners.) Fox's stories were steeped in science, history and the occult, heady stuff indeed for his presumed audience. Two more tryout issues appeared the next year in The Brave and the Bold, #72, a Flash team-up by Bob Haney and Carmine Infantino, and #75, a Batman team-up by Bob Haney and Ross Andru.
After that, the Spectre was awarded his own series. What I found to be the oddest thing about this series is that Jim Corrigan and the Spectre are treated as two entirely different characters, but linked (as Rick Jones and Captain Marvel were over at Marvel). I don't know this for certain, but I suspect the reason for this had something to do with the Comics Code Authority. The death angle was downplayed, and whenever it was mentioned, the word "died" was put in quotation marks. "Common knowledge" has it that no one can draw other dimensional planes like Steve Ditko. It may be true that no one else draws them quite the same, but it doesn't mean no one else can draw them at all. I found Jerry Grandenetti's to be similar to Ditko's, yet uniquely his own.
I don't think the stories were any better or worse than other's of DC's Silver Age, but I think I can identify why they are commonly perceived to be of lesser quality. For one thing, the series is bi-monthly and there was very little if any continuity of through storylines. Even more importantly though, there was no consistent creative team. Only twice did the same creative team handle two consecutive issues, and those instances were by two different teams. Here's how it breaks down...
#1. Gardner Fox & Murphy Anderson
#2. Gardner Fox & Neal Adams
#3. Mike Friedrich & Neal Adams
#4-5. Neal Adams (both writing and drawing)
#6-7. Gardner Fox & Jerry Grandenetti
#8. Steve Skeates & Jerry Grandenetti
The story in #3 guest-starred Wildcat and read very much like a team-up from The Brave & the Bold. The Adams (solo) issues were just plain weird. Murphy Anderson provided a consistency of inking in issues #6-8. After that, the format changed and the story quality tanked. The Spectre became almost a "host" in his own title as the format changed to several short stories per issue (three in #9, four in #10) of the mystery/suspense variety one would expect to find in anthology titles such as House of Secrets or House of Mystery, but with the Spectre becoming involved at the end.
#9. Mike Friedrich & Jerry Grandenetti
Denny O'Neil & Berni Wrightson
Mark Hanerfeld & Jack Sparling
#10. [unknown] & Jerry Grandenelli
Mike Friedrich & Jerry Grandenelli
Steve Skeates & Jose Delgado
Jack Miller & Jack Sparling
NEXT: The 1970s Adventure Comics run
Sadly while I have The Spectre second series right at hand, The Spectre third series is buried and out of reach!
#4: Amy tells Specter her story. Infected with AIDS by her "Prince charming," she, in turnm unknowingly infected many partners after their break-up. Theme: guilt vs. evil.
#5: The Spectre goes to Hell to interrogate a kidnapper so as to save the live of his victim. While their, the deman Shathan inflicts his own Fleischer/Aparo tortures on him, and also taunts him with the knowledge that he is half demon. But, of course, the demon is probably lying.
#6: Amy and Corrigan grow increasingly close. Amy tries to convince him to temper the Spectre's punishments with mercy and justice. the Reaper continues his murder spree, killing only hetro females who have AIDS or are HIV positive.
#7: Madame Xanadu reveals that any is the Spectre's mortal anchor. She also explains how it is the Spectre and Corrigan often appear to be two separate beings. Madame Xanadu steals the Spectre's power, but it was never intended to belong to a living being. she reveals to Amy that her fate is not to die of AIDS, but to be violently slashed in a knife attack. Xanadu cannot control the Spectre's power and relinquishes it back to Corrigan. We learn that the Reaver (real name: Danny Geller) contracted AIDS for Amy.
#8: Nate learns that Corrigan is the Spectre. Nate wants to warn Amy that the Reaper is targeting women with AIDS, but that would be against how the department has chosen to handle the case.
#9: Amy finds out anyway and goes straight to the media. Even though he didn't tell her, Nate is put on suspension. When Spectre left Hell in #5, Azmodus (from Showcase #60) escaped with him andf is after Amy, too. The Spectre kills Azmodus' host, but Azmodus escapes.Now there are two serial killers on the loose.
#10: The Spectre tracks one of Azmodus' victims to Heaven in order to learn his identity, but finds its doors closed to him. the Angel Michael says that Corrigan would be welcome if he would reject his anger, but casts the Spectre out. The Reaver tracks down Amy after seeing her picture in the paper, but finds Nate guarding her (on his own time). The Spectre arrives to handle the Reaver, but is blindsided by an attack from Azmodus.
#11: While the Spectre and Azmodus fight on another plane, the Reaver distracts Nate and knocks him unconscious. Amy sees him lying unconscious from her window and, although it might mean her death, goes to help. She comes face to face with Geller, who mortally wounds her in a vicious knife fight. The Spectre defeats Azmodus, but arrives too late to help Amy.
#12: Bleeding to death, knowing that she is going to die and in need of comfort, Amy begs Nate to hold her but he is afraid of contracting AIDS. (In an earlier issue, he wouldn't even touch her.) The Spectre is making Geller relive the death of each of his victims. He wants to make Geller repent, in line with what Amy had said she wanted him to treat his victims, but before the process is finished, Nate shoots and kills Geller in the physical world... because he wants him to go to Hell. The Spectre flies off and, in a full page panel, removes his hood and weeps.
Wow. This was such a good story. I have no idea why I chose to drop the title at this point, but here is where I initially stopped reading all those years ago. Even though (or perhaps because) I know how it ends, I am really looking forward to reading the rest of this series.
#13: I guess I don't know exactly when I stopped buying The Spectre, because I have read this issue before. After Amy's funeral it is revealed that Nate Kane has been given his job back, but he is a pariah on the force and the higher ups are just waiting for him to make a mistake so they can throw him to the wolves.
A new character, a Catholic priest named Father Craemer is introduced. A chance remark to Jim corrigan in confession sends the Spectre to to the Balkan nation of Vlatava to see about their civil war. He gathers the leaders, Count Vertigo and General Hafza, face to face, but each is convinced that his side is right. the spectre calls the dead to decide, and they immediately begin fighting. The Spectre is convinced that both sides are evil and wipes out the entire country, except for the two leaders.
Count vertigo asks, "If Vlatava deserved this fate, how much more so does the rest of the world?" leaving the Spectre to consider, "Perhaps it is time for Judgement Day." Whoops.
So every person in the country was evil? That's ridiculous.
Well, from the Spectre's point of view, yes...
"BY THE ABYSS! They rise to kill each other anew! The hate--the BLOOD--has seeped into the very rocks of the Earth! NO ONE is innocent! ALL who walk withing the borders of this contaminated land are GUILTY! the very LAND itself must be PURGED!"
Obviously, the Spectre is insane by our standards. I think Ostrander's point is that not all issues are simple matters of black & white. There are no shades of grey in the Spectre's worldview. Things are either good or evil.
#14: the Phantom Stranger pays a visit to Father Craemer to find out what, exactly, he said to Jim corrigan to send the Spectre off his nut. (Father Craemer, BTW, was a supporting character in John Ostrander's Suicide Squad.) The Stranger relates the history of the Spectre. The original embodiment of God's wrath was the entity we know today as "Eclipso," and was responsible for the Biblical flood. God replaced "Eclipso" with the "Spectre," whose works include the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (can't you see the Fleischer/Aparo Spectre turning someone into a pillar of salt?), the plagues of Egypt (it is at this point Nabu comes into the story) and the parting of the Red Sea. Now that the Phantom Stranger has brought Father Craemer (and readers) up to speed, the story is ready to proceed.
John Ostrander is a self-professed agnostic, BTW, but a scholarly one.
#15: The Phantom Stranger sets out to recruit Dr. Fate, "a drunkard, a demon, a sorceress and a woman who doesn't die" in order to thwart the Spectre's intention to purge all human life from Earth. He successfully recruits Dr. Fate, but the "drunkard" (John Constantine) doesn't work out. the Demon is, of course, Jason Blood, and the "sorceress" is presumably Zatanna and "the woman who doesn't die" is presumably Madame Xanadu.
Also, the Spectre is confronted by Eclipso, the entity which had his job before he did.
"With all his power, he couldn't save the woman he loved. And he cannot handle the grief or his own feeling of guilt for not being there." That's as succinct of a recap of "the story so far" you're likely to find.
#16: Jim Aparo (inked by Kelley Jones) fills in for Tom Mandrake this issue. While the Spectre pals around in Ireland with Irish ghosts, the Phantom Stranger continues to assemble his task force. This issue it's Zatanna in her "goth" phase. She no longer recites spells backwards because a necklace from her mother and a staff from her father have put her in "balance" now. the Demon comments: "No backwards spells? No fishnet hose? I hate it when a tradition goes!"
Back in Ireland, a Man's wife and daughter have been accidentally killed by a bomb set by the I.R.A. the man who set the bomb was the victim's own brother. The Spectre intercedes and takes the man's vengeance away from him. the man's family name is "Corrigan."
#17: In this issue, the Phantom Stranger tries to recruit Madame Xanadu, but she refuses (due to a disagreement they had in Books of Magic, I take it). Instead, she forms a Triad with Father Craemer and Ramban, a Israeli holy man the Spectre encountered in Jerusalem. The Triad's plan is to appeal to the Spectre's humanity (i.e., Jim Corrigan). The Stranger's plan is to bring the Spectre and Eclipso together, let them fight it out, then they will take on the weakened winner. Instead, the two entities merger. Whoops. Meanwhile, the triad have completed a rite which separates Jim Corrigan from the Spectre, leaving Eclipso in charge. Whoops.
From here, the story continues into Eclipso (who had his own title at the time) #17, which I do not have.
NOTE: Issue #16 is the last one I bought new (I can tell by the short-term backing boards I was using at the time), but I never read it. #17 was acquired as a backissue because it still has the price tag of the store where I shopped at the time. that's one mystery solved!
#17: Something must have happened in Eclipso #17 because, as this issue opens, Corrigan and Eclipso are captured by the Triad, leaving the Spectre entity without a host. Eventually, a giant, muscular, blond, winged being called "Michael" arrive to deliver "heaven's judgement." He declares: "You judgement [of Vlatava] was extreme and wholly without mercy--but no unjust." The Spectre, finally having learned the lesson of Amy Beiterman, disagrees: "I must confront evil and understand it--so I may confront and understand better the darkness, the evil, within my own soul," concluding that he cannot judge humanity as a whole, only as he/it encounters them one by one.
Finally, after 50 years, "Michael" determines, "You are now ready to begin your mission."
Oh, in the end, Corrigan shows up at Father Craemer's church for another "confession."
#19: This issue begins the four-part "Spear of Destiny." I had every intention of dealing with all four issues in a single entry to speed things along a bit, but I just can't. This story is so layered and dense, it really requires some in-depth analysis/discussion.
Environmental activist Mai Miyazaki is killed by polluters and is resurrected by Gaea as Naiad.
In the Pinehurst area of Brooklyn, tensions are running high. According the local newscast: "The Emeth, an Orthodox Jewish sect, after buying up solid blocks of tenements, converted the area into a private enclave not open to the outside world, and created friction within the surrounding African-America community. the escalating friction bubbled over last summer when Rabbi Jacob Schulman, and eighty-year-old and one of the sects leaders, lost control of the car he was driving and ran into a group of African-American children standing on the sidewalk. Several children were seriously hurt in the alleged accident. One boy, Joseph reynolds, age ten, was killed. rabbi Schulman was charged with vehicular homicide but was acquitted earlier today."
The boy's father, Randolph Reynolds, is convinced that the rabbi killed his son deliberately. Nate Kane was assigned to the case initially and, just as Captain Taylor promised, he was assigned the toughest cases with no support. He then told the news that mistakes were made in the investigation early on. Groups of Jews and African-Americans are facing off, and the National Guard is standing by. Meanwhile, Jim Corrigan and Father Craemer discuss and debate philosophy.
Spectre is pulled to the scene and confronts Rabbi Schulman. In the first of two remarkable pages by Tom Mandrake, the Spectre weighs the lives of the rabbi and the little boy on symbolic scales and finds the rabbi not guilty. He attempts to disperse the crowd, but they're having none of it. Asmodus appears and manifests the collective hate and rage of the two groups as physical beings. The Spectre merges the minds of Rabbi Schulman and Mr. Reynolds in the second of two remarkable pages, depicting everything from the Holocaust to lynchings. This brings the two men together, but the rabbi doesn't survive the experience.
In the White House, President Bill Clinton engages the help of one of his old college professors, Nicodemus Hazzard, to get to the bottom of what happened in Vlatava. the "official" explanation is some sort of nuclear accident, but the government knows it was the Spectre. Speaking on behalf of all world government, Clinton tasks Hazzard with finding a way to control the spectre, or destroy him. Hazzard decides to begin his search with "those who've known the Spectre the longest."
See what I mean? Difficult to summarize in a few lines.
#20: Guest artist: John Ridgeway. Professor Hazzard sets about interviewing the surviving members of the JSA one by one: Johnny thunder, Jay Garrick, Ted grant, Carter & Shiera Hall and Wesley Dodds. From them, he learns of "The Spear of Destiny."
#21: Hazzard researches the history of the Spear in Lucien's library in the Dreaming. Naiad attcks the Shogun Oil Company in Tokyo, then the city itself, bring it into conflict with the Spectre. President Clinton contacts Superman to attack the Spectre with the Spear.
#22: Cover by Alex Ross. If you ever try to assemble a run of backissues of this series, I can tell you from experience that this is the one you'll pay the most for. Hitler's use of the Spear in WWII has contaminated it so that it will infect the user with Hitler's paranoia and megalomania. After superman kill both the Spectre and Naiad, he refuses to return to Spear to the President and sets about a pre-emptive strike against the JLA and other heores of the DCU. Last to confront him is Batman, with his gun and Krytonite bullet. Superman renounces the Spear, and the spectre reveals everything he has experienced was a vision. the spectre undoes the environmental damage his destruction of Vlatava caused, but stops short of fixing all environmental problems. This action satisfies Naiad, who departs. the Spectre casts the spear into space and comes to an agreement with Superman concerning the use of his powers going forward. Jim corrigan discusses the events of this issue with Father Craemer and concludes, using Superman as an example, that although power corrupts, it doesn't necessarily have to corrupt absolutely. Man has a choice.
NEXT: Zero Hour