For a superhero who embodies the wrath of God, the Spectre had rather unassuming origins, oddly in a series entitled ‘More Fun Comics.’
Created in 1940 by Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel and Bernard Baily, the Spectre was a ghostly apparition that had once been policeman Jim Corrigan. While Corrigan was a hard-as-nails cop, he was downright terrifying as the Spectre. With abilities far outside of anything ever seen before, the Spectre was capable of using his otherworldly powers to punish petty criminals, often using more force than was needed. I recall one sequence where the Spectre simply hurled a house on fire into space. Problem solved, right?
To make matters even nuttier, the Spectre was inducted into the Justice Society of America. This meant that the JSA had on roster the fastest man alive, a man who shared consciousness with an Egyptian sorcerer, a man with a magic ring and an Amazon (for light typing) along with the living embodiment of the wrath of God. It boggles the mind that they spent most of their time unraveling mysteries and stopping non-super-powered crime.
In later years, he got crafty and punished the guilty as he saw fit, often delivering a poetic fate to each crook he faced. This meant that counterfeiters were turned into money then shredded, and in one terrifying sequence a thief was turned into a mannequin (why I cannot remember). Writer Michael Fleisher seemed to take great joy in dreaming up bizarre and cruel ways for crooks to die at the the Spectre’s hands and readers noticed. Jim Aparo, best known for his work on the Batman series, beautifully rendered melting men and giant scissors cutting humans in half as sales soared. Letters came in as well, though and put an end to that.
After the reshuffling of the DC Universe in 1985, the Spectre hasn’t been the same. Writers such as John Ostrander and J.M. DeMetteis utilized the Spectre as a device through which to tell morality tales which resulted in compelling stories.
Currently he is playing a game of round robin with hosts. Former Green Lantern Hal Jordan was at one time the Spectre as a way to pay retribution for his actions as Parallax (something that never jived well with Green Lantern fans). After Jordan separated from the Spectre he acted as a force of nature, far more brutal than ever before. Fueled by the manipulations of Eclipso, the Spectre destroyed all magic that he could find in a massive bout of rage. After destroying Atlantis, he was forced back into a human host by the Presence (read: God).
The latest host of the Spectre is Gotham City detective Crispus Allen. Like Jordan before him, Allen seems determined to steer the Spectre toward justice rather than act as a mere vehicle. The message here seems to be that the Spectre’s writ of Holy Justice is not enough in and of itself and needs to be tempered by a human soul. A far cry from the Looney Tunes on acid killings that readers had seen in the 1970′s.
A short feature starring the Spectre will accompany the Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths animated film to be released on February 23, 2010. Written by 30 Days of Night creator Steve Niles, the short will star Gary Cole as the title character. Cole may be familiar to some for his voice work on Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law but to me he’ll always be Sheriff Buck from the amazing series American Gothic.
A character like the Spectre is just so bizarre and outlandish that you can’t help but love him. With so many humanized superheroes running around, it’s downright refreshing to read about one a comic book hero that is so out there that it’s madenning.