Going into this collection of Silver and Bronze Age Spectre stories it would be helpful for you to know that the title character is from the Golden Age and started in More Fun Comics #52-101 (1940-45) and was a member of the Justice Society Of America in All-Star Comics #3-23 (1940-45). Created by Jerry Siegel (Superman) and Bernard Bailey (Hourman), The Spectre was a hardboiled detective named Jim Corrigan. Corrigan was murdered and was brought back to life in the form of the Spirit of Vengeance from an entity named The Voice. Seemingly omnipotent, The Spectre was the embodiment of revenge and retribution in a cold hearted manner that didn’t take sides. If you did wrong, he would be the judge, jury and executioner.
But this Showcase Presents The Spectre Volume 1is about his return to the DCU in 1966. By this time in history several Golden Age characters had made their return either as a new updated incarnation like Barry Allen’s The Flash or reappear from the alternate Earth-2 like Barry’s counterpart Jay Garrick. Here, in Showcase #60, we are introduced to Jim Corrigan who is still a detective, but has been without his Spectre alter ego since 1945 (thus his adventures take place on Earth-2). This doesn’t seem to bother Corrigan all that much, but is shocked when The Spectre does show his face and explain his whereabouts. This model of the character has vastly superior powers and abilities, but is a bit more carefree at times – this will change.
Like most Golden Age to Silver Age revivals, The Spectre had to “try-out” before getting his own book. He did so in Showcase #60, #61 and #64 in 1966 and then in The Brave And The Bold #72 teaming up with The Flash (Barry Allen) on Earth-1 and #75 (Batman) in 1967-68 with the writer and art credits going to Garnder Fox, Murphy Anderson, Carmine Infantino, and Bob Haney. He finally headlined his own series in late 1967 but it only lasted 10 issues. A young Neal Adams worked in issues #2-5 and during this time the comics were slowly transformed into more of a horror anthology then a superhero book. In issue #9 we see the Spectre stripped of many of his powers by The Voice and must atone for his sin of killing an innocent man by witnessing the perils of the guilty criminals that walks among us every day. The epilogue of this storyline was completed in Justice League of America #83 and sadly that comic is not reprinted here. A gross error by DC.
The Spectre would get revived again in the Bronze Age, in 1974, in the pages of Adventure Comics. This time as a much more cruel and violent figure. Michael Fleisher wrote this version and it is said that he was influenced by the mugging that he had to endure himself. Frustrated by his ordeal, Fleisher turned his anger and contempt to his pen and thus The Spectre. It shows in spades. This is some of the most graphic comics that a costumed superhero has ever been a part of. In the first story alone in Adventure Comics #431, the Spectre is looking down the barrel of a machine gun and disarms the perpetrator by not only melting the gun but melting the man’s hands and then his entire body! The next story we find a criminal die by way of giant scissors! The rest you’ll have to read for yourself. But I should point out that again this Showcase Presents does not include the full run. Fliesher’s Spectre ran in Adventure Comics from the aforementioned #431 to #440. It was cut short by DC editorial and the final three stories along with the original Adventure Comics were published in Wrath Of The Spectre #1-4 (1988). These comics also contained new commentary from Peter Sanderson who not only gives great insight on the mindset of Fliesher but also the challenges artist Jim Aparo had to deal with. A complete trade paperback of the series was published in 2005.
Strangely enough with the abrupt cancellation of The Spectre in Adventure Comics, just a few months later he made one more appearance with Batman in The Brave And The Bold #116. The Spectre and Corrigan were back to their old, superhero team-up, ways from the 1960′s. The Spectre was not seen again until the 1980′s. In-between teaming up with Superman (DC Comics Presents #29 and The Brave And The Bold #180 and #199 (both with Batman), he was featured in the back-ups of Ghosts #97-99 with the Doctor Thirteen hot on his trail.
The Spectre, of course, went on to guest star in several other comics and eventually got his own title a few more times, Volume 2 #1-31 by Doug Moench and Volume 3 #1-64 by John Ostrander. And who can forget Hal Jordan becoming the Spectre for 27 issues (Volume 4)? Since then Spectre has had a role in several large events including Day Of vengeance and Blackest Night and more recently has been seen in the New 52 thanks to a small mishap by the Phantom Stranger (Phantom Stranger #0).
At 592 pages, it is the third largest Showcase Presents that DC has published. The others are Amethyst, Princess of Gemworld, 648 pages and Booster Gold, 624. I point this out because I feel that DC could have made room for Justice League of America #83 and the previously unpublished Wrath Of The Spectre comics. But if DC editorial didn’t want that big of a book then they could have split this one volume into two – Volume 1 (Silver Age) and Volume 2 (Bronze Age) and priced them both at $9.99. I think both would have sold well.
Despite the short comings I do recommend this book. The writing is top shelf and the art by Adams and Aparo is beautiful. And if you’re like me and want some good, scary and horrific comics to read Halloween night, skip right to the Adventure Comics run on page 368, you’ll never look at your hands the same way again!
Showcase Presents Library of Classics: The Spectre Volume 1
Spectre created by Jerry Siegel and Bernard Baily
Written by Gardner Fox, Michael Fleisher and Others
Art by Murphy Anderson, Neal Adams, Jim Aparo and Others
Cover by Jim Aparo
Collects Showcase #60, 61 and 64, The Brave And The Bold #72, 75, 116, 180 and 199, The Spectre #1-10, Adventure Comics #431-440, DC Comics Presents #29 and Ghosts #97-99
592 pages, $19.99, April 2012, DC Comics