The Spectre was originally a Golden Age super-hero, created by Jerry Siegel and Bernard Baily. First appearing in More Fun Comics # 51 (Jan 1940) he soon became a member of the Justice Society of America. It was an unusual origin story. Police officer Jim Corrigan was murdered but an entity called ‘The Voice’ refused him entry into the after-life and sent him back to Earth to fight evil. Jim Corrigan still has a body and a life of his own but he is inhabited by the Spectre, who emerges to fight crime with magic powers.
‘Showcase Presents: The Spectre (Vol. 1)’ starts with the Silver Age reincarnation of the character in Showcase # 60. Sadly, the Spectre is one of those significant characters who have never managed to maintain a long running series of their own, despite being an important part of the fictional universe they inhabit. This hefty volume therefore features several different styles of Spectre over the decade or so that it spans. The first 154 pages are largely unremarkable featuring the writing of Gardner Fox and the art of Murphy Anderson. This is interspersed with a couple of issues of ‘Brave And The Bold’ where the Spectre teams up with the Flash and the Batman with scripts by Bob Haney and art by Carmine Infantino and Ross Andru. These are all decent talents but not spectacular.
I have a love/hate relationship with Gardner Fox. I admire his cleverness and his prolific output but for a man who knew some science he often lets you down. For example, in Showcase # 84, ‘The Ghost Of Ace Chance’, the Spectre saves a gambler by entering his body and extracting it when he is thrown into a tank of liquid gas. The gangster’s spirit had just fled his body and moved into that of Jim Corrigan. So the disembodied detective is excluded from his own body. A series of near-catastrophes drains his energy, including an earthquake and a tornado. He fights the tornado by luring it with his cape like a bullfighter! This shows that the story was written for ten year-old boys. Fair enough, it was, but even they might have thought this a bit far-fetched.
There’s a short period of excellence because Neal Adams took over the art in The Spectre # 2-3, then both art and story in # 4-5. This is early Adams and interesting to see as he was to become a huge influence in the industry, a kind of anti-Kirby with his completely realistic approach. Unhappily, he didn’t stay long on the title and issues # 6-10 demonstrate a painfully slow decline into shorter stories with a number of different writers, clear evidence of a lack of direction. Even these issues are not without some charm, thanks largely to the interesting art of Jerry Grandenetti. Issue # 9 has a story titled ‘Abraca-Doom’ with script by Dennis O’Neil and art by Berni Wrightson, two other talents just starting out that were to achieve great things. This is not one of them.
Pages 368-546 are what really make this collection worth buying. In 1974, the series was revived by writer Michael Fleischer and artist Jim Aparo for a ten issue run in ‘Adventure Comics’. In keeping with the times, films were full of anti-heroes and fiction generally was getting darker, the Spectre became a bit nasty. Criminals were tracked down and died horribly. There’s a sub-plot of a love story between Jim Corrigan and a beautiful heiress and another of an ace reporter investigating the hero, appalled at his cruel treatment of evil-doers. The reporter is called Earl Crawford and bears a remarkable resemblance to Superman’s alter ego. Both art and story in this little run are excellent. Jim Aparo is definitely of the Neil Adams school but, for my money, his work here is even better. The good stuff continues in the next pages as he draws Brave And The Bold # 116, the next featured story. This is followed by a Spectre/Superman team-up in which the almost omnipotent disembodied detective teaches the Man of Steel a bit of humility and a valuable lesson.
‘Showcase: The Spectre (Vol. 1)’ winds down with a three-part run of Doctor Thirteen from Ghosts # 97-99, in which the paranormal investigator tries to prove our hero is a fake. It wasn’t bad. Finally, there are a couple of issues of Brave And The Bold # 180 and # 199 where he teams up with the Batman again in a magical milieu. This is okay for the Spectre but I feel Bruce Wayne’s alter ego doesn’t really fit well in this context. However, the stories are okay and the art, by Jim Aparo and Ross Andru respectively, is good.
Overall, this curate’s egg of a ‘Showcase Presents’ accurately depicts the chequered career of an interesting character. When he was good he was very, very good and when he was bad he was not without some historical interest to persons curious about the history of the American comicbook.
(pub: Titan Books. 592 page graphic novel softcover. Price: £ 7.50 (UK) if you know where to look. ISBN: 978-1-78116-039-8)
check out websites: www.titanbooks.com