For Your Consideration: DC’s The Spectre: The Wrath of the Spectre


Robert Greenberger

Robert Greenberger


by Robert Greenberger

Beyond Superman, Jerry Siegel had little in the way of success, with one exception. Partnered with Bernard Baily, he created The Spectre, a supernatural being instructed by a Voice (always believed to be that of God, a fact unexplored for decades), to deliver justice after his mortal form, detective Jim Corrigan, was gunned down in the line of duty. The series, running in Adventure Comics, was atmospheric and the criminals were made to suffer more than the victims.

When the Golden Age heroes were being revived, one by one, the Spectre remained out of sight. Editor Julius Schwartz had been carefully testing the waters with other revivals in the pages of Showcase but none were selling well enough to earn their own titles. He decided to try the Ghostly Guardian in late 1965, assigning the job to Gardner Fox and Murphy Anderson, Editor in Chief Irwin Donenfeld hedged his bets, trying to manufacture a hit, plastering “The Spectre is Coming!” across the top of story pages across the line.

The Spectre: The Wrath of the Spectre

The Spectre: The Wrath of the Spectre


Showcase #60 (January/February 1966) heralded his return and is the first story in the forthcoming collection The Spectre: The Wrath of the Spectre omnibus, collecting his Silver and Bronze Age appearances from 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.

Showcase #60

Showcase #60


Fox and Anderson, limited by the Comics Code, couldn’t deliver the same chilling tales of vengeance so went cosmic, partly in recognition of their competition going big in their own stories. He used a comet to smash his opponent Azmodus in that first tale. The first two appearances looked good and sales warranted a third issue but being given his own series took another year (he did, though, pierce the dimensions, using his body to keep Earths 1 and 2 from colliding in that summer’s Justice League/Justice Society team-up). Fox set Corrigan in Gateway City, later home to Wonder Woman, and we were off.

The Brave and the Bold #72

The Brave and the Bold #72


While awaiting his own title, the Spectre was paired with The Flash in The Brave and the Bold #72 in an odd story from Bob Haney, Carmine Infantino, and Chuck Cuidera. Three issues later, he first met the Caped Crusader in Haney’s story drawn by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito, under a lovely Neal Adams cover.

Spectre #1

Spectre #1


The Spectre finally debuted with a #1 (Nov/Dec. 1967) from Fox and Anderson, but since the artist had just announced he was going to work with Will Eisner, Donenfeld insisted Schwartz reassign the series. Enter Adams, who brought his photorealistic dynamism to the occult tales. But Fox was gone after issue #2 and letter writer turned pro Mike Fredrich stepped in for the third outing, which brought in the Wildcat as a guest star. After that, Adams was allowed to start writing the series, having earned Schwartz’s trust. He explored more down-to-earth matters, introducing us to Gat Benson, the thug who murdered Corrigan years earlier. He also brought in the Psycho-Pirate, revived just two years earlier, and not yet the pivotal player he is today.

Spectre #4

Spectre #4


Sadly, sales weren’t great and demand for Adams led to his departure. Looking for a fresh angle, Schwartz went the short story approach, bringing back Fox and Anderson, but using Jerry Grandenetti to pencil the first story. That new approach also featured an Hourman backup by Fox, Dick Dillin, and Sid Greene that I hope is retained here. New writer Steve Skeates tried to scale back the hero’s power in one story that didn’t last.

Incoming editor Dick Giordano was handed the floundering title and he saddled the cosmic being with the Journal of Judgment, passing judgment on the people found in its pages. Despite the idea, which was repurposed as the Cosmic Log a few years later for Destiny in the pages of Weird Mystery Tales (created by Marv Wolfman and Bernie Wrightson), the efforts of Skeates, Friedrich, Grandenetti, Bill Draut, Jack Miller, Jack Sparling, and a young Jose Delbo couldn’t save the series which ended after ten issues.

Adventure Comics #431

Adventure Comics #431


As legend has it, Editor Joe Orlando was mugged and wanted revenge. By the early 1970s, the Comics Code Authority had revised and loosened their restrictions so the Spirit of Vengeance could be unleashed. Tapping his former assistant editor, Michael Fleisher, and pairing him with Jim Aparo, the Spectre took the cover slot in Adventure and a legendary run began. This celebrated series of stories was visually imaginative and began exploring the dark side of humanity in fresh and interesting ways. Corrigan was a hardboiled cop and his alter ego turned his victims into candles and wooden statues, meting out a grisly form of justice.

There were protests, but Fleisher and Aparo (with some help from Frank Thorne), reset what could be done with the character and the stories hold up nicely. The sales, once again, weren’t as desired so the character was prematurely removed, leaving three scripts to sit in the drawer until Aparo pencilled them in the 1980s, competing the series in the Baxter reprint Wrath of the Spectre. This trio of stories was left out of the solicitation but DC assures me they will be here.

DC Comics Presents #29

DC Comics Presents #29


The Spectre continued to make appearances across the DC Universe, notably in Alan Moore’s acclaimed run on Swamp Thing. From that era, we have an interesting pairing with Superman from DC Comics Presents, concluding a trilogy of stories by Len Wein and Jim Starlin. After the Man of Steel, Green Lantern, and Supergirl took on Mongul and his Warworld, the Maid of Might had gone missing. He thought she had been knocked across the universe and sped after her, attaining speeds never before encountered but was on the verge of leaving this plane of existence before the Spectre intervened.

He made a series of other appearances in Brave & Bold, with just one from the popular Hnaey/Aparo team while Fleisher and Aparo reteamed for a tale that was good, but disconnected from their run. Then came the Spectre asking the Darknight Detective’s help in locating his body from Mike W. Barr, Andru, and Rick Hoberg in the series’ penultimate issue.

Ghosts #97

Ghosts #97


The final trio of tales were actually guest appearances. To goose sales of Ghosts in 1981, editor Jack C. Harris inaugurated a series spotlighting Dr. 13, the supernatural skeptic. Partnering the Phantom Stranger’s foil with the Spectre was an inspired choice by writer Paul Kupperberg, working with artists Mike Gustovich (as Michael Adams), Tex Blaisdell and Tony DeZuniga. After coming to the man’s aid, and saving his life, Terry Thirteen began to investigate the Spectre.

There’s some great material here, spanning nearly 20 years of DC history, all feature a character who remains popular, especially when done right. He’s poised to make his live-action debut during the CW’s Crisis crossover in December, so the timing is right to revisit these stories.