This morning’s post concerns another issue of Secret Origins, one which I bought on ebay last summer.
The cover is eerie, depicting a snarling Spectre who looks more dangerous than any I ‘d seen before. My earliest memory of the character is this gorgeous Neal Adams story, reprinted in a Double Double comic.
Gardner Fox’s spooky tale of etheric doubles and Lovecraft’ s Arkham town is basically Dr. Strange re-imagined as a glossy crime series. The Spectre is, under Adams, an elegant, spooky hero like Marvel’s Vision, who can do anything the plot requires. The previous Spectre stories we’ve looked at from the Super-Spectaculars however have been whacky fantasy with the odd flourish of the grotesque.
At the time, the Spectre had been gratuitously “killed off” by Denny O’Neil in his second, overwrought JLA-JSA crossover. I wonder why? Perhaps Spec’s omnipotence sat uncomfortably in the era of relevance; hipster spook Deadman, with his sexy costume and beatnik Silver Surfer routine, seemed like an obvious match for the 70s JLA, but despite numerous attempts, he never quite caught on.
I first read Spec’s two-part origin in a 2004 reprint and was struck by its macabre flavour. Jim Corrigan is a tough working-class detective who is engaged to an uptown girl. He shares a room in a boarding house with his partner and is sadistically murdered by gangsters, drowned in a barrel of cement.There is a gritty, noir-ish element in the story- the references to dope, stoolies and sedans.
Corrigan’s discovery of the powers he posseses as a ghost is a darker scene than the celestial experiences of Kid Eternity; he is a restless and vengeful spirit. His killers are punished in scenes that have connotations of Expressionist film.
After the gangsters have been reduced to skeltons, driven mad or simply dropped dead, the Grim Ghost has to break off his engagement. I regret I’ve never been able to end a relationship with the soignee line: “I simply have ceased to care”.
On the final page, the tormented spirit is conflicted by a desire for eternal rest but pledges to wipe out organized crime, like an ectoplasmic Punisher. The panels build up suspensefully to the reveal of the shrouded figure, echoing the Grim Reaper. This ghoulish figure was shortly recast as the Ghost Rider of DC, with a mildly controversial series in “Weird” Adventure Comics .
I’ve read that, again like the Punisher, the Spectre was revived as a violent character as a response to the mugging of his editor. Like other genre properties that had been successful at Marvel – Sword and Sorcery, Blaxpoitation- DC was about a year or two behind the trend with Horror. The series has been reprinted a couple of times, however, despite -or because of -its excesses. I’ve only read a couple of the stories comprising The Wrath of the Spectre. Since I’ve developed a greater appreciation of the work of Jim Aparo in the last decade, I intend to read the trade one day.
The Spectre went on to at least three series in the 80s, the 90s and Noughties , at one point as the alter ego of GL Hal Jordan. None of those iterations really appealed to me but I would be surprised if the Spectre doesn’t return in the New 52.
The letters page of Secret Origins 5 features one from future Answer Man Bob Rozakis and one from James T. McCoy ( more about him another time). Like me, they are very negative about Wonder Woman. One Loc-er asks for Luthor’s origin, which seems a very sensible request but no villians will be featured in the remaining issues of the series. Another requests Sixties features Sea Devils, Rip Hunter, Cave Carson, Metamorpho, and his futuristic counterpart, Ultra the Multi-Alien. Aside from the Fabulous Freak (whose origin I only saw five or so years ago!) who would be revived for back-up status in the early 70s, the others seem far too obscure.
Next: With One Magic Word
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