January 27, 1998
by Chuck Miller
Well, DC's first casualty for 1998 is the Spectre, whose most recent and most successful series just ended. The book wasn't canceled; writer John Ostrander said he had simply does everything he wanted to do with the character and felt that it was time to end the saga. While I can understand and admire that, I will miss ol' Spec.
The Spectre was created in 1940 by Bernard Batley and Jerry Seigel (who, along with Joe Schuster, created another fairly popular long-underwear guy, the one with the big red "S"). His origin story was simplicity itself: After police detective Tom Corrigan was murdered by gangsters, God told him to return to earth as a super-powered ghost and fight evil. Which he did, in his own series in MORE FUN COMICS and as a member of the Justice Society of America. He was never a major player in the comics scene; he never even got his own solo book. But he was COOL. One of my all-time favorites. For one thing, he was a ghost, so there was no limit to what he could do. No vulnerabilities like kryptonite or the color green. Whatever he needed to do in a particular situation, he could do. I always figured the writers had a hell of a good time with him.
When most of the golden age superheroes bit the dust in the late 40s/early 50s, the Spectre went with them. And when the superhero revival of the late 50s/60s got underway, he was one of the last to be brought back. He had a short-lived series in the late 60s which pitted him against a variety of supernatural menaces a la Doctor Strange. The writers never got a real handle on the character, and the book soon vanished like so many ectoplasm. But you can't keep a good spook down. He was brought back again in the early 70s by writer Michael Fleisher and artist Jim Aparo in a series which pushed the limits of what was acceptable under the Comics Code Authority. This time, the gloves were off. The Spectre killed people, and did it in an ingenious variety of ways. For example, a murderous fortune teller was turned into glass (like his crystal ball) and tipped over to shatter on the floor. A homicidal mannequin-maker was turned into a wax dummy and tossed into a fire. Another creep was transformed into wood and sawed up, and so on....The Spectre was no wishy-washy liberal when it came to capital punishment.
That series ended, too. The character was revived again in the 80s in a tremendously forgettable run written by Dough Meench. And then, finally, John Ostrander got a hold of him.
Ostrander finally got us into the Spectre' head and revealed what made him tick. We got a look at Jim Corrigan's unsalubrious past and found out that he had not been TRANSFORMED into the Spectra, exactly; his human spirit was joined with his "Spectre Force," which was nothing less than the wrath of God personified. Ostrander continued Fleicher's tradition of swift and brutal justice, taking it to new heights. The Spectre iced a whole prison full of criminals, toasted a group of misguided aliens, and even attempted to destroy the city of Jerusalem as revenge for the Crucifixion. Well, I won't run down the whole series for you here. Better you should read it for yourself. To cut a long story short, Jim Corrigan finally made peace with his own inner demons and separated from the Spectre, floating off into heaven. Of course, the Spectre Force is still around, and we'll probably see a new Spectre somewhere down the road, but it won't be the same. Another member of the Justice Society is gone...
...and I live in constant fear that DC will one day kill Jay Garrick, the original Flash. He is another one of my favorites. I'm not sure why. Maybe it's the tin hat. But I have heard of no plans to do him in. Instead, word is that writer Mark Waid plans, when he returns from his little sabbatical later this year, to kill off the current Flash, Wally West. Which doesn't worry me unduly. Any superhero worth his or her salt has been dead at least once. It didn't hurt Superman or Wonder Woman. So go ahead, whack Wally. But please don't kill Jay because when a Justice Society member dies, it's usually permanent.
Marvel's new IRON MAN looks like it might be going somewhere. Writer Kurt Busiek has wisely chosen to ignore all the silly stuff they did to the character before "Heroes Reborn" (like turning Tony Stark into a teenager!) and start more or less from scratch.
Also from Marvel, CONSPIRACY, by Dan Abnett and Igor Kordey is a real hoot. It was just a two-issue miniseries, which should still be available when you read this -- but they could have stretched it out into a 12-parter as far as I'm concerned. The premise: Suppose most of the Marvel superheroes got their powers, not by happenstance, but in carefully-choreographed "accidents" arranged by the government to create a group of exploitable super-humans? This hyper-paranoid, X- FILES-style saga features fully-painted artwork. Not only that, but we get cameo appearance by some of those great Atlas monsters from the 50s and 60s, like Fin Fang Foom! The truth is out there. Go buy it.
Marvel also has some weird stuff in store for Spider-Man this year. Spidey's books have really sucked lately, and I guess the editors feel it's time once again to try to "redefine" the character. I hear Peter Parker's gonna give up the Spider-Man suit and adopt four different new identities. Whoop-de-doo. Sounds like another clone saga to me. ATTENTION MARVEL EDITORS: Spider-Man was extremely popular as he was originally presented by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko! His popularity started to wane when you started screwing around with him (giving him that black costumes, marrying him off to Mary Jane)! Do you see a correlation? Four new costumes ain't gonna do it, guys...
DC missed out on a lot of extra sales (and maybe even some good comics) by never following up on their own extremely successful 80s miniseries. THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS and THE WATCHMAN. It appears that they don't want to miss the boat on last year's mega-hit KINGDOM COME. We've already seen a KINGDOM-style story in 1997s JLA ANNUAL, and new writer Mark Waid and artist Jerry Ordway have given us GOG, one of the "New Year's Evil" villain spotlight one-shots. Gog is a time-traveling whacko who comes into the present DC universe from a time a few years after the events in KINGDOM COME. He proves he's no lightweight; his first villainous act is to fry the future Superman to a crisp (in a graphic scene which even this jaded comic book junkie found disturbing). Now he's on his way to his past (our present) to do God knows what. Whatever it is, it won't be pleasant, and I'll bet we'll be seeing a lot more of him.
Thanks to an astute reader for pointing out to me that Marvel filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, not Chapter 13, as I erroneously stated in an earlier column. Or was it 13 and I said 11? Anyhow, whatever I said was wrong... We really need to do something here in Mobile to persuade Comcast to start offering the Sci-Fi Channel. Every other little jerkwater burg in the South gets it, why not us?