Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The Classics - Adventure Comics #438

It's request time for our weekly "Classic" review, and Dwayne asked for a review of an issue of The Spectre in Adventure Comics as drawn by the great Jim Aparo - so here goes:

To say this series was controversial would be an understatement.

The Spectre was a series that never really took off, even with greats like Murphy Anderson and Neal Adams drawing his adventures.

The Golden Age "hero" was, for all intents and purposes, a ghost. When police detective Jim Corrigan is brutally killed by a criminal, God sends him back to Earth (you read that right) and instructs him to bring criminals to justice.

The character had a great design, with a green cape and cowl, white eyes always in shadow, a muscular pale white body and green shorts, boots and gloves. But his adventures tended to be cosmic struggles with demons and monsters, and it never really captured the readers.

So when they brought the character back in the mid-'70s they turned him over to writer Michael Fleisher and artist Jim Aparo, and they took him in a completely different direction - they made him into a classic, EC-style horror character.

At a time when the heroes never killed (even the villains rarely killed anyone), The Spectre murdered the bad guys without remorse - and in spectacular fashion.

In fact, that was pretty much the point of the series - how would he kill the bad guys in this issue?

For example, in this issue's "Museum of Fear," a crazed scientist is working on a museum display based on modern, everyday life - and to make it authentic, he captures regular people, kills them, stuffs them and puts them on display.

Jim Corrigan tracks them down, and The Spectre delivers his usual "ironic" justice.

Jim Aparo was a master at these kinds of dark tales, and seemed to enjoy the opportunity to work outside the usual DC Comics boundaries, providing some surprisingly dark characters and events.

Actually, on this issue Aparo was working over the pencils of Ernie Chua, who must have provided basic layouts - the art shows a lot of Aparo, and just glimpses of Chua.

The series caused quite an outcry, with some fans outraged and some loving it. I was never much of a horror fan, so I wasn't an avid follower - though I loved Aparo's art.

The comic has something of a split personality, as the back half is devoted to a new version of an old script. They uncovered a 1940s script by Joe Samachson for The Seven Soldiers of Victory, so they assigned new artists to draw the chapters, and printed the story over numerous issues. This issue includes an opening chapter drawn by Dick Dillin and a Shining Knight story by Howard Chaykin.

It's all very light and fluffy - the opposite of the opening story.

Of course, times have changed, and death and destruction is now everyday story material - heroes today don't hesitate to kill when necessary.

I'm not convinced the world is a better place because of it.

Grade: B



Anonymous said...

Looking through the recent Showcase Presents: The Spectre release, it is amazing how many times DC tried to make this character work in his own feature and solo title. Lots of interesting approaches, all ultimately coming up short. Why? I don't think The Spectre works as a lead feature; he is basically Superman with the powers of God. Kinda hard to stretch that concept out into 100 issues.
Where I think The Spectre DOES work is as a carefully used supporting character in a book like JLA (or whatever they're calling it these days...) Imagine a menace so overwhelming that the core members of JLA have to call in their one big gun, The Spectre, to help them out. And THEY are a bit afraid of their ally too! Used infrequently but for maximum effect, The very appearance of The Spectre in the DCU should define "cosmic"!

Sam Kujava

Dwayne said...

Thanks for the memories!

Chuck said...

Sam, I think you're right - some characters work best in supporting roles, and the Spectre is one of 'em.

Dwayne, you're welcome! I always like getting review requests, because it saves me agonizing over what to review.