Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Weird Adventure Comics: The Spectre

Good eeeee-vening, Groovesters! Ol' Groove is proud to participate in the Halloween Countdown, 2008, with the cool folks at Jon's Random Acts of Geekery, Wonderful Wonderblog, and all the other creature connoisseurs around the Internet! I'm shooting for a whole month of monster madness. Can the Groovy One pull it off? Betcha a bowl of Booberry Cereal I can!

I'm gonna start off with the ghost with the most, the Spirit of Vengeance, himself, the Spectre, as presented in Adventure Comics (issues 431-440). The Spectre was a Golden Age super-hero brought back during the Groovy Age, written by Michael Fleisher (with help from Russell Carley),drawn by Jim Aparo (with occasional help from stalwarts such as Ernie Chua/Chan and Frank Thorne), and edited by Joe Orlando (former EC superstar, editor of most of DC's horror/mystery titles). Legend has it that Orlando, who had recently inherited the editorial reins of Adventure Comics and was searching for the proper lead feature (Adventurer's Club and the Black Orchid hadn't worked out) was mugged. The mugging supposedly angered the (usually) mild-mannered editor so much that he was inspired to bring back the Spectre as an anti-heroic ghoul who wreaked sadistic vengeance on evildoers. Some say that story is all jive, but it sounds pretty cool, huh?

The indisputable facts are that Orlando hired newcomer Fleisher, who had been hanging out at the DC offices doing research for the superhero encyclopedias he was working on, and veteran Jim Aparo as the Spectre's creative team. I don't know if anyone knew what to expect when Adventure Comics #431 appeared on the stands back in late 1973, but it sure got comicdom's attention! Fleisher gave the Spectre, and his human host/alter-ego Jim Corrigan a Marvel-like cast complete with Marvel-style subplots, and the ever-present Marvel-style impossible romance (a dead guy can't have a real girlfriend, can he?). He also did some things fans like me had never seen (and older fans hadn't seen since the Golden Age). Y'see, the Spectre killed the bad guys. He didn't just kill 'em, he executed 'em. He didn't just execute 'em, he mutilated 'em. What I'm trying to say is...you don't mess with the Spectre. He made Wolverine and the Punisher (both of whom he pre-dated) look like wimps. Freddy and Jason? Pikers. Don't believe me? Ooookey dokey...

Adventure #431: Why just melt the rifle, when you can melt the bad guy, too?


Adventure #432: The Spectre shows the evil hairdresser (s'truth, I swear!) what a cut-up he is.


Adventure #434: The Spectre proves the crazed mannequin maker is a real dummy.


Adventure #435: The Spectre proves to be a real cut-up.


Adventure #436: The Spectre turns the table and serves the squid some sushi.


Adventure #439: The Ssssspectre turnsssss a group of kidnapperssssss' own massssscot againssssst them.


Adventure #440: Ducky McLaren and his gang have murdered the Spectre's alter-ego, Jim Corrigan. As retribution, the Spectre feeds Ducky to his good luck rubber ducky, then sends the rest of McLaren's gang on a trip that is truly out of this world.
Pretty gruesome stuff, huh? Remember this was the time when the movies were giving us anti-heroes like Clint Eastwood's Dirty Harry and Charles' Bronson's Paul (Death Wish) Kersey. Cops who take matters into their own hands was hot. Orlando's genius was to combine that tough cop genre with superheroes and horror to create something new and sensational. By giving us villains who were truly heartless and evil--true monsters in every sense--Orlando and company had us cheering for the Spectre, sitting on the edge of our seats to see what kind of punishment he would inflict upon each villain.

A lot of folks (fans and pros) were shaken up by the Spectre's grisly deeds, and the big question on everyone's mind was, "How is this stuff getting past the Comics Code Authority?" Well, all you have to do is take a look at how tastefully Jim Aparo handled the Spectre's brand of justice. Obviously from the Alfred Hitchock "your-imagination-sees-something-worse-than-I-can-show-you" school of art, Aparo kept the really gruesome stuff off panel--or at least hidden by the Spectre's flowing cape.

Sadly, as quickly as he'd returned, the Spectre was gone again. In fact, the decision was so speedily made to dump him from Adventure that there were a couple stories left unpublished. Those stories eventually saw the light of day in the Wrath of the Spectre mini-series back in the 80s. The whole series is now available as a a trade paperback. Check it out and let the chills and thrills begin!

5 comments:

  1. Great stuff!
    I remember buying this run off the newsstands as a kid, and was devasted when it suddenly disappeared.
    I loved the ultra violent ways the villains met their ends. As you rightly say, you didn't actually SEE anything. As the saying goes "Less is more".
    A great little collection of stories and I urge everyone to pick up the trade paperback collection.

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  2. Glad you enjoyed the post. Thanks for stopping by!

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  3. Great post on one of Aparo's best works. The run in Adventure was ahead of its time.

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  4. I agree, Mike. It's my second favorite Aparo work, after his Brave and the Bold run. His work on Aquaman and Deadman was awesome, as well!

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  5. Like, thanks man! I loved this series in Adventure Comics and was lucky enough to buy them off the stands as they came out. I was even luckier to have already read the Spectre's golden age origin and thus was aquainted with his take-no-prisoners vendetta on killers. This series did the Spectre even better than his own creator did him! They just don't write 'em like that any more!

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