I must apologize. Coursework has been difficult to find time for. But, I’ve returned from some books with some writing. Read below about these comics:

In order to gear up for my assignment of the day of judgment mini-series (tedious work on which I procrastinate daily!), I found some comics from Spectre’s past, and checked ’em out. They were the absolute classic Fleisher/Aparo comics, reprinted in 1982 as a four issue mini-series The Wrath of The Spectre, and later published in a trade paperback format titled the same.

I’d suggest buying the four issue mini-series reprinting them. They have no ads anywhere in the comics, a sweet eight page horror short story written by the serie’s editor and drawn/inked/lettered by Jim Aparo form the same time period, plus there is a HUGE amount of text from everyone involved with the comics still talking about them. Editor Joe Orlando, assistant editor Paul Levitz, all had something to say. Sometimes about the production of specific twelve page stories. Yes, this is a series that has survived erosion and emerged stronger as a relic of the past, each installment simultaneously a masterwork from Michael Flesher and an eyes-closed hope from the editors that management wouldn’t actually realize what was going on.

You see, this superhero comic did something strikingly different than every other comic at the time. With a writer who would only go on to revive the Spectre for future underground cartoonists still buying superhero comics off the racks, as well as create Jonah Hex, these comics are not concerned with rendering noble superheroes so much as using superheroic powers as an excuse to sow vengeance. Instead of presenting heroes upholding the common good, The Spectre, as the vengeful right hand of an Old Testament God, often takes justice too far with his victims, grotesquely murdering them in somewhat comical, but always terrifying ways. Humans turned into candles, screaming out to be doused. Hairstylists cut in half by giant scissors while screaming that what they didn’t wasn’t really that bad.

This is the superheroism of the Spectre.

And each issue starts out with a splash page like that, portenting a terrifying death that will cap the issue. It’s as plucky and focused as a Jules Schwartz splash page from the fifties, but instead of showing a compelling premise for an issue, it shows the Spectre in gleeful torment of his victims.

Fellow comics blogger Colin Smith also notices the glee The Spectre takes in making his punishment’s incredibly violent with this moment:

Notice how, in the second panel, he physically feeds the man, whom he’s turned into wood, into a buzzsaw. It’s not enough to deprive him of his humanity. He has to mutilate him absolutely.¬†And this is a superhero who spends time trying to make you pity his mission, dreading his terrible responsibility to punish evil. At least other victims get eternal rest, he often refers to, as he’s denying a super70s babe. This provides the true conflict of the series. It’s not in whether or not Jim Corrigan is going to find out which villain commits the sin. That he does, every time, although it always takes an admission of guilt for him to confirm that the evil was done. No example of humanity in these comics escapes guilt.

The conflict in this series is whether or not Jim Corrigan can pluck his omnipotent nihilism well enough to make a memorable death or not.

It really isn’t hard, but it may be because Russell Carney left the series before those scripts. Credited with “art” or “script continuity”, Fleisher reveals that he came up with a lot of the specific death scenes capping each issue, as well as drawing layouts to send to Jim Aparo. (When Fleisher started writing Jonah Hex, he starting laying out his own pages).

The series completely changes tone when he leaves, too, focusing more on drama than style.¬†Although at first these grotesque punishments were almost mockery of the comic’s code (justice being as fine a vehicle for violent fantasies as crime), by the end of the series the writer, Michael Fleisher, had grown tired of the formula. Developing other characters in three unpublished scripts, he added an objective reporter of events as a foil, and further developed Gwen’s relationship with jim Corrigan after he briefly regains his humanity. Naturally, DC decided to cancel the series at this point. Low sales, they saw, and a need for change. More soap opera and an active supporting cast closer to best-selling Marvel might be able to do that, but…

DC decided to publish a boring, and eventually low selling Aquaman instead.

Fortunately, we have three of these stories, illustrated and lettered by Aparo a year later, to read in the Wrath of Spectre reprints. They offer a vision of a comic where the Spectre acts above an ensemble cast, ultimately ending on a cliffhanger. As interesting as a reporter investigating the Spectre’s murders can be, the execution leaves some hole needing tobe filled. The changes ultimately replace the vicious deaths with boring talking heads beginning to make the book into an ethical discourse, instead of subversive EC Justice comics. They try to rationalize and contextualize these terrifying deaths into a real world. They aren’t very good.

These comics read best as a nightmare, from which the world frightfully awoke.

Next up: This Spectre comes into the mainstream DCU, and becomes the merciful left hand of vengeance: Geoff Johns’ “Day of Judgment” mini-series.