part two of an exploration of spectre comics in the DC Universe. Here’s part one, but you really don’t need to read it first to get into the discussion. Part three won’t be around for a while, but its ambition will haunt my seasons.

When we had left the Spectre, he was in dire straits. Canceled for low sales (but more likely because its violent justice unsettled corporate readers), He had tried becoming a full fledged member of the DC Universe, a huge goliath invoked whenever the JSA had a really large foe, and otherwise was left alone for his daily work with the solemn seclusion of dragons and gangsta rappers.

The comics showing his daily work were always more interesting. I already talked a lot about Michael Flesher, Russ Carney, and Jim Aparo’s revival of the character that exaggerated his roots. After that, he began his ignominious return to the DC Universe in All Star Comics. Becoming a smirking and joking character of Paul Levitz’s (really very good, but definitely not for its spectre appearances) All Star Comics, other major event appearances soon waned as a post-crisis revival began to darken the character more. Make him a soul instead of a guest. I might talk about some of these comics later, but after they had run their course, the cycle began anew. Except for one thing: Jim Corrigan, the man plagued by his constant need to seek vengeance on criminals, had actually been relieved of his duty. The Spectre was thus an unbound spirit roaming the universe, which is where we shall look at him today, in Day of Judgment.

These are the next comics I’m reading for my course in Radicalhoodlummery. I’m beginning to detect a distinct trend in the order of the comics which I was assigned. Beginning with radical science fiction and superheroics in the seventies, we now move on to the revival of these attitudes in the premillenial dance before Y2k.

Published in September of 1999, they were written for an apocalyptic time. DC Comics’ nineties comics saw the fall of almost all their heroes. Superman had died and been reborn, Batman had his back broken in Knightfall

and then suffered two years of impersonation by a serial killer vigilante viciously judging Gotham’s criminals under the guise of the Bat.

Yes, this is not an indie comics exagerration of a superhero comic. This is what Batman looked like, sometimes, in the 90s. For most of my childhood, actually.

Below was the only wrong not righted from the 90s by Sept 1999, when Day of Judgment premiered. Hal Jordan went insane with power, murdered the entire green lantern corps for their rings, and then slaughtered a city seemingly to demonstrate his power.

Yes, this is not an indie comics exagerration of a superhero comic. This is what they looked like, sometimes, in the 90s.

This had to be rectified. And so Geoff Johns stood up to a plate prepared by lazy chefs seeking spectacle at the expense of characters. At least, that’s how he saw it. Hal Jordan was one of the forerunners of the modern superhero. Created soon after the comics code of 1955 banished the gore from crime comics and the lust of romance comics, the only thing comicians could write draw about became what was right, and Hal Jordan was the subject of a lot of the initial stories influencing how Superman and the rest of the DC Universe was going to regrow following the scythe of the comics code among our field of comics, harvests of our dreams.

The Flash first arrived on the scene along with Challengers of the Unknown, but they were an odd match and never really had many adventures together. In fact, to this day Challengers of the Unknown remains a stellar creation of four family minded explorers of the unknown created by the man who would move on to Marvel and the Fantastic Four.

Green Lantern (via Hal Jordan) arrived, and suddenly superheroes could team up. Which they did, and which possibly began the idea of a shared universe a couple years before Stan Lee introduced that idea, and a decade before Roy Thomas really perfected that idea in the wake of Stan Lee. Green Lantern, though, was noble. A fighter pilot stoic enough to befriend an Aleutian (albeit caricatured), Green Lantern was without fear, and through the years would form the Justice League, and become the representative of an entire race of wise aliens saving universes from dire threats. Alfred Bester, a science fiction author, even wrote the Green Lantern’s oath in 1943:

“In brightest day, in blackest night,
no evil shall escape my sight!
Let those who worship evil’s might,
beware my power.. Green Lantern’s light!”

Interestingly, this was written for the Golden Age Green Lantern, who had relation to Oa, the planet which gave Hal Jordan (and every other subsequent Green Lantern) his (or her) ring. The explanation for why they shared an oath? The Golden Age Green Lantern is a magical being, hence his unconscious mimicry of an alien police force’s oath. In case you’re curious, a history, and compendium, of the Green Lantern’s oath is available here. Here’s a long and dirty on Hal Jordan that’s pretty good, and concise.

You may wonder why I’m spending so much damn time talking about Hal Jordan if this is supposed to be about spectre comics, and, more importantly, spectre comics published in 1999. For those reading this, let me make shit become reality:

Yea, Hal Jordan, the nobleman turned gleeful murderer, really because of lazy editing, gets instated as the Spectre in these stories. Jim Corrigan gets his rest (and I probably won’t talk about the Zero Hour comics where he loses the Spectre’s connection, although I may write later about Ostrander’s comics, where Corrigan finally finds peace), and the spectre is thrown into the subtext of the DC Universe for a couple of years.

Of course demons are the ones that pick up on it. Etrigan, a demon of Hell, uses the spectre’s power to persuade a high ranking demon, Asmodel, to merge his spirit with the spectre. For most of the comic’s run this seems to be a fine ploy, giving him omnipotence and letting him rule the mortal realm.

It is indescribal onslaught. Superman turned into a pillar of salt and licked gingerly by Etrigan in front of powerless Wonder Woman terrifying.

Unfortunately, this also puts the soul of the spectre into unrest. Seeking not simply someone who wants the spectre for their own power, the Spectre’s spirit soon gravitates to guilty Hal Jordan. Remember my earlier writing about how Michael Flesher’s Jim Corrigan was constantly tormented by his need to rid the world of evil doers? How this caused him constant pain and suffering, and disallowed him from living a normal life? Well, it turns out that the self masochistic drive, the need to punish one’s self, is critical to the soul that the Spectre inhabits. And so it sees Hal Jordan, finally released form Hell in a chance to redeem himself, and the two fall in love with each other, crying tears of pain that become tears of joy because the tears of pain come so easily.

And Etrigan ends the story getting a promotion in Hell, and losing his rhyming status. Geoff Johns has almost exclusively written the character in comics I can’t find, so this remains, at least to this collector’s knowledge, the final status of Etrigan: promoted, and too busy to make mischief. [PLEASE, DC, let me write that comic!] let me know, readers, if he still talks in rhyme or not!

It really is an outstanding epic from DC Comics uniting the entire world against a threat that has huge repercussions for its main characters. Much moreso than the shallow meta-comics of Infinite Crisis and the frustratingly bad editing of Final Crisis, this comic tried to change the DC Universe, and do it in a spectacular way. Besides paving the way for (very boring) Green Lantern: Rebirth and the (slightly less boring) reinstitution of Hal Jordan as Green Lantern, this led to a wonderful Spectre series starring Hal as The Spectre which spun out of these comics (which will be the subject of part three in this series). For three full years, we got to see Hal Jordan as Spectre.

Characters we did not really see any more of?

They were in a now-quarter-bin mini-series JLA: Black Baptism with art by Jesus Saiz that’s worth picking up at a half price books. plus a handful of JLA comics. Six years later an incredibly similar team of characters would go on to become incredibly popular. With no narrative relation to these sentinels, they had one other striking difference determining their success: a detective chimp leading the team who smoked a pipe.

Of course, Geoff Johns edited that comic, so maybe he learned his lesson between crises.

Anyways, back to Day of Judgment (instead of Day of Vengeance, where the copycats Shadowpact came from… aww Geoff, you really got derivative of this brilliant little mini-series, didn’t you?): lots of really, really unimportant blather surrounded by a significant and important change in a superhero’s life: Hal Jordan goes from being a tormented soul in hell to the DC Universe’s most powerful, and ambivalent, superhero.

And the fact that Green Lantern gleefully murdered an entire city of people to make way for editorial to make way for a new, edgy cartoonist Green Lantern named Kyle Rayner. This is Hal Jordan’s moment of redemption. His chance to make right becomes possible only through his guilt of the crimes he suffered. Remember how I talked about Fleisher’s Spectre stories as resolving themselves after the criminal admits their guilt to the Spectre, often in holographic form? Well, here, it’s revealed that the Spectre depends on the guilt of the possessed as well as its criminal victims.

The Spectre enacts the same guilt he feels of himself on his victims.

And so, with this newfound revelation, we see a new Spectre emerge from this mini-series.

A spirit of redemption instead of wrath. Revising the old testament ethics of the initial Spectre comics (which took mischievous delight in their severity), the transition of the DC Universe’s spirit of vengeance changes with the millenium. No longer does he seek to punish

These are comics about freeing one’s self from guilt to partake in the greater world around you. It’s no coincidence that afte rthese, the Spectre went from two modest sales successes as the star of melancholic vengeance in mature readers titles, to the star of comic crises, as well as an ongoing allowing him greater participation in the DC Universe after these comics. Geoff Johns righted the character’s ethics. Later, J.M. DeMatteiss is going to get to see what this character can actually do in the universe.

I’ll write something about it after I reread the epic series following it. As we see The Spectre becoming the occult figure on the margins as we saw in Fleisher’s adventures (as well as his initial run, and two ongoing series during the Vertigo invasion of Mature Readers rebirth of superheroes), we always see him veer back into the mainstream DC Universe. The next ongoing series attempted to do both, an act of combining the melancholic nobility of the Spectre with an ongoing quest

All it took was the ghost of Hal Jordan.