Wednesday, 28 October 2009
The Wrath Of The Spectre
The Spectre has, of course, been around since the '40's, when he was first created by Jerry Siegel. ( I love the fact that Jerry Siegel created The Spectre after creating Superman. I mean, what was he thinking? ) But The Spectre's finest hour was probably this short run in the pages of Adventure Comics.
It was a brilliant, ghoulish series that raised a few eyebrows at the time for it's violence
and, so the story goes, was inspired by an incident that happened to editor Joe Orlando. According to Jim Aparo: Someone had told me that Joe had told him that he had been mugged in the city, and the mugger got away, and Joe was infuriated over it and was looking for revenge.
Over to Joe: I might have used it to justify why I was doing that. As a kid, I liked the Superman who took the criminal up really high and said, 'Listen, buster, you tell me what's going to happen or I'm going to drop you'. That's why I read Superman. I don't like any super-heroes who are wimps. Because that's not fulfilling the job they're supposed to be doing, which is, when you've lost all recourse through legal channels, to use force. That's what a super-hero's about.
And that's absolutely what The Spectre's about here.
Scripted by comics greatest misanthrope Michael Fleisher and with art at the peak of his game from Aparo, each issue is basically the same nasty morality play. The bad guys do something unspeakably rotten, and The Spectre finds them, and kills them in the most creatively baroque, gruesome way Fleisher & collaborator Russell Carley can come up with.
That's really it, and you can't read too many of them in one go, but taken individually each story is a perfect rancid little gem.
There is some attempt at continuity later on, in the form of a faintly ludicrous romance between The Spectre's earthbound alter-ego Jim Corrigan & sexy socialite Gwen Sterling, ( he's a ghost, darlin'! ) and a sub-plot where a Clark Kent-ish reporter tries to find out why all these criminals keep dying in bizarre ways. ( Nice touch when Corrigan actually calls the guy Clark Kent. Post-modernism will eat itself! ) But it's really the gruesome acts of vengeance that stick in the memory. And unlike the EC's which obviously inspired a lot of this, the death's aren't always simple poetic justice ( like the hairdresser cut in half by a pair of giant scissors ), but more often things that come completely out of left field. Like my all-time favourite, where The Spectre turns a bad guy into wood, then runs him through a saw mill!
And the art is some of the best of Jim Aparo's career. His work of this period always seemed to me to be so complete, and so perfect, it was like a machine did it. Absolutely nothing is wrong or out of place, and there isn't a weak panel in the whole series. His art also had the 'cool' factor, something indefinable that only Gil Kane's could match. Every one of his characters somehow just looked unspeakably cool, like the greatest Rat Pack movie never made.
There's no real depth to this series, it does exactly what it says on the tin, but it's got something better. A raw, nasty energy. As Fleisher said: You can't read it without being affected by it's power. It violated many of the conventions ( in comics ) that people accepted. And in violating those conventions, because I wasn't interested in them and hadn't been educated in them, I created something that I think had a very unusual bite and energy to it. But at the same time, it was like a work of primitive art. It lacked a certain refinement.
Of course, it's a series that's not as shocking as it once was, but there's still that pure, unbridled hatred to it...
The trade collects the whole series, including three scripts that were abandoned when the series was cancelled, that Aparo finally got to draw in the '80's. They're not as good as the first stories, but hey, any Jim Aparo is welcome.