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Frantic as a cardiograph scratching out the lines, Day 293: Adventure Comics #435

Every day this year, I will be examining the first pages of random comics. This month I will be showing pages that are either scary or are part of “scary” issues (as scary as a comic can be, of course), because it’s October! Today’s page is from Adventure Comics #435, which was published by DC and is cover dated October 1974. This scan is from the trade paperback Wrath of the Spectre, which was published in 2005. Enjoy!

He does, however, have a right to kill him in a different way!

Michael Fleischer and Jim Aparo’s run on Adventure Comics is a nifty little horror classic, not terribly “controversial” today, but presumably so in the 1970s, as the cover to the trade proclaims. Apparently it got cancelled pretty quickly, which might have less to do with the level of violence in the comics and more with the fact that sales weren’t good, but with the hindsight of years, these are pretty darned good comics. The first pages aren’t too scary, mainly because this was still back when comics used splash pages advertising what was going to happen, but they did show nicely what happened when you fucked with the Spectre.

You’ll notice that Russell Carley is credited with “script continuity” on this page. In the introduction, we learn that Carley was basically there to help Fleisher, who was primarily a prose writer, break the script down into panels. Maybe today we’d call Fleisher and Carley co-plotters (according to Fleisher, Carley came up with some of the more gruesome punishments the Spectre meted out) and Carley would get a “breakdowns” credit. I just dig that he was credited with “script continuity.”

Anyway, as this is an old-school comic, we get the banner across the top telling us who the Spectre is – Jim Corrigan, a “hard-boiled police detective” who becomes an “awesome avenger of evil.” Fret not – in the course of this story, the Spectre once again recaps his origin, so it’s not like we won’t find out his deal! Fleisher gives us a bad guy threatening a dude tied to a chair and implying that the Spectre tends to make his punishments as horrific as possible – the punk thinks, with good reason, that the Spectre is going to chuck him into the buzz saw. Remember your Chekov, people!

Aparo does his usual nice, Seventies work on the comic (as I’ve mentioned before, 1970s Aparo is much better than 1980s Aparo, for reasons we won’t go into right now). He tilts the page from the left to the right, so we’re sliding easily from the Spectre to the punk, and also to “push” the punk subtly toward his doom – despite the fact that we know the punk is standing on level ground, the tilting helps us, in our mind, push him closer to the blades. Plus, the blades lead us off the page to the right, which is handy. Aparo puts the Spectre hovering over the victim so that it’s clear that he’s on the victim’s “side” and so we don’t miss the victim in our hurry to gleefully consider the dude going into the buzz saw. Notice that the Spectre is emanating from the lantern on the table – perhaps it’s a subtle way for Aparo to imply that he’s a “light” of justice, or more probably, it’s more dramatic than him just crashing through the door. He is a ghost, after all. Aparo has always been pretty good with facial expressions, and his tendency to elongate faces works well with the punk’s look of terror – the dude is peeing his pants right at that moment, and Aparo does a nice job with it. Aparo, who lettered this page, presumably drew the title letters as well, and they match the Spectre’s appearance in that they flow from the barrel of the gun. Aparo inks himself (which is one theory about why his 1970s art is better), and he makes the punk appropriately rough, but he also makes the Spectre more tangible than a ghost might usually be, with the rough dark hatching on his arms and legs. This “weight” helps make the Spectre a more physical force even though we know he’s a ghost, and it helps when the book gets dark … which is does every issue! According to the Grand Comics Database, John Albano Jr. colored this page, and he and Aparo use a lot of black to match the tone. The Spectre has a sense of humor, but it’s black as pitch, so the coloring tends to reflect that. I’m not sure if the coloring of the title is the same in the original as in this trade, but if it is, I’m not sure why Albano changed the title character’s name to yellow. Perhaps it was easier to read?

This is a pretty nifty splash page. It’s not too scary, but there’s something unsettling about the inevitability of the Spectre’s punishments. The punk doesn’t go out quite as gruesomely as he thinks he will, but it’s still pretty horrific. The Spectre has no use for law-breakers!

Next: More Spectre? We’ll see! He did get his own series, after all. There has to be something scary in there! And find some more 1970s Aparo artwork in the archives!

7 Comments

I had this comic when I was a kid, and I was always very impressed with the Spectre and his punishments from this one story! Spoiler alert: the punk in this panel first gets turned into wood, and THEN sawed into big poker chips! One other guy gets frozen in a big wad of ice and money, and I forget what happens to the other bads in the story, but they were good and gruesome fates. I was disappointed in later versions of the Spectre, particularly in later years when he is inflated into some vast cosmic being like Galactus, or “God’s hand of vengeance” on the fringes of Heaven as he was shown in some Swamp Thing comics. I think Spectre works better on a smaller scale, scaring the crap out of mere evil humans and disposing of them in eerie, gruesome ways.

This issue also had a pretty cool Aquaman story (I know how that soinds, but it was!) in the second half, where he fought Black Manta, my first experience with either character outside of the Superfriends show. It was also a well-done and moody story, which actually looked like it was taking place underwater, unlike so many sub-sea hero tales (looking at you, Namor artists!).

This is the weirdest adaptation of 50 Shades of Grey….

I mean, that’s Clark Kent tied up there, innit?

I do believe our Dread Lord and Master did a CBLR about the “script continuity” credit. I’d link to it, but I’m too lazy to look it up in the archives.

I can’t remember his name, but he is a reporter who followed the Spectre’s trail of death trying to prove he exists.

In one story, a couple of cops tease him for looking like Clark Kent, and one asks him if he’s really Superman!

That’s right, he does look like Clark. I remember being confused about that as a kid!

I think this version of the Spectre was “controversial” primarily because everything becomes automatically controversial once Harlan Ellison gets involved. My recollection is that Ellison was reviewing one of these issues and described Fleisher as a “psychopath” or some less couth variation on same. Fleisher, for some reason, took offense to this and sued for libel. My guess is that Ellison probably meant it as a compliment.

I was just kidding, I didn’t really figure that it was Clark, but that’s totally cool that he gets made fun of for looking like him.

Ah, the days when a newspaper reporter was recognizable to the man on the street!

Matthew Johnson

October 22, 2012 at 7:31 am

@Hans Keller: The Fleisher Spectre stories were controversial at the time; the Fleisher/Ellison/Groth business happened some years later, when Ellison described Fleisher as “bugfuck” (meant positively, as you guessed) in an interview in The Comics Journal.

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