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Frantic as a cardiograph scratching out the lines, Day 294: The Spectre #5

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 The Spectre #5, which was published by DC and is cover dated April 1993. Enjoy!

Well, that can't be pleasant

I would imagine that being buried alive is one of the worst things that can happen to a person, so this page freaks me right the hell out. It’s a well designed page, too, except for, perhaps, the placement of the epigraph. Is it too far to the right? Is it colored too dark against the dark brown of the cemetery? I don’t know, but it’s not very prominent, especially because Mandrake designs the page to bypass it. We barely glance at the top layer of the page – the cemetery’s stones and the twisted trees – before Mandrake moves our eyes downward through the pipe. The “Mommy?” word balloon almost keeps us from taking in the entire scene above the ground, so I wonder about the placement of that dull green banner. Oh well.

The title is placed well, though, and colored a nice bright red and yellow, partly so we can read it clearly and partly because of the words “rage” and “hell,” which fit well with red and yellow. Mandrake makes sure the pipe leads us past corpses in various states of decay so that the horror Billy (the kid’s name is Billy) is feeling is more palpable. He can’t see the bodies, but he can probably figure out he’s not in a good place. The “cut-away” view of the ground is for us, to make us realize his predicament and feel the horror more clearly. If we missed the rain at the top of the page, Mandrake shows water dripping from the pipe, foreshadowing the fact that even though Billy has air, if it keeps raining, that’s not going to matter. The people who put him there (he was kidnapped) gave him a flashlight, which Ostrander and Mandrake did so we can see Billy and feel his horror as his situation gets worse. Mandrake draws him holding the flashlight underneath his chin, almost as if he’s telling a scary story, so that his face is shadowed, which emphasizes his downcast mouth and eyes. Obviously, Billy is crying because he’s buried alive, but the tear in the smaller panel that leads us to the second page helps link our mind back to the water flowing into the coffin – he’s in trouble even if he gets enough air.

Ostrander and Mandrake tap into one of humanity’s primal fears here, and they do it effectively. When we open this issue, we’re confronted with a horrific image that, once we look closer, already has a clock ticking on it. The coffin might be a bit big – look at that thing! – but we can allow Mandrake some artistic license with that sucker. What we get is an terrifying image of a child in peril, and there’s a reason why writers do that so often – it works. Even if we come into this thinking that there’s no way Ostrander would “kill” the kid, it’s still a tense first page. It’s just one reason why The Spectre is such a damned fine comic book!

Next: I think we’ll see one more first page related to our white-and-green ghost friend. That’s always fun, right? Keep keeping on by checking out the archives!

3 Comments

Well … that isn’t bone chilling at all.

I originally bought this issue in the mid-90’s when Wizard included it in their “Good & Cheap” column, which was one of my favorite parts of Wizard. As a teenager at the time, I found a ton of great stuff from that column, including the Death of Jean DeWolff, The Judas Contract, The Great Darkness Saga, DD #191, Avengers #164-166, Swamp Thing Annual #2, and several others that I’m sure I’m forgetting. For as much shit as Wizard gets over a lot of things (many deserved), it’s worth remembering that they were generally pretty good at celebrating quality.

Agree with Third Man on Wizard. I think the staff knew good stuff and stuck it in there where they could, but the Bad Girls/Image/Valiant HOT stuff sold the mag. It’s actually a good way to do it — sell us teenage boys the boobies and then give us the good stuff in the back.

Heck, Stern’s Spidey run was always mentioned as second only to Stan and Steve, and look where it’s placed on the creator list.

I don’t think I’ll forgive them for spoiling Watchmen and other books for me, though. They had a “most shocking” moments, and it spoiled a bunch of books. But I couldn’t stop reading!!!

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