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CSBG Archive

Comics You Should Own – The Spectre

02-08-2014 12;03;41PM

There’s nothing better than a little Wrath o’ God, right?

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The Spectre by John Ostrander (writer), Tom Mandrake (artist, issues #0-13, 15, 17-19, 21-23, 25, 27-31, 35-44, 46-62), Joe Phillips (artist, issue #14), Jim Aparo (penciller, issue #16), John Ridgway (artist, issues #20, 26, 34, 45), Mike Dutkiewicz (penciller, issue #24), A. J. Kent (penciller, issue #24), Dave Chlystek (penciller, issue #31), Steve Pugh (artist, issue #32), Hugh Haynes (penciller, issue #33), Bill Sienkiewicz (inker, issue #16), Adam McDaniel (inker, issue #24), Dennis Kramer (inker, issue #31), Tim Roddick (inker, issue #33), Klaus Janson (inker, issue #53), Digital Chameleon (colorist, issues #1-12; color separations, issues 15-62), Carla Feeny (colorist, issues #11-62), Todd Klein (letterer, issues #1-55, 57-62), and Clem Robins (letterer, issue #56).

Published by DC, 63 issues (#0-62, with the zero issue coming after issue #22), cover dated October 1992 – February 1998.

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(You can’t see the price increases on the covers unless you click on them, which you totally can do, but I’d like to make a note of them. Issue #1 was $1.95, but then it settled into the standard price point of $1.75. DC raised the price a mere 20 cents with issue #21, and it was $1.95 through issue #29. Issue #30 saw another price increase, to $2.25, and the book remained there until issue #48. The price went up to $2.50 on issue #49 and stayed there for the rest of the run. 02-08-2014 09;57;37AMThe point is not that comics back then were cheaper and wah wah wah, but that there was a time, not so long ago, when a price increase didn’t mean $2.99 to $3.99. There are a lot of prices in between those two that DC and Marvel could use!)

Some SPOILERS ahead, because that’s just the way it is!

A few years ago, when I wrote about Dr. Fate, I noted that mainstream superhero comics tend to ignore religion, and one of the things that was refreshing about Dr. Fate was that it didn’t. The Spectre is even more steeped in religion, and it’s not the only reason why it’s such a gripping read, but it’s a major factor. Obviously, John Ostrander’s brilliant handling of the many religious issues that he tackles in this series is one reason why it works so well, but it does show that you can still write a superhero comic set in a well-defined universe but still deal with spiritual issues. Of course, it helps when the book is as action-packed and bloody as this one, but still.

This iteration of The Spectre succeeds from a writing standpoint because Ostrander figures out some crucial stuff about the character. In most of the other versions of the character’s adventures, the writer focused mainly on the ground-level punishment the Spectre meted out. While that made for some good stories, there wasn’t very far one could take the character. Ostrander took the idea of the Spectre being the “Wrath of God” and went to its logical extreme, which tied the Spectre into a Judeo-Christian framework far more than he had ever been before. Whether Ostrander’s idea had never occurred to anyone before or whether previous writers had been discouraged from exploring that area because the comics culture wasn’t ready for that kind of depth, I don’t know, but by the early 1990s, the comics audience was mature enough to handle Ostrander bringing in deeper concepts than just the Spectre killing bad guys in inventive ways. 02-08-2014 10;01;46AMThe other thing Ostrander figured out was that the Spectre wasn’t a terribly interesting character because of its nature – it could never really change, because it’s an aspect of God that serves a specific purpose. Ostrander decided instead to focus on Jim Corrigan, because Corrigan, as the human part of the Spectre, could change – even though he was dead. By focusing on Corrigan, Ostrander could bring far more nuance to the adventures of the Spectre than most writers could prior to this series. Ostrander certainly didn’t neglect the Spectre, but he was much more concerned with showing how a man can become sanctified, as Corrigan has to understand what evil is before he can enter heaven. Ostrander was able to blend the idea of accepting God’s forgiveness with the idea of achieving grace through good works, a dichotomy in Christian thinking that has never quite been resolved (and isn’t really here – we don’t want to give Ostrander credit for resolving a 2000-year-old conflict, after all), so that Corrigan is able to leave this mortal coil behind, finally, and move on. The Spectre can’t, because that’s not what it’s made for. So Ostrander can indulge in the extreme justice that the Spectre enjoys employing (presumably this was done partly because Mandrake draws it so well), but he can also make the book about far more than that.

The crucial component of Ostrander’s run is, as I mentioned, making Corrigan understand the nature of evil. This is really the entire focus of the book, even when Ostrander writes stories that don’t specifically revolve around that theme. 02-08-2014 10;08;38AMEarly on, of course, Corrigan is just as he’s always been – a tough guy completely out of place in the world, an honest cop who nevertheless brutalized criminals, and someone who remains static because he’s dead and sees no reason to change. There’s not even really a sense of frustration about his mission – the Spectre always gets angry at the perpetrators of crimes, he always rails against them, but that’s just part of his schtick, and it seems stale even in the first issue. There’s a chance for change, though, as Corrigan metes out justice to the snitch who helped get him killed fifty years earlier, but he’s still unsatisfied. “I’m tired, Snipe,” he tells the snitch. “The world has only become more perverse in its choice of evils, and I don’t even know why.” Ostrander gives us a typical Corrigan, but one who at last realizes that “confronting evil” isn’t enough. By the end of issue #4, Corrigan, with the help of Amy Beitermann, whom he meets in issue #1, has seen that his mission isn’t quite what he thought it was, and he needs to comprehend as well as confront. Unfortunately for him, he doesn’t know how to do this.

What makes it difficult, of course, is both Corrigan’s personality and the nature of the world in which he finds himself. Corrigan is a stereotypical tough guy from the 1930s. He’s an honest cop, but he’s also willing to skirt the law when he knows someone is guilty. It’s this personality that made him a prime candidate for the Spectre – he doesn’t need a court to punish the guilty, because as the Wrath of God he can see into their souls and know their guilt. He’s also selfish and arrogant, as we see very early on in the book, when he and Amy revisit his murder and rebirth. 02-08-2014 10;15;13AMHe tries to take down Gat Benson by himself, and gets himself killed. Then, when he comes back as the Spectre, he’s so sure nothing can hurt him that he ignores his fiancée, Clarice, whom Gat had planned to kill, and she gets hit in the crossfire of bullets as the gangsters try to shoot Corrigan. Then he drags Clarice back to her body even though she was about to enter Heaven, and then he breaks off the engagement because he couldn’t devote his life to Clarice. The entire sequence of events shows how Corrigan thinks only of himself and believes himself invulnerable. Once he became the Spectre, he became even more invulnerable, which is one of the reasons he hasn’t changed much in five decades. Ostrander set out to change that.

One thing Ostrander isn’t afraid to do is make Corrigan a product of his times. Corrigan doesn’t treat women particularly well; he’s certainly not a bad guy, but he is somewhat condescending toward them, even as he comes to realize that Amy Beitermann is a complex human being. For a man born in the early part of the 20th century, he’s more racially aware than we might think, but Ostrander explains that away as a function of Corrigan’s upbringing – his father was a traveling preacher, so young Jim never made friends for very long. The only friend he had was the son of the family’s black housekeeper, and when his father disapproved, Jim showed his stubbornness by becoming even closer to Rafe. We find out that Corrigan’s father disapproved because Rafe was also his son, and his presence in the house reminded the elder Corrigan of his rape of Rafe’s mother, but it makes sense that Corrigan would harbor no racial animosity even during a time when many in white America were blatantly racist. Ostrander, however, shows us that Corrigan is anti-gay when he almost mildly punishes an group of men who beat one gay man and kill his lover. By the time this subject comes up, though, in issue #45, Corrigan has begun to question the values by which he lives, and he doesn’t freak out, but instead questions the Archangel Michael about the presence of homosexuals in Heaven. 02-08-2014 10;25;18AMOstrander gives Michael a great answer, first saying that the question is irrelevant because sexuality is not a spiritual matter, and then explaining to the Spectre about the souls in Heaven when the Spectre asks if there are those in Heaven who have committed “unnatural” acts: “What soul enters heaven without some stain of sin upon it? It is not the individual acts that bring or bar a soul here but the balance of one’s life. I should warn you — it is not what humanity considers good or evil. Humanity should not presume to judge for God. They invariably get it wrong.” Throughout the series, Ostrander does this: The Spectre or some other character thinks what they’re doing is right, but Michael or another character points out that maybe they shouldn’t be so sure about that. Hubris, which is a dominating Corrigan character trait, is a central theme of the book. In this issue, Corrigan continues to realize that even he, an aspect of God, doesn’t know everything about humanity, and this realization is why he is able to grow throughout the course of the series. He’s a product of his times, but he’s able to change, too.

Ostrander also wisely contrasts Corrigan with others. The secondary main character of the book is Nate Kane, a New York detective (with, I might add, a super-duper tough guy name), who pursues the Spectre originally before ending up Corrigan’s partner when Corrigan decides he needs to do something with his time. Kane is a modern version of Jim Corrigan, a tough guy who plays by his own rules but is also just the slightest bit more enlightened than Corrigan is. He understands Corrigan’s penchant for violence but is able to corral his more than Corrigan is, and he’s fairly immune to Corrigan’s mind tricks because he’s so self-assured and able to face his fears directly (Corrigan does find his weak spot, but I’ll get to that later). 02-08-2014 10;28;49AMUnlike Corrigan, he’s already able to put aside his prejudices to do his job as well as he can. In the issue where Corrigan’s homophobia comes to light, Kane is just a bit more enlightened than his partner: When Corrigan asks him if he likes “queers,” Kane responds:

Personally? No. Watching guys holding hands with other guys in public or kissing each other makes me queasy. Don’t like to look at ‘em, don’t like to be near ‘em. Don’t like to think about ‘em, don’t want to touch or be touched by ‘em. But … no matter how I feel about ‘em personally they’re entitled to the same rights under the law! The law has to be the same for everybody or it’s no good! And listen — the same better go double for you! I’m not sure what moral basis you got for what you do in the first place, but if you start picking and choosing who gets justice based on your prejudices then you ain’t got any moral authority! Don’t try passing off your vices as virtues with me, pal. I ain’t buying.

As anti-gay as Kane is, he’s able to see past his prejudices and get that he has to follow the law or it’s invalid for everyone. Corrigan has never had a problem dispensing justice, and in this case, he needs to figure out why he didn’t. Kane is speaking from a dark place when he talks about not being “touched” by homosexuals, as I’ll note below. But he, unlike Corrigan, is able to move past that. Kane provides an interesting foil to Corrigan, because he’s so like him but he’s grown up in a world that is far more tolerant and less violent. 02-08-2014 10;32;18AMHe might not be a role model, but Kane at least shows Corrigan that there’s a way to be a tough guy without being utterly devoid of human emotion.

The other foil for Corrigan is Father Richard Craemer, whom Ostrander imports from his run on Suicide Squad, which ended a few months before Ostrander began this series. He brings in Craemer in issue #13, after the first main story arc is done, and Craemer acts as Corrigan’s spiritual advisor from then on. Craemer immediately gets in trouble with the Spectre when he accidentally tells our hero to visit Vlatava, where thousands of innocents have been killed in a civil war (this was at the height of the Balkan wars; Ostrander always tries to work real-world events into his stories). The Spectre finds that no one is innocent, and he kills everyone in the country except for the two leaders of the warring sides and Count Vertigo. Unfortunately, Vertigo puts the idea in his head that no one on Earth is innocent, and the Spectre begins to wonder if maybe the entire world needs to be cleansed. This leads to a storyline where Ostrander links the Spectre to Eclipso (Ostrander, like so many great comic book writers of the 1980s and 1990s, used decades of continuity very well, a skill that is no longer terribly necessary in mainstream comics) and in which Craemer, Madame Xanadu, and Ramban (another Ostrander creation from Suicide Squad; he’s an Israeli superhero) manage to separate Corrigan from the Spectre and reach his human side, which allows him to begin his true mission of understanding evil in the world so he can understand it in himself. Craemer is crucial in getting Corrigan to that point, as it’s his compassion that brings Corrigan back from despair. He continues to act as Corrigan’s advisor and friend, explaining to him that he doesn’t need to avenge every murder (Corrigan is upset because he didn’t notice the obliteration of Coast City, an event that occurred in the Superman books) and trying to get him to figure out his true mission. Craemer is a wise man, almost too perfect, in fact, but he’s the kind of person you would want as a priest. Even when the Church decides that he must no longer be a priest because he teaches things contrary to the Church’s laws, he handles it with grace and humility (and joins the Episcopalians). Craemer always knows the correct thing to say to Corrigan – he points out that a person’s sexuality doesn’t define them in any way when Corrigan seeks advice about his own issues with homosexuals, and he explains that “murder” can mean the death of justice itself as Corrigan struggles with the “National Interest” in the big story arc that runs from issues #37-50. Corrigan lives a life of self-denial – he blames his problems on his upbringing, on his relationships with evil women, or on the bad guys he fought, but Craemer gets him to dig inside himself and see that he has to stop lying to himself, and only then can he move on. When he finally does that, he goes to search for God and doesn’t find him in Heaven. 02-08-2014 10;38;01AMThe Spectre does confront God, but Craemer helps him make sense of what happened, and that finally allows Corrigan to move on past his time as the Spectre and enter Heaven. Both Kane and Craemer are crucial to forcing Corrigan to grow up and leave the past behind.

The theme of forgiveness and redemption and moving on is the main one in this series, as Ostrander uses the idea of Corrigan wanting justice on his own terms, not God’s, and expands on that. Corrigan’s origin, with him shouting to the heavens about the lack of justice on Earth, is set in stone, but Ostrander takes that and uses it to delve into the origin of the Spectre, not just the Corrigan-Spectre. I’m not sure if the idea of “comprehending” evil is new or part of the original story (I’m going to guess it’s a retcon), but when we first see it, in issue #4, Amy Beitermann, who’s witnessing it, makes the point that Corrigan didn’t hear that part because he was so focused on vengeance. His journey to forgive both others and himself is why the book exists, and Ostrander uses plenty of other characters to bring home this theme. Amy Beitermann herself is the first one. Amy is HIV-positive, and when she tells the story of her life to Jim, it’s clear she hasn’t forgiven herself for what has happened to her. She believes that it’s her fault that her father went away to war and never came back; she believes she wished her mother dead after her mother sought solace in a succession of men; she kicks out her husband when she finds out he’s cheating on her and then engages in a string of affairs; she finds out that her husband had gotten AIDS while they were married and passed it on to her, and she proceeded to pass the virus on to all the men she slept with. Even though she tells Corrigan to forgive himself, it’s clear she hasn’t forgiven herself. Over the course of the first 12 issues (until Amy’s murder), she gradually does what Corrigan can’t and accept that these things aren’t her fault. Her journey is the template for many other characters in the book.

Nate Kane, as Corrigan’s more modern mirror, is one such character. He loves Amy, but he can’t bring himself to touch her because so many people in his life have died from various diseases, and he fears dying such a slow, painful death. 02-08-2014 10;42;05AMWhen Amy is brutally attacked, Nate and Corrigan both find her, and while she pleads with both of them to stay with her as she dies, neither of them do. Corrigan is compelled to punish the man who killed her, and Nate can’t bring himself to hold her because he’s terrified he’ll be infected by her blood. Nate is ashamed of himself, and it takes him most of the series to get over that shame. Azmodus, the Spectre’s arch-enemy, is another such character. In issue #0, Ostrander retells the origin of the Spectre as the Wrath of God, and how it needed to be bonded with a human host after the birth of Jesus. The first Spectre was in a different belief system, that of Hinduism, with a man named Caraka, who was killed, along with his family, by a woman named Beltane who was collecting souls. He demanded justice much like Corrigan and became the Spectre. In a later issue, Caraka believed that his mission was fruitless and rebelled against the gods, so Kali punished him by stripping away his powers and joining him with a demon who was tempting Caraka, creating Azmodus. The Spectre can’t defeat Azmodus, and the only way he wins is because Azmodus realizes that he has been harming the soul of his dead wife, whom he greatly loved. He renounces evil and is allowed to move on in his journey. His story gets wrapped up in the story of Clarice Winston, the woman who Corrigan loved before he was killed. In issue #23, Corrigan discovers that Clarice is still alive, but she’s obviously very old and in a coma. Clarice has had a horrible life, stemming from Corrigan’s rejection of her, and at the end of it, her granddaughter is trying to kill her. Corrigan gives her a reprieve by putting her soul into her granddaughter’s body and vice versa, allowing Clarice to live a new life. Azmodus uses that and brings the old body, now with Clarissa’s soul in it, back to full life, and of course she accuses the young body, with Clarice’s soul, of attempted murder. Clarice had no respest for her son, but he redeems himself when Clarissa tries to kill Clarice, and then Clarissa herself rejects Azmodus. Clarice sacrifices herself so that Clarissa can return to her original body, and this is crucial in allowing the Spectre to defeat Azmodus. None of it would have been possible if Clarice had not forgiven Corrigan for the way he treated her and if her family hadn’t been able to forgive each other. 02-08-2014 10;47;51AMFinally, in “The Haunting of America” story arc that runs in issues #37-50, Ostrander explores the many ways the United States has betrayed its founding principles and how the people of the country must accept that and also how the victims must often forgive their oppressors before a “more perfect union” is forged.

This theme makes the book, while wildly blood-soaked (and it’s extremely violent – let’s not forget that), a far more uplifting comic than we might expect. Corrigan experiences a lot of tragedy, but Ostrander makes the point that for every tragedy, there’s a ray of hope. Even as Amy Beitermann bleeds out and both Nate and Corrigan leave her, Madame Xanadu arrives and holds her as she dies. In a DCU where many different levels of reality exist, Ostrander can offer the living some comfort that the noble dead get a reward, as Amy clearly goes to Heaven, and she even intercedes to allow Percival Popp, the old comedic relief character from the Spectre’s 1940s adventures, into Heaven. Corrigan might live but a harsh code, but he is compassionate within that code – while the other cops insult Percival Popp, Corrigan stands by him because Percival stood by Corrigan and because he’s honest. Ostrander is always writing stories that offer the characters a chance to live a better life, and usually, they take it. 02-08-2014 10;55;47AMNate Kane finds love at the end of the book and teaches the Spectre a bit about justice as opposed to rigid law. The secret weapon of the National Interest turns against his masters when he realizes they’re perverting the concept of America, and he helps forge a new American identity, a more inclusive one. Ostrander even holds out the possibility of redemption for the Joker, as the Spectre gives him a conscience for an instant, allowing him to recognize all the evil he’s done and how horrible he is. The Joker, according to Ostrander, has no understanding of his crimes and therefore the Spectre cannot judge him, but he still shows how, for one brief moment, even the Joker could be redeemed if he understood the extent of his evil. In the final storyline, Jim Corrigan is able to forgive his own father and then himself so that he can enter Heaven. Ostrander never loses sight of the fact that anyone can be redeemed if they want to be, and that makes the book an impressive declaration about the power of love, one that is either missing or forced in far too many mainstream comics.

Ostrander’s elevated aspirations wouldn’t be as effective without an artist like Mandrake working with him, however. Mandrake’s fluid, dynamic style is perfect for a comic like The Spectre and other epic type adventures (his work with Ostrander on both Firestorm and Martian Manhunter are other highlights). Mandrake’s biggest weakness – he’s not great at facial expressions that aren’t anger – don’t come into play as much in this comic, but his strengths are at the forefront. 02-08-2014 11;00;34AMHis sinewy lines with his harsh inks imposed on them (Mandrake inks himself for almost the entire run) help create characters who move easily around the pages but look solid and serious. The dark humor of the book is heightened by Mandrake’s imaginative yet deadly serious drawings of the Spectre dispensing his unique brand of justice. The justice the Spectre dispenses is wonderfully imaginative, too – creators going back to Fleisher and Aparo, at least, have had a lot of fun with the way the Spectre wipes out bad guys, and in the new, more “mature” world of the 1990s, Mandrake could go even further. But even more than just coming up with ways to kill bad guys, Mandrake expands the page, obliterating panel borders, using double-page spreads to maximum effect, and devising some dazzling page layouts. His visions of Hell are terrifying, perhaps more than any other depiction of Hell in mainstream comics, and that includes the Vertigo books (and The Spectre is essentially a Vertigo book set firmly in the DCU, anyway). Mandrake wisely leaves Heaven alone, but even the fact that he draws the Gates of Heaven and the Archangel Michael with a looser, more airy line is a good contrast to the horrifying precision of Hell. The greatness of Mandrake on the book is even more pronounced when a guest artist shows up. There’s nothing really wrong with the fill-in artists – some are better than others, of course – but they lack the unfettered craziness of Mandrake, and it’s interesting that Ostrander seems to rein in the Spectre’s tendencies to go wild when he’s writing a story he knows Mandrake won’t illustrate. Only Steve Pugh, who’s quite good at horror, comes close to the vibe that Mandrake gives to the book, but even he isn’t as expansive and dynamic as Mandrake is. Plus, Mandrake drew 53½ of 62 issues of a book that was rarely, if ever, delayed (I bought it when it was coming out, and I don’t remember any significant breaks in the schedule). He was not only superb, but he was able to keep up with the pace of the book, which allowed it to remain a consistent artistic marvel for its entire run. Here are just some of his greatest hits:

Issue #5:
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Issue #8:
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Issue #13:
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Issue #0:
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Issue #25:
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Issue #30:
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Issue #57:
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Issue #59:
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The Spectre really is an amazing combination of the right writer and the right artist on the right character. Ostrander went to seminary for a year and was interested in becoming a priest, so he knows a bit more about the actual workings of religious sects than a lot of other writers, and that informs not only his writing of Richard Craemer but helps when he starts treading more into the theology of the Spectre. 02-08-2014 11;43;37AMMandrake’s flowing art creates an epic feel to the book, full of melodrama and adventure and horror, and I don’t think Mandrake has ever been better (and I like Mandrake quite a bit). The Spectre, with his foundation in a Judeo-Christian world and his awesome power and his ability to be anything he wants, suits both Ostrander’s sensibilities and Mandrake’s style. It’s a bit surprising that DC approved this book, even in the more mature atmosphere of the 1990s, but it’s cool that they did. There’s a reason that I’ve listed it as #4 and then #3 on the Top Comic Book Runs thing Brian does every four years. It’s just that good. I could write even more about it, but I think I’ve gone on long enough!

The Spectre #1-4 has been collected in a trade, but I’m sure it’s long out of print. Nothing else has been collected yet, but according to the latest issue of Previews, in May we’ll get a trade of the first 12 issues, which form pretty much a complete story (with some side journeys here and there). I would love it if that means we’re getting a bunch of big trades – 5 or 6 should be enough for the whole run, depending on how many issues each collects. I encourage you all to get the trade when it comes out, or just go hunting through the back issues!

I apologize for taking so long with this. It’s a big run, and it’s pretty meaty, and I’ve been trying to get ahead with the “Year of the Artist” posts, so I’ve been taking a while to write this. I don’t know how long it will be before I post another one, because these confonded “S” titles are so plentiful and so many are nice long runs. But I’m sure I’ll get another one up soon enough! Of course, you can always check out the archives!

02-08-2014 11;46;19AM

35 Comments

I have the first TPB pre-ordered.
I remember back in the day really being excited to see Greg Hildebrandt’s cover for #11, as a fan of both comics and LOTR.

SO GOOD.

As you say, part of what was so great was how firmly it was set in the DCU while also being effectively a high-quality Vertigo book. It made great use of the company-wide crossovers, even when sometimes that meant gracefully sidestepping them. It contributed new stuff to the DCU, most notably Michael Holt/ Mr Terrific, and enriched and deepened a lot else, such as Eclipso. (It also wrecked Uncle Sam for a while, but that’s the only case I can think of in which the series subtracted from rather than adding to the DCU.) Meanwhile, like The Demon, it unembarrassedly acknowledged Sandman’s existence.

The best work Ostrander’s ever done, and that’s saying a lot. I think it was better than the contemporaneous Starman, which is the most obvious comparison, and, yes, it;s one of the best long-term writer-artist combinations on the right project the genre’s ever had.

Jacob: I’m not sure if Ostrander “wrecked” Uncle Sam – I do like the “new and improved” spirit of America, but no one really went anywhere with it. Maybe it’s because Uncle Sam was a bit too iconic, and using Ostrander’s new character might have meant too much explanation. I think someone could have run with Patriot, but maybe it just wasn’t meant to be. And I love that Ostrander keeps the Sandman in the DCU (well, the Sandman’s Hell, at least) – I think those kinds of nods, where they’re not overwhelming but acknowledge his presence in the bigger whole, work really well.

I haven’t read all of GrimJack yet, so I’m not sure if it’s better, but I wouldn’t argue if you wanted to say it’s the best thing Ostrander’s ever done, even though I like so much of his work! And I’ll be re-reading Starman soon, so let the comparisons begin! :)

I loved this comic. One of my favorites of my youth. Truly special. I really hope they finally collect it.

tom fitzpatrick

February 8, 2014 at 3:20 pm

You know what I like about Tom Mandrake? He’s a reliable and dependable artist.

No, really… just look at how many issues out of 62 that he did. (you indicated 53 out of 62). These days, you’d be damn lucky if you got an artist that committed to a book.

What an amazing comic! I remember reading each one 2-3 times as soon as I got back from my LCS every month! It blew my mind and always seemed so short! I couldn’t wait to get it and was devastated when it ended.

I never read this back in the day but i’m glad i have the trade pre-ordered.

Also don’t stop now! you still haven’t extolled the virtues of the Suicide Squad, my favorite series ever. All should bask in its glory

andrew: I do these in alphabetical order, so Suicide Squad is coming up, I promise!

Man, do I love this comic. I own the whole run and re-read about once a year. Heavy stuff. Real emotion. Mind-blowing concepts. I just love it!

And those covers! Daaaaaaaaaaaaayum!!!

This was a truly amazing series. It’s one of the few things that kept me reading comics during the “Dark Age”. I’ll be there for every trade!

Man, you’re totally doing this to get me to pre-order that new trade.

I wuz gonna anyway, I swears!

Mandrake’s stuff still looks great, even if the stories he illustrates (Night Force and To Hell You Ride) aren’t quite worthy of his work. And Ostrander is the man.

One thing I liked about this series is that it used religion in a non-pandering and non-insulting way. As a Catholic, I enjoyed seeing the story incorporate the Spectre into classic Bible stories. Ostrander’s theology ran a bit liberal for my tastes, but it wasn’t a total turn off and I enjoyed it for what it was.

Religion in superhero comics is often a touchy subject. You might get the occasional nod (a character is acknowledged to be a certain religion), or you might get something so zany it’s an obvious parody (stuff in the Savage Dragon comes to mind), but not a lot that really explores religious questions. At best, you tend to get this halfhearted “we’ll acknowledge the Bible without really discussing it,” like all of Geoff Johns’ religious nods in Blackest Night or the “He’s Judas but we’re not saying it” revelation in the new Phantom Stranger. This series tackled religious questions head-on, and did it well.

Fantastic article Greg! I absolutely loved this run when it was coming out. I was working at a comic shop in the mid 90′s and would recommend this and Robinson’s Starman to people. I can see why folks would compare the two, they were both writer driven books that existed in the DC universe, ran for nearly the same amount of issues and ended on their own terms. My only memory of Ostrander after this is that hideous run on The Punisher.

Mutt: Yeah, the covers are amazing. I had trouble narrowing down which ones to show!

Jason: Thanks, sir. Ostrander did write a decent, but not great, Martian Manhunter series after this, and his Star Wars stuff that he does now is okay, but this is his last truly great work, I would say.

Thanx for highlighting my favorite run if a comic ever. I had stopped reading everything except this title during most of its run. I know others have said it but the fact that he “played in the sandbox” of the DCU(crossovers and all) and still addressed all the real vent topics and still delivered such fantastic takes put it head and shoulders above the rest.

And NO ONE draws hell like Mandrake!

Jeff

have to admit that ostrada really did know how to do the spectre right . for he was allowed to show how even a creature like the spectre can some how have thanks to his human host jim have some morals plus still found it interesting that the spectre found the key to why the joker is really the way he is.for that one part alone in the entire run to me was creepy.

I like this column, and own a lot of what you have previously covered. But I just can’t get into Mandrake’s art. So this is a skip for me.

okay, you did it. Now I really want to read it.

James: Oh well. Different strokes for different folks and all. I like Mandrake, but not everyone does!

chakal: Get the trade when it comes out! :)

Thanks for the kind words. Much appreciated. I’d also add a word about the brilliant covers that our two editors, Dan Raspler and Pete Tomasi, put together. Each one told its own Spectre story in a single image, I thought. And the letter columns (mostly by Tomasi) were also terrific and often thought provoking as well. It was a, I think, a terrific package and I’m very proud of it.

John: Thanks for stopping by! I loved the covers, and could have easily devoted an entire post to them! And I did enjoy the letters, too – the late 1980s/1990s were a Golden Age of letters columns, as far as I can tell. They were more than just gushing about the contents of the books and got into a lot of the themes that the comics were getting into, and they were always fascinating to read. I’m one of the people who thinks that trade paperbacks should include the letters!

I hope the new trade sells really well and DC brings out the rest of it. It definitely deserves a wider audience.

I have about a dozen issues of The Spectre by Ostrander, Mandrake & friends. Really great comic books, I wish I had followed the series regularly. I keep hoping one of these days DC will collect the entire run into trade paperbacks. When Ostrander and Mandrake re-teamed for Martian Manhunter, I made certain to pick up that book from the word “go.” That was a fantastic series, as well, and I wish that it had lasted longer.

Ben, I dunno if you realized from what some of us were saying, but DC is starting to collect this in trade. The first one, with 1-12, is in the current Previews. So pre-order it and hope that DC goes for the whole shebang!

Oh, man, when I was younger and dumber (well, younger, anyway), I got to meet Mr Ostrander at an Ithacon (a little before the Blaze of Glory mini from Marvel, because he had Manco pages to show). Unfortunately I was too dumb to appreciate the talented guy there and didn’t get to discuss anything, other than my dumbly mumbled “that looks neat”.

I think it’s the same show where I was too shy and dumb to talk to Jo Duffy, and where I just stood in awe of Kurt Busiek looking around at the dealer tables. Dang, that was a lot of talent at that show, and I’m not even remembering most of the people!

Whatever happened to Dan Raspler, anyway? Even as a dumb kid I realized his name was on everything I enjoyed the most in comics. He just disappeared!

Hey, Travis! Thanks for the clarification… more for me to buy now!

I was fortunate enough to meet John Ostrander on a couple of occasion, so I have a some comics signed by him, including a few of his Star Wars issues. As anyone who has read Suicide Squad knows, Ostrander writes great political intrigue. He told some really fantastic, suspenseful stories against the backdrop of the prequels.

“Confront evil.”

“Confront–and comprehend.”

My favourite comic of all time. Brilliant, scary and touching. The opening 12-issue story arc (and the following year of stories exploring the ramifications of that arc) are particularly amazing. Thanks for reviewing it, Greg.

You forgot the Spectre Annual, with Ostrander and Pat Oliffe; a great little Spectre/Dr Fate story.

Thanks for showcasing Ostrander’s Spectre run. In my opinion, this was DC’s best comic of the 90s. You can say its Gaiman & Sandman but it took a theologian to make the Spectre work and create something so brilliant on a complex character and give us a great run. From the initial issue to the funeral, Ostrander gave us a rebirth and re-death of Corrigan that satisfied this Spectre fan.

DubipR: I wasn’t too impressed with the Annual. It was all right, but it’s not terribly essential.

Nice article. also being nit-picky, there was a Spectre story in Showcase `95 #8 that led into Spectre 34.

Amills931: I know about that, but I don’t own it, so I can’t include it. Also, I know that Ostrander didn’t write it, so I figured it was probably safe to skip it. I should track it down, however. Thanks for reminding me.

Jonathon Riddle

March 1, 2014 at 12:02 am

I read this series a few years ago thanks to a friend who let me borrow his copies (I have since bought my own). I read an issue a night, usually sitting up in bed, just before going to sleep.

What other commentators here touch on, but which needs greater emphasis, was just how damn SCARY this book was! I would feel a delightful tremor of dread when turning these pages, never knowing when that next terrifying moment would strike – and then I would find it! I would see something so frightening that I would literally hurl the comic away from me to the foot of the bed! Then, hungry to know what happens next, I would dive to where I threw it, scoop the comic up into my greedy mitts, and read on – until that moment when the comic would go flying again!

I can’t remember another horror comic that elicited such a visceral reaction from me. I envy anyone reading this series for the first time. It was such a fun experience!

Uh, no, Greg, Ostrander did in fact write that Showcase story. And Mandrake drew it. I’m not sure how “essential” it is, but it is by the regular creative team. (Why it was in Showcase, I dunno.)

Jonathon: Yeah, it’s a pretty terrifying comic, isn’t it?

Travis: Huh. I was going to track it down, but in the letters column soon after it came out, someone mentioned that Louise Simonson wasn’t the perfect person to write a Spectre story, so I just assumed she wrote it. Darn it, I should have double-checked. Maybe I’ll track the issue down now, or maybe DC will reprint it as part of the trade if they get that far with the series!

The reference to Louise Simon son writing the Spectre that you cite, Greg, would have been in reference to the issue of Superman: The Man of Steel that guest starred the Spectre and tied into the “Haunting of America” story line. I forget the issue number, and I no longer own a copy, but it isn’t essential to understanding the story and can easily be skipped.

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