THE SPECTRE (Mania.com)

By:James Busbee
Date: Wednesday, January 03, 2001

You can't keep a good hero down. Take former Green Lantern Hal Jordan, for instance. You'd think that going insane, slaughtering those nearest and dearest to you, and darn near ending all of existence would pretty much send you straight to hell for all of eternity. But even though Hal did all that, he also had the soul of a heroand so he's getting a chance to redeem himself.

Hal sacrificed himself to save Earth, but that didn't earn him passage into heaven. He's since adopted the mantle of the Spectre, the physical embodiment of the Wrath of God. Now, along with his new job, he's got a new series, courtesy of writer J.M. DeMatteis and artist Ryan Sook. While The Spectre won't feature Hal cruising the DC universe in his old green costume, DeMatteis' plans nonetheless should warm the hearts of the legions of Hal Jordan fans.

'Although Hal will be 'the Spectre' and that name will be on the cover, as the series evolves, it's going to be totally different from the old series,' says DeMatteis. 'First and foremost, it's because we're dealing with Hal Jordan here, and Hal, to me, is the center of the story. Before, even though Jim Corrigan [the previous Spectre] was important, you read for the Spectre. I think this time, readers are going to be going because of Hal Jordan, and who he is, where he's been, what he's going through, and where he's heading. It's a very character-driven series, despite the fact that you're going to get all the cosmic themes and the superheroic brouhaha.'

Heir Jordan

A brief history lesson: Before anybody had ever heard of 'Kyle Rayner,' Hal Jordan was the DC Universe's finest Green Lantern. Born without fear, Hal was a hotshot test pilot (is there any other kind?) who encountered a dying alien named Abin Sur. Before he died, Abin Sur handed Hal his power ring, and charged Hal with protecting Earth as a member of the universe-spanning Green Lantern Corps. But years later, after seeing his beloved Coast City destroyed, something in Hal snapped. He decided to push his power ring to its ultimate limitscreating whatever the user could imagineby playing God and recreating Coast City.

In a highly controversial storyline, Hal, driven mad by his Coast City obsession, slaughtered most of his fellow Green Lanterns, eventually becoming the omnipotent villain Parallax. In an attempt to redeem himself later, Hal heroically sacrificed himself in the 'Final Night' crossover, but his fans refused to let his memory die, demanding that DC do more to honor the hero. So in the recent 'Day of Judgment' crossover, Hal Jordan assumed the role of the Spectre. Following a four-issue arc in Legends of the DC Universe that bridged the gap between Hal's Green Lantern and Spectre days, the new series finds Hal still working through his guilt from the Parallax situationa theme that DeMatteis says will permeate the book's early arcs.

'As a reader, I was a little taken aback by what they did to Hal Jordan,' says DeMatteis. 'I didn't like him being this murderous lunatic who was going to reshape the universe. The Hal Jordan I grew up with was a straight-arrow, decent guy, and I never bought [his insanity]. That said, as a writer, I think that storyline makes him a far more fascinating character. At his core, whatever he's gone through, he's still the same decent guy, which means he has tremendous guilt. He's totally aware of what he's done, and he wants to make amends, so this is really the story of Hal's redemption.'

Which means, of course, that despite many fans' ardent wishes, The Spectre is not Return of the One True Green Lantern. 'This is not Hal Jordan flying around the universe with a power ring being a superhero,' says DeMatteis. 'This is Hal in a very different venue, and it's a venue that he doesn't necessarily understand or feel comfortable with.'

Learning the Ropes

The major problem for Hal is the Spectre's modus operandi as the so-called 'Wrath of God.' Throughout history, the Spectre has served as a virtually omnipotent executioner, punishing those who would dare violate God's will. The Spectre always bonds to a human host to give it perspective and balance. The most recent host was Jim Corrigan, a murdered New York City cop. While Corrigan served as the Spectre for nearly sixty years, he eventually grew disenchanted with the burdens of his job, and relinquished the role. Now Hal must fight his way through the contradictions of the Spectre's role in the DC universe.

'One of the questions that gets addressed off the bat in the first issue is that God said to Hal, 'Here's your second chance for redemptionhow you do it is, you go out and fry people's souls.' This does not really compute for me, and it certainly doesn't compute for Hal,' says DeMatteis. 'How does it lead to redemption to fry people's souls?'

In the midst of learning the ropes of his new role, Hal must also try to figure out just where he fits into the scheme of a universe he nearly destroyed. Is he hero, villain or something beyond both? In a search for answers, Hal begins the first issue with a journey to hell.

'You want advice on pain and suffering, you go straight to the source,' says DeMatteis. 'Hal is wrestling with the whole issue of, 'Am I alive, am I not really alive?' He's back, but he's not really back, because he's not really a human being in the sense that he was before he'd died. But he's still attached to his image as Hal Jordan.

'If you died and came back as a spirit, you'd still be walking around thinking you were you, even if you could walk through a wall or dematerialize or be capable of other things. We cling to our identities because it's all we've got. So [Hal's late former love] Carol Ferris enters the story, Batman and Superman enter the story, Hal's brother Jack enters the story. Hal's seeking to take his place in this new cosmic, spiritual role, and yet he's seeking human connection at the same time.'

Visits to the Other Side

The Spectre isn't the only one with guilt over the Parallax affair. Hal will find an ally and confidant in none other than Abin Sur, the alien who gave Hal the ring in the first place.

'Abin Sur is the spiritual Watson to the Spectre's Holmes,' says DeMatteis. 'He's the voice for Hal to bounce off of. Their two destinies are very much intertwinedAbin Sur gave Hal Jordan all this power, and look where it led. So in a lot of ways, Abin Sur is the guy who's responsible [for Parallax], and we'll see in the first issue just how responsible he is. He knew Hal Jordan for about ten seconds, and he made a judgment call that, depending on your point of view, could have been a great judgment call, or the worst judgment call in the history of the Green Lantern Corps.'

The reappearance of Abin Sur and other 'dead' DC characters, including Hal himself, would appear to open the door to bringing back every single character who ever died in the DC universe. It's a door DeMatteis quickly slams shut.

'I don't want this to be 'the book where all the dead characters can show up,'' says DeMatteis. 'Hal is not spending most of his time in the afterlife. I don't want this to be Dead Character Monthlybut you could see the more mysterious and supernatural DC universe characters, like the Phantom Stranger. Someone mentioned Swamp Thing, and I thought, what a cool idea.'

However, even though they'll be treading some of the same otherworldly paths, it's not likely readers will see Hal holding court with the gang from DC's legendary Sandman series anytime soon. The Vertigo imprint remains fiercely protective of its prize characters. 'I have a feeling, to quote [vice-president Al Gore, that that stuff is in a lockbox,' says DeMatteis. 'Still, there are plenty of good characters, like Deadman and Demon, that I could use anytime.'

The Spectre's New Role

While The Spectre will feature both individual stories and multi-part arcs, DeMatteis has an overall goal in mind. He won't reveal exactly the path he plans to take, but he will reveal something about his goals for the new Spectre.

'Each story arc is going to bring both Hal's character as a person and the Spectre's role in the DC universe one step forward,' says DeMatteis. 'So by the end of the first yearby the end of the very first issue, in factwe're going to see a very different Spectre. By the time we're done with this transformation, the Spectre will have a completely different role in the DC universe than that old 'Spirit of Vengeance,' frying people's souls. It's already been done. [Previous Spectre writer] John Ostrander did it to perfection.'

Even with all the cosmos-spanning drama and world-shattering power of the Spectre, DeMatteis wants to keep the focus squarely on character, for the simple reason that the current Spectre is a figure unlike any in all of comics history. 'With a story like this, it's got to be about Hal first and foremost,' says DeMatteis. 'That's what's so interesting about the Spectre. We've got this DC universe icon who's been around for forty years, suddenly in a totally new role, and that's unique. It'd be like having Clark Kent become the Phantom Stranger. It's a fascinating mix, and it's a very delicate balance, but I think it's going to work.'

An integral part of that overall Spectre mix is artist Ryan Sook, whose dark, moody pages perfectly complement DeMatteis' tone. 'Ryan's finished art is just extraordinary,' says DeMatteis. 'I love itwhen I sit down to dialogue these pages, it's just effortless because of this beautiful artwork. All I have to do is look at the page. It doesn't matter what kind of mood I'm in; I sit down and it just flows. I expect every month, it's going to get better.'

As the first issue of the series hits stands, DeMatteis believes that just as Hal Jordan will appreciate his second chance at life, readers will enjoy their second chance with Hal. 'This is someone who has died, been resurrected and given this role that he doesn't really understand,' says DeMatteis. 'The readers will figure his role out along with him. This series is Hal's journey of discovery, and hopefully the readers' as well.'