The Spectre has always been my favorite DC character even though he’s rarely been my favorite DC Comic. That’s because like Superman, The Spectre has been an inherently difficult character to write ever since his first appearance in More Fun Comics #52 back in 1940. Like Superman, over the years the Spectre has been written as being nearly all-powerful, while other writers have greatly toned down his powers. The Spectre seems best when he is outside of the standard DC Comics storylines, much like the tales written by Michael Fleisher in the 1970’s in the pages of Adventure Comics. Here the Spectre took revenge on murderers in a variety of grisly means.
This book picks up where Day of Vengeance and Infinite Crisis left off. This trade paperback reprints Crisis Aftermath: The Spectre #1 – 3, and Tales of the Unexpected # 1 –3. The Spectre was separated from his human host in Day of Vengeance, and went on a vengeful rampage, killing the wizard Shazam and destroying Atlantis. Needing a human host the Spectre offers himself to recently murdered homicide detective Crispus Allen, who was killed by a dirty cop, ironically named Jim Corrigan, the name of the Spectre’s original host. The relationship between the two Corrigans has yet to be explained. Allen at first refuses and the Spectre gives Allen one year to change his mind which is basically where the story begins.
Allen eventually agrees, for not other reason than to see his own murder avenged. Yet he soon learns that the Spectre, as an extension of God, works in mysterious ways. This is the paradox of the Spectre. He could, if he so desired, easily kill such villains as Lex Luthor and The Joker, but he doesn’t because of the grand plan and pattern. Allen gets a glimpse of this pattern and his clearly awe-struck and horrified. He struggles to understand the Spectre’s ways. In one scene, they are on hand at a bank robbery as one of the robbers is about to kill a hostage. Allen wants to save the woman but is prevented. She’s killed and the Spectre forces the robber to turn the gun on himself and commit suicide. When Allen questions why they couldn’t just save the woman, the Spectre merely replies that then there would have been no crime committed so no punishment needed. This is heady stuff, and Allen desperately tries to fathom the Spectre’s means. The worst is yet to come for Allen when he finally gets to see justice done on his own killer, but it’s nothing what he expected.
The second part of the book reprinting Tales of the Unexpected #1 – 3, finds the Spectre dealing with the tenants of a seedy apartment building and their murdered landlord. These three stories by David Lapham are very close in spirit to the Fleisher stories of the 70’s as the Spectre delivers some truly horrific final judgments on the guilty including a pack of undead rats and taking the form of a great white shark…inside an apartment (the guy was deathly afraid of the water after seeing Jaws!).
The art throughout was superb, but particularly on the Tales of the Unexpected issues by Eric Battle and Prentis Rollins. Their version of the Spectre is truly chilling. I’d also like to note the fantastic covers done my such luminaries as Mike Mignola, WM Kaluta, Matt Wagner, and Neal Adams…outstanding work!