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Ghost of the Past, Part 3

How a Silver Age hero got a second chance to shine

By Arnold T. Blumberg     July 24, 2002

Last time, we spoke with SPECTRE scribe J.M. DeMatteis as he outlined the way he initially approached the assignment of writing the Silver Age Green Lantern, Hal Jordan, as the new incarnation of the Spectre. Now we take a look at some more on this bizarre blending of two DC heroes.

For DeMatteis, part of the challenge in juggling the two characters - Hal Jordan and the Spectre - and making them one cohesive whole has to do with the diametrically opposed origin points of both. Jordan's Green Lantern comes from an era of science-based superheroes, while the Spectre is very spiritual. But even science has some magic in it, DeMatteis believes.

Hal discovers a multitude of Spectres exist within him. Talk about an identity crisis!

"You have a character who meets an alien and is given this ring which is basically magic, but within sci-fi trappings," says DeMatteis. "And two, you start off with a guy who's dead! It's a big difference when you start off with a character who is essentially a ghost. We're not starting with any kind of science fiction vaguely concrete point of view - we're starting from a spiritual point of view. The Spectre by his very nature is a spiritual character. You're not going to do sci-fi stories, and even this [recent] 'Spectre in space' story set out to do that and the whole metaphysical angle took over by the time we were done. It became broader and more intergalactic but still essentially a spiritual thread through the story, so it's hard to do science fiction in this context. There were spaceships in the story but the story wasn't about that."

A very spiritual image from the cover of SPECTRE #7.

Interestingly, before taking on the new Spectre saga, DeMatteis had very little knowledge of the Spectre that came before Jordan.

"To be perfectly honest, I read bits and pieces of the [John] Ostrander stuff, but in terms of the Golden Age Spectre, maybe I've seen a story or two reprinted but I don't have any profound familiarity with the character. I vaguely remember [the] cheese-grater Spectre, always turning into weird things and killing people in unique and horrible ways, but no I didn't have any sort of deep connection to the Spectre other than that. I always thought the character was cool because there was something about comic book characters that get really big - it's the eight-year-old in me - he's as big as six planets! The Spectre always does that, and once an issue I still have him get really big because I just think it's the coolest thing. I don't know what it is about characters that get really big that seems so cool, but the eight-year-old in me just loves that."

"I've also always been more drawn to the supernatural and metaphysical characters," adds DeMatteis. "At Marvel I really loved Dr. Strange, and I worked on Dr. Fate [at DC] for two years. I like those kinds of characters - they allow for a lot of leeway and allow the stories to go off into lots of interesting pockets and corners and that otherwise you can't get into."

The Hal Jordan Spectre takes flight in front of the World Trade Center towers.

DeMatteis admits that having Hal Jordan also allows for far more emotional, human stories.

"Because it's Hal Jordan you can do the stories that focus more on Hal," says DeMatteis. "He's living with his niece there, and one of the reasons I brought her in was for him to have something else human to connect to. It's just too easy for him to float off into the cosmic void with this stuff. It's the balance between these two that I've really been enjoying these last few stories. In Ryan Sook's last issue we did a one-issue story that was just basically typeset prose and illustrations, and it's probably my favorite issues that we've done so far. It was far afield from anything we've seen for either Hal Jordan or the Spectre, but I was really happy with the way it turned out."

"This a book that allows us to push off in those directions," says DeMatteis. "The problem is again I think there's still an expectation, and probably rightly so on the part of some fans and the company, that this is somehow a mainstream DC superhero comic, which of course it isn't. It's totally not and there's no way it's ever going to be that, but so we walk a fine line, and if there's been any problem with the book, it's that."

The Hal Jordan Spectre cries out on the cover of LEGENDS OF THE DC UNIVERSE #34.

So is it true? Does the DC hierarchy 'sort of' want Hal Jordan back in a prominent role? DeMatteis thinks so, but insists this new character dynamic can't function in quite the same way as a Flash or a Batman.

"I can't really speak for them," says DeMatteis, "but the sense that I got was you have this character who is really a mainstay of the DC universe, and they did want to do something with him, not leave him dead and gone. They had already done that with the [Barry Allen] Flash, [and] I still haven't gotten over that one yet [laughs]. I guess they knew they couldn't go back, and the idea of welding these two iconic figures in the DC universe, although the Spectre is not as well-known or as absorbed into the collective comic book consciousness, but the idea of bringing the two of them together was a way of bringing Hal Jordan back into the DC universe because they know he's an important part of their history."

"Maybe that's their thought [to make Spectre more prominent in the DCU]," admits DeMatteis, "but when I sit down to write it, I don't think about anything like that. I'm just thinking, 'Gee, what's a good story?' and I can't think about 'By doing this, I'm going to bring Hal Jordan back into the forefront!' I can only think about what will I do this month - what's good and what can we say that has some resonance or some intelligence or some heart?"

In the final part of our chat with J.M. DeMatteis, the truth revealed - the ultimate destiny of Hal Jordan! OK, not really, but he does talk around it a little bit, and it's fun nonetheless.

TO BE CONTINUED

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