Monday, 6 September 2010

The Spectre, Adventure Comics #439. Alive alive oh.

Adventure Comics #439, Jim Aparo, The voice that doomed the SpectreNow I have a problem. Having said Michael Fleisher’s The Brute was no good in my last review I have to try and work out why his version of the Spectre’s any better.

It’s not as easy a task as I’d like, and I do wonder whether, if this comic said "Atlas" on it instead of “DC”, I’d be much less well-disposed toward it. It shares many of the same weaknesses, dominated by plot to such a degree that characters don’t act like real people - doing what they do merely to enable the plot to follow its decreed course - unnatural dialogue and an unsympathetic “hero” who blunders around remorselessly killing people.

On the plus side, Fleisher shows more imagination in terms of how people get killed than he did there and, unlike the Brute, the Spectre can at least speak and think and not just hang around in a cage for most of a story, going, “Aargh.”

In this issue, Fleisher endeavours to flesh out his cast a little. For the most part in the Spectre tales I’ve read by him, Jim Corrigan’s only been there to arrive at a murder scene and then turn into his alter-ego. Here, we finally get something that resembles a private life as his young lady friend Gwen Sterling tries to get him to marry her.

Why she wants to marry him’s a bit of a mystery. From what we can see, when the Spectre shows up she finds him and his activities terrifying but announces her relief when Jim Corrigan appears. “Oh, Jim!” she declares, “Thank heaven you’re here! It was horrible!” Except she clearly knows Jim and the Spectre are the same person and that it was therefore Jim who was doing the “horrible”. If she’s terrified by the Spectre, why does she feel secure in the presence of his alter-ego? It goes back to Fleisher’s inability to get into his characters heads beyond the needs of the plot.

Regardless, back at his apartment, Jim asks to be released from his mission and again become human.

That wish is granted.

Sadly, it doesn’t occur to God, or whoever it’s meant to be, to tell him.

And so, the next day, Corrigan promptly steps into the path of a bullet, thinking he’s still unkillable. Corrigan’s clearly not the sharpest knife in the drawer. You’d have thought the fact he’s started the day with breakfast might’ve told him he’s alive, unless ghosts are in the habit of eating.

Happily, Jim survives the shooting and, delighted to now be fully corporeal, proposes to the lovely Gwendolyn. Dark clouds are however looming over Chez Corrigan, as gangster Ducky McLaren determines the detective must die.

The Spectre never had a funeral, Adventure Comics #439, Jim Aparo and Michael FleisherIn terms of character development it’s still limited compared to what we’d been getting from the likes of Spider-Man (even stealing the name of Peter Parker’s girlfriend can’t disguise that) and it wasn’t enough to save the strip from being dropped a couple of issues later to be replaced by the less than stellar Aquaman. I never had the second part of this tale but I assume that, by its conclusion, Corrigan was dead again, possibly having sacrificed himself to save Gwen.

Ultimately, you could argue the Spectre really isn’t all that much better in its writing than the strips Fleisher inflicted on us in those Atlas mags but it does have one very big plus - which is the artwork of Jim Aparo. Whatever the limits of the script, he gave his run on the title an air of class, quality and style that was missing from most Atlas publications.

So, in the end, maybe it just goes to prove what we don’t always like to admit, that in a comic book the pictures matter a whole lot more than the words.

But this is an issue of Adventure Comics not The Spectre and so the travails of Jim Corrigan occupy just half the comic. The other half’s in the form of a serial called The Seven Soldiers of Victory.

It’s an odd thing, having been written in the Golden Age but dusted down and drawn in the Bronze Age. In this instalment, the Green Arrow and Speedy find the astral bodies arguing with Father Time over which phase of the moon should be in the sky tonight. Our heroes sort it all out with a bit of wit and ingenuity before getting a ride home on a comet.

It’s a silly, frivolous tale that really does have “Golden Age” stamped all over it and why it was thought vitally important it be revived I couldn’t say but it’s painless to read and does at least provide a nice contrast to the grim and gritty world of the Spectre.


cerebus660 said...

In the next issue Corrigan is double-crossed by an informant and shot ( again! ) - fatally this time. But he's resurrected ( again! )and sent back to Earth to resume his "destiny", ie killing off criminals in the sickest ways Michael Fleisher can come up with. After feeding "Ducky" McLaren to his own, magically-grown, rubber duck ( really! )Corrigan pays Gwen one last call to say he can't see her any longer as he's just the "spectral shadow" of the man he used to be. Corrigan disappears, leaving Gwen in tears..... cut to Corrigan's empty grave..... The End. A happy little tale!

Steve said...

Poor old Jim. You'd think God'd make everyone in heaven take it in turns to be the Spectre. I'd be happy to do it for two days a month, after I've corked it.

Pete Woodhouse said...

The Spectre by Michael Fleisher was like 50s EC Comics meets 80s grim-and-gritty. There was certainly nothing like it at the time, which is why it didn't last long I guess (lack of characterisation, as someone else pointed out, also didn't help) as no-one knew what to make of it. Jim Aparo was at the top of his game around this era - awesome art, I loved his Brave and Bolds.

Steve said...

Hi, Pete. I love Jim Aparo. I know it might be heretical but I've always preferred his take on Batman to anyone's, even Neal Adams's.

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