tisdag 8 maj 2012

Showcase Presents: The Spectre

When I was a kid, the coolest DC character I knew was the Spectre. I didn't get to read a whole lot about him, only when he occasionally guested the JLA in their swedish comic book Gigant, but he had this cool outfit with a cool cowl, an awesome costume with an awesome color scheme, and he had these totally awesome!! magical powers to boot. He could do almost anything – which of course probably made the character very difficult to write into the stories.

Anyway, it was rare that I got to read The Spectre, but this Showcase edition has over 600 hundred pages of him, so it's safe to say it's a Spectre-palooza. The near-omnipotent Spectre has been tasked with punishing criminals here on Earth before he can come to his final rest, and he resides within the body of murdered but resurrected cop Jim Corrigan… and judging from how Corrigan is depicted in the first half-dozen stories (and frequently in the later stories as well) it's no wonder he got killed, because he does some absolutely atrocious police work, taking ridiculous and unnecessary risks entirely without backup.

In the final analysis, the balance attempted with Corrigan doing the job in the physical world and the Spectre taking care of the magical/spiritual plane of existence doesn't really work, as the Spectre is just too powerful; there simply is little rational, non-contrived reason for Corrigan to be involved in solving the cases at all, as the Spectre ought to be able to wrap them up himself in no time.

There are many versions of the Spectre in this collection, Gardner Fox's, Neal Adams's, Michael Fleisher's, Jim Aparo's, Paul Kupperberg's, etc. All of them have their problems, but only some of them have strengths.

Gardner Fox's 1966-67 Spectre stories, which see him moving from the pages of Showcase to his own book, suffer from Fox being unable to resolve the problem with the Spectre's near-omnipotence in a satisfactory manner. Instead, all the foes he goes up against are inexplicably as or more powerful than him, and it seems to me that Mr. Fox just couldn't come up with stories (or foes) worthy of the character. It's a bit like Dr. Strange with less imagination. A plus, though, for the fine Murphy Anderson artwork and its beautiful feathering. Then, in 1968, Neal Adams takes over the art, and on two stories, the writing chores as well. The stories actually improve – plus the artwork becomes so gorgeous that you're willing to overlook any weaknesses in the plots. Keep in mind that the late sixties Adams isn't just the gorgeous linework; his command of the human figure is also very, very impressive. The book is almost worth getting just for the art on these four stories. Almost.

Neal Adams wrote this story about an evil being possessing an innocent kid's body, and holding the child
hostage while destroying the world. Surprisingly (since I'm not a huge fan of Adams's later writing efforts)
this one works quite well – in fact, better than most of the other stories in the book.

Towards the end of the Spectre's own book, in 1969, DC seems to not know what to do with the character, and he becomes more of the host of a horror anthology book reminiscent of the old EC horror titles. It doesn't work.

Next he resurfaces in Adventure Comics in 1974, written by Michael Fleisher and drawn by Jim Aparo. The Fleisher stories are disturbing; they aren't all that concerned with logic, but concentrates on two things: showing sadistic, evil criminals and showcasing the sadistic means the Spectre uses to kill them off. (Apparently, this development had something to do with editor Joe Orlando getting mugged.) It is seriously off-putting, but Aparo's art has probably never been better. It is strong, moody, with dark shadows and an ink line that sparkles with energy. Seriously, it is great, and together with the Adams artwork earlier it makes this volume worth getting – it contains not-quite a dozen Aparo stories. (An added bonus is actually that you get the stories in black and white, with no colors distracting from Aparo's dynamic art – unlike the recent collection of his Brave and the Bold work.)

The volume is rounded out by some lesser lights' versions of the Spectre, including some muddled stories by Paul Kupperberg, from I don't think I've ever read a story that was well put together, or in fact anything other than a bunch of clichés thrown together somewhat haphazardly.

Recommended? Well, no, not really. But there are about 250 pages of gorgeous Neal Adams and Jim Aparo artwork in this book, and those pages are well worth your time.

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