An Introduction to The Spectre (1992)
Updated: Nov 27, 2019
Despite not being a household name like Superman or Batman, the legendary DC Comics antihero of The Spectre has had an extensive history in comics. With the character's initial debut dating back to the Golden Age of Comics, The Spectre has interfaced with a multitude of iconic eras and characters throughout comic book history from the Justice Society of America to Neil Gaiman's The Books of Magic series.
I recently found myself revisiting The Spectre and some of the works he has been featured in after watching his eponymous short film that was released in 2010. The short, fashioned as a hard-boiled crime drama from the mid-20th century, depicts The Spectre's alter ego, Detective Jim Corrigan, investigating a murder. Interestingly though, Corrigan is not the one who hands down justice upon the criminals he comes across. Rather, The Spectre deals out the verdicts through some particularly brutal methods.
Thus, after watching this short film, I decided to revisit John Ostrander's series on The Spectre from the 1990's. So, without further ado, let's get acquainted with the mysterious iconic himself, beginning with The Spectre #1.
Just as The Spectre short film begins, The Spectre #1 opens with Jim Corrigan investigating a crime. However, this particular crime is far different from any other he has encountered before because it is much closer to home.
In this instance, Corrigan is investigating his own murder.
That's right. Corrigan is a dead man walking the line between life and death.
So, as he begins his investigation, Corrigan pays a visit to Louis Snipe, a man Corrigan believes to have knowledge regarding the details of his murder. Interestingly though, Corrigan does not appear to be seeking this information solely out of an innate desire to know why he was killed. Rather, in this scenario, it appears as though his primary motivator lies in duty.
As The Spectre, Corrigan has been bestowed the duty of enacting justice upon those who have not paid the price for their crimes. Thus, in Corrigan's confrontation of Snipe, Corrigan informs Snipe that he has grown exhausted in his duty, in confronting evil and handing down justice.
Well, Corrigan believes that his actions have made little impact on the world. In fact, he believes evil has only persisted. Thus, Corrigan's duties as The Spectre have not permitted him to rest in any capacity. Despite stopping numerous criminals, there are still a multitude running free.
As a result, Corrigan perceives his current life to exist in a continuous cycle, one without an end goal. This cycle ultimately traps Corrigan in a static and immutable state of living.
Because of this, Corrigan has yielded to his existence. He has lost hope for himself in crossing over into death and finding peace for his soul.
Ultimately, Corrigan has surrendered himself to The Spectre entirely.
Moments after his discussion with Snipe, Corrigan witnesses a drive-by shooting. Though Corrigan is among those targeted in the event, his body is able to phase through the bullets.
The shooting, which leaves a multitude of innocents dead, drives Corrigan into a fierce and unforgiving rage. Consequently, he morphs into The Spectre and tracks the killers down. When he does, he executes a brutal method of justice, going as far as burning the assailants alive.
To The Spectre, this act is necessary in order to balance the scales.
Now, one must note the disassociation Corrigan often expresses with his own identity. As The Spectre, Corrigan exemplifies a power that he would not have been able to comprehend as a human. With this, the power The Spectre possesses is something that transcends life itself. As a result, Corrigan no longer views life and death as contrasting binaries.
As aforementioned, Corrigan lives within the gray area where life and death blend together. Additionally, as The Spectre, Corrigan exemplifies the passage between those states of being for those he hunts down.
So, one cannot help but ponder the strength of Corrigan's tether to his own humanity.
How much of him has truly become The Spectre?
The final segment of The Spectre #1 features Corrigan finally solving his own murder. He accomplishes this by revisiting Louis Spine and entering Spine's mind, visiting the memory of the night of the crime.
In doing so, Corrigan comes to discover that Spine was in fact responsible for Corrigan's death. Unsurprisingly, this drives The Spectre to punish Spine for his crime.
So, Corrigan gets his revenge as The Spectre ends Spine's life. Though, the act does not bring Corrigan the peace he so desperately wants.
In this aspect, Corrigan does express tendencies pertaining his former human self, depicting that tether. He expresses a wish to transition into death as to allow himself to find a semblance of peace.
However, his routine as The Spectre seems to have begun desensitizing him. Evil and senseless acts of violence enrage him, yet he does not hesitate to reciprocate that violence upon those he deems to be deserving of punishment.
This very routine is a primary factor in the disassociation between Corrigan and his humanity, and this very conflict is one that Ostrander continues to explore throughout his 1992 run.
Throughout this series, artist Tom Mandrake does an excellent job in providing readers with some truly incredible, memorable visuals.
The artwork itself is incredibly diverse in tone. There are various sequences that appear to derive from the horror genre, and there are others that seem like a psychedelic dream. All of these contrasting components though come together to depict the divergent nature of The Spectre himself and his own identity crisis.
The visuals also exemplify the power of The Spectre himself. One of my favorite sequences of The Spectre #1 features our titular character swallowing a car full of murderers.
This particular visual is undeniably berserk, but it does capture the magical elements of The Spectre that differentiate him from some of the more grounded superheroes we may be better acquainted with.
As I previously alluded to, The Spectre does not necessarily exist among us. Yes, Jim Corrigan was once a human being, made of flesh and blood, and he died as a human being.
However, he has evolved into something beyond our comprehension, and that transcendence of our plane of understanding is something that Mandrake captures to a tee through his mystical, kaleidoscopic illustrations.
What Lies Beyond
Ostrander and Mandrake's run continues on for 61 more issues, issues that dig deeper into Corrigan's role as The Spectre and his own self-perception.
As a result, this introduction is only the beginning.
We have gotten a taste of The Spectre and how he perceives crime and punishment.
So, how do you perceive him?
Is The Spectre a hero? A villain? Something in between, or something more?
These questions are not meant to be answered in a succinct manner as The Spectre is not a character to be analyzed through one dimension.
So, prepare for what lies beyond The Spectre #1 as we begin our journey into the unknown alongside Jim Corrigan.