A Tribute to the of

When I mentioned last time that we were having some new 75th anniversary candidates this year, it somehow escaped my notice that another hero making his debut in 1940 was none other than The Spectre. He first showed in in More Fun Comics #52 (+ splash page) with a publication date of February, 1940. He even got to be the cover feature on that maiden voyage and was brought to life by writer Jerry Siegel, hoping to capture lightning in a bottle again after the success of Superman and illustrator Bernard Baily, also known for his work on the Martian Manhunter many years later.

I have a pretty decent set of reprints in my library, but not this particular story. I do, however, have one right in the neighborhood, thanks to my copy of the DC 100-page Super Spectacular #6, “The World’s Greatest Super-Heroes!” Check out that stunning wraparound cover by the great Neal Adams (+ production stat and an article detailing changes made for a 2004 reprint). While the headliner in this all-reprint issue was probably the classic JLA/JSA crossover, with “Crisis on Earth-One” and “Crisis on Earth-Two,” [Sage #48] the next story is the untitled fourth adventure of the Spectre from the May, 1940 edition of More Fun Comics #55 (+ back cover). [This issue also contains the debut of Dr. Fate as told by Gardner Fox and Howard Sherman.] The Astral Avenger is pitted against someone who is more of a match for him than the garden variety gangsters and racketeers of the day, when he takes on the Earthbound spirit named Zor. The story is again by Jerry Siegel and Bernard Baily with editing by Whitney Ellsworth.

Things begin with two police detectives, one of them being the alter-ego/host of the Spectre, Jim Corrigan and Wayne Grant investigate a call to the First National Bank. The bank manager invites them into his office and immediately accuses his clerk of embezzlement. The canny Corrigan, however, notices someone else and questions him. Simmons replies that he is the bookkeeper, but his reply includes his thoughts in parentheses: “I must show no signs of nervousness! He can’t possibly guess I’m guilty!” What poor sap Simmons didn’t realize is that Corrigan, aka the Spectre, can read minds. When confronted, the bookkeeper draws a pistol and starts to head for the exit.

In the heat of the action, the Spectre invisibly exits Corrigan’s body and meets Simmons in the doorway, confronting him and maintaining his invisibility to everyone but the bookkeeper. The chalk-white figure with the green hooded cape, gloves, trunks and shoes causes the pistol to malfunction and threatens to send Simmons to the valley of death unless he confesses. Faced with the wrath of this terrifying figure, the bookkeeper does just as he’s ordered.

Later, the two detectives are walking through the city when Corrigan is deliberately struck by a vehicle while crossing the street. Grant is amazed that his fellow detective is unharmed and the Spectre once again removes himself from Corrigan’s body to chase down the hit and run car. He gives chase (apparently the original Spectre is fleet of foot, but doesn’t fly, at least on Earth) and sits on the hood of the car, then enlarges himself until a huge face is glaring at the driver and passenger, causing them to hurtle off the edge of the road.

The vehicle is then seemingly caught in mid-air and lowered to the ground, but the Spectre had nothing to do with it. The agitated driver takes off and the puzzled Spectre is greeted by a well-dressed man in a top hat who introduces himself as Zor. “Like yourself, a spirit confined to Earth—only through the centuries I have spread evil upon this world!

The Spectre throws down the gauntlet and the battle begins. The two fighters grow and grow until they’ve literally entered the cosmos, when the Spectre realizes that he cannot match Zor’s stature. Zor then departs, threatening to bring our hero more anguish and it isn’t long before he’s keeping his word, taking on the form of Jim Corrigan to draw Clarice, the detective’s girlfriend, into a trap.

Proposing an elopement, the Corrigan imposer and Clarice drive into the night with the Spectre in pursuit when the Astral Avenger encounters a burst of dazzling energy that he recognizes as the result of Zor and Clarice (still in the car) entering another dimension. Clarice, overwhelmed by all that’s happening to her, faints dead away and Zor transports her to his castle, where he intends to administer the “kiss of death,” which will leave her forever imprisoned in this dimension. Before he can do so, however, he begins to unexpectedly vanish.

In a flashback sequence, the Spectre calls upon “The Voice,” a disembodied, seemingly all-powerful force to aid him. The Voice agrees to the Spectre’s plea and brings Zor and the Spectre together in a cloudy realm, but Zor merely disappears again. The Voice informs our hero, however, that he has been endowed with the ability to track Zor, so the Spectre is soon at the fiend’s castle, but after walking through the wall he finds himself frozen by Zor’s paralysis ray.

Thinking fast, the Spectre bargains with Zor for his freedom, offering him the written formula for creating life as an incentive. Zor agrees, freeing the Spectre, who immediately goes on the offensive, but Zor is more powerful and wrests the piece of paper with the formula on it from him. To his dismay, however, Zor is now in the clutches of the paralysis ray that the Spectre has just activated. Leaving him there in stasis for all eternity, (or until the publication of issue #57) the Spectre brings Clarice back to Earth. When she revives, she speaks of a horrible experience that Corrigan dismisses as a nightmare. Then, just to prove what a sentimental guy he is, he rebuffs her approach, stating, “No, Clarice! Romance is not for me! Good-bye!

These early stories are not too sophisticated and the art is similarly primitive, with some panels lacking any sort of background at all, so sometimes they’re a little tough to muddle through when you’ve grown accustomed to a Spectre rendered by Murphy Anderson in the pages of Showcase #60, #61 and #64.

Still, it’s kind of fun to see what the building blocks were for comic books and to appreciate how far they’ve come from their beginnings. The disembodied detective began as a supernatural force, trying to bring justice to the city he served and often doing so with techniques that were terrifying to the criminal element. He was a most interesting departure for the original writer of Superman.

Happy 75th anniversary to the Spectre!

Be sure to return on the 1st of February for the next installment of this ongoing feature. I might even come out of the Golden Age for the occasion. Feedback is always welcome at: professor_the@hotmail.com.

Until next time…

Long live the Silver Age!

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