A Tribute to the of
I was proudly glancing over the Archive section of the Silver Age Sage recently and marveling about all that has been accomplished the last many months. In fact, the two year anniversary of this feature is rapidly approaching and the webmaster and I were talking about how to mark it. We settled on an appropriate story to review and hope that you will approve when #48 hits the web in a few weeks. Meanwhile, it's time to get the latest review done and while I've been ahead of the game for awhile and have had the luxury of kicking back and taking a break, the cache of stories is depleted and it's time to get back to work. While perusing the archives it struck me that I've been neglecting one of the seminal Golden Age denizens (the only one popular enough to merit his own book in the Silver Age) for quite some time--other than a team-up in Brave and the Bold #72, a.k.a. Sage #12--and this was after I specifically made mention that I'd be getting back to him as the issue I'd reviewed before, which was his Silver Age debut, had a sequel. It's time to make good on my promise as we check in again on the fabled disembodied detective know as The Spectre, who made his second Silver Age appearance in the very next issue of Showcase, issue #61, the March/April edition (on sale in late January) of 1966 in a Julius Schwartz edited, Gardner Fox penned adventure entitled, "Beyond the Sinister Barrier!" Artwork for this issue came courtesy of Murphy Anderson (as some cretin thoughtfully noted in ink on the splash page of my personal edition. Grrrr!) Take a moment to check out that cover also by Murphy Anderson. It's one of the webmaster's favorites and you can easily see why. The brilliant colors and action contrasted against the space background could not help but grab your attention at the news stand or comic rack. Just as he did in the previous issue of Showcase, we find our hero locked in mortal combat with a red-skinned, demonic looking character. Azmodus, however, was wearing a bit more and did not appear to be wearing the heavyweight division title belt around his midsection like this new adversary. Let's see what our old friend Gardner Fox came up with.
The tale opens in the Gobi Desert, where a Mongolian bandit is suffering a lack of water. Frustrated by the taunting mirage of a pool, he is suddenly addressed by a disembodied voice promising to change the sand to water in exchange for his shadow. When the bandit asks who is speaking he is answered, "It is I--Shathan the Eternal! Master of Dis, Ruler of the Psycho-Matter worlds!" The bargain struck, the voice further states, "With enough human shadows I shall know life here on Earth as I have known it for all eternity in Dis, land of evil!" The next few panels show other hapless folk in peril around the world, each time being delivered from their fate by the voice of Shathan, who continues to collect shadows for his favors. As luck would have it, Detective Captain Jim Corrigan witnesses one of these miracles in the form of a falling window washer who manages to land cat-like and unharmed to the sidewalk below. Observing also, of course does our hero, The Spectre, since he tends to ride around in Jim's body. Noting the lack of a shadow on the spared window-washer, the Spectre follows him, sensing an evil aura. As he follows the man, invisible to human eyes, the Spectre encounters ecto-plasmic magnetic forces that draw him to the man's body where he is soon drawn inside, where he comes face to face with a shadow, which is the source of the evil energy. This shadow, incidentally, bears a striking resemblance to the Shadow Thief, a villain who gave Hawkman a great deal of grief. (Not suprising since Murphy Anderson was the artist for most of the Winged Wonder's adventures.) As the two forms engage, it isn't long before the shadow manages to unleash a psychic detonation that hurls our hero completely out of the physical universe. He soon finds himself on a desolate, lunar landscape, far from his home turf of Gateway City. Within moments the local welcome wagon shows up in the form of yellow-skinned creatures intent on doing harm to our hero. To his great surprise, the blows cause him physical pain and he is left in this cliffhanger position as Part I closes.
In Part II, the Ghostly Guardian has his green-gloved hands very full as he is attacked from all sides by these refugees from a horror movie. One of the horde tells him that in this world of Dis, they and their weapons are made of non-matter, just like the Spectre, so they can successfully harm him. Battling furiously, the Spectre's thoughts race. He knows intuitively that these creatures represent incarnate evil and that he is the only barrier standing between them and domination of the Earth. Despite his Herculean efforts, he begins to be overwhelmed, so he calls upon his ability to change his physical size, growing larger and larger until he is actually bigger than the world of Dis itself, at which point he wills himself back to Earth. He next finds himself on a dock at Gateway Harbor, where the sounds of the foghorn become a message that only he can hear: "You are puzzled, Spectre! Shaken by what you have seen and experienced! Know you that the forces of evil are abroad on Earth! Not long ago Azmodus sought to unleash universal wickedness--but you stopped him! Now Shathan the Eternal seeks to rip the sinister barrier between the world of Dis and Earth! Already he has sought to destroy you, for he knows that through you must be fought the coming battle of good--and evil! You have the power to eliminate time, to ally yourself to it's steady flow! Go back now--to the very beginning of all things and know from whence this Shathan springs!" Following the advice he has just been given, The Spectre pulsates his form so that he can actually become a part of time and follow it back to a moment 12 billion years before, precisely at the moment of the "Big Bang." Our hero notes that the opposite and equal reaction to the creation of the universe we know was the concurrent appearance of Dis, an evil, malignant world of psycho-matter. The Spectre continues to watch events unfold on Dis, with the appearance and rise of Shathan, who is worshipped by the demons of his world. The worship received actually gives him his existence, which is pure evil, with a liberal dose of ambition, which of course compels him to try to dominate the matter universe, beginning with the Earth in addition to his own realm. His efforts are seen throughout the ages as demonic images and practices show up in Earth's history. Fortunately, there were forces for good to counteract his influences along the way, including Moses, Peter, Buddha and Mohammed. Centuries later, Shathan unleashed his lieutenant, Azmodus, who of course was conquered by the Spectre. Our hero is able to finally catch the taunt he missed after defeating Azmodus and he understands at last the master plan that is unfolding. The Spectre's thoughts reveal that through securing the shadows of willing victims and imprisoning them in the bodies of their former owners, a loyal following of earth people are being created. Their belief in Shathan will allow him to exist on Earth and to then envelop it in his evil influence. Realizing that it is his task to prevent this plan, but exhausted from all his travel through time and other experiences, the Spirit Sleuth returns to Jim Corrigan's body to regroup and ponder things. As it happens, Corrigan is in a fist fight with a perpetrator and as they battle their way onto an elevator, a crimson hand is shown severing the cables to the car. Sensing the presence of Shathan, the Spectre flows out of the car and into the elevator shaft, growing large enough to catch it in his palm and gently lower it to the bottom floor. He wonders why Shathan would try to kill Corrigan, but no answers are forthcoming.
The next day, Jim is on the job again, tackling a criminal on a large suspension bridge when the structure abruptly collapses, bringing the Ghostly Guardian into play again to repair the bridge which has been again damaged by Shathan the Eternal. It then occurs to the Spectre that Shathan is buying time with these efforts, so that his minions can begin their worship and belief in him, enabling his plan to go forward. The Spirit Sleuth realizes that he must make his move quickly, so he vows to use his paranormal senses to track down the evil one. These events bring Part II to it's conclusion.
As a side note, there is a full page between Parts II and III called "Readers' Rendezvous" where the editors take a moment to comment on their recent spate of reintroduction's of heroes from the fabulous forties or the Golden Age, if you prefer. They remark that the efforts in Showcase 55 and 56 (Doctor Fate and Hourman) and Brave and the Bold 61 and 62 (Starman and Black Canary) along with the Spectre in Showcase 60 and 61 will be all for the present until the reader's weigh in with their impressions. A few are then included, which are universally laudatory. Having read them all with the exception of Showcase 56, I heartily agree. On to Part III.
The final segment of this tale opens with the figure of Shathan shimmering into existence in a long-forgotten temple, surrounded by his shadow-selling worshippers. They are chanting, summoning him from his world of Dis as the being with pointed ears and horns, lacking only the tail and pitchfork to fully fall into the cliché', grins in triumph. Into this macabre scene plunges the figure of the Spectre, intent on sending Shathan back to his point of origin. Tackling the evil one, he discovers that, like himself, Shathan is not affected by the matter of Earth, but he soon reels from the left hook of the disembodied detective. Drawing strength from his worshippers, the evil one soon retaliates and the slugfest is on. Desperately grasping his foe by one foot, the Spectre drags Shathan into the far reaches of space to separate him from his source of growing power. The duo struggle for dominance, leading them into the very core of the sun, which leaves each unaffected. Soon our h! ero comes up with a plan, banking on the fact that his opponent is unfamiliar with this universe. Using his ability to pulsate and enter the time stream, he drags Shathan along for the ride, stopping at historic events of destruction in the history of the Earth in hopes of defeating the demon. The first stop is a 57 megaton nuclear detonation on October 30, 1961 in the Soviet Union. The evil one is merely shaken up, so the Spectre goes back further, to Siberia on June 30, 1908 when a mysterious fireball from space enters the atmosphere. Again, while weakened a bit, Shathan remains very much alive. Journeying further, to August 21, 1883 and the island of Krakatoa, the crimson figure is hurled into the active volcano, only to survive this disaster as well. Pulling out all the stops, our hero makes a final, desperate effort, returning again to the dawn of time and the primal atom, whose incredible explosion brought forth the universe. This time, The Spectre succeeds as Shathan the Eternal is disintegrated into his basic atomic level and scattered across the infinite cosmos.
When he returns from his battle, the Spirit Sleuth finds that with the elimination of the evil one, his former followers have regained their shadows. He returns them safely to their individual homes and then follows suit by rejoining his host, Jim Corrigan. Satisfied that good has yet again triumphed over evil, The Spectre calls it a day.
Even though this second outing of the re-established Spectre had a similar storyline to the previous issue of Showcase, i.e. quintessential good versus evil in a battle that ranges through space and time, I found it to be an enjoyable read, rich in both history and lore with a healthy dose of science fiction thrown in, which is always a plus in my book. I think it measured up very well to the debut of the Spectre and was a worthy follow-up, thus garnering a rating of 9, since I feel that the extra point for the actual debut couldn't be matched quite that quickly.
A tip of the hat to those of you who have taken the time to write and as always I encourage your comments and other ideas at firstname.lastname@example.org, where each message is read and responded to with all due haste. Remember to join us again in about two weeks for the latest review of another effort from the era we love.
Long live the Silver Age!
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