A Tribute to the of






Happy New Year! 

Here's to 2006 being a good year for one and all.  We at the Silver Lantern are looking forward to another fun year of digging into the finest offerings of the greatest era in DC comics, the fabled Silver Age.

I'm pleased to report receipt of another impressive trove of treasures, courtesy of the webmaster, added to the queue to be reviewed in this space.  I can assure you there is plenty of high quality material and this will, from all appearances be a year containing some firsts.  This being the first of the year, it seemed appropriate to begin with one of those firsts.  Hence, I present for your approval, after 3 appearances in Showcase (#60, #61 and #64; each duly documented in the archives); two in the Justice League of America (#46 and #47, which will be reviewed in the future) and two in the Brave and the Bold (#72, also available in the archives, and #75 dated 01/68. It will have its turn in the Sage spotlight, too ), the 7th appearance in the Silver Age of the Spectre, but the first time under the banner of his own self-titled magazine.  The Spectre! #1 is dated November/December of 1967 (on sale 09/21/67) and was once again handled by the masters, Gardner Fox with the story and the amazing Murphy Anderson doing the artwork; his original black and white cover art can be seen here.  Our own Astral Avenger deals with "The Sinister Lives of Captain Skull!"

The tale starts in an unusual way.  A handsome, well-dressed man, identified as an ambassador is about to enter a car on his way to the world treaty meeting in Switzerland.  We're told the peace of the entire world lies in his hands.  Unfortunately, someone appears determined to keep him from this vital mission as a shot rings out, felling him to the sidewalk.  Ambassador Clanton is hustled to the Gateway City Hospital, but the bullet in his head is described as inoperable.  Soon a trio of doctors agrees to attempt the operation with the use of an experimental anesthetic.  Three hours later, the procedure complete, they decide to wait and hope, but suddenly a figure bursts forth from the O.R.  The man wears a braided pigtail and is using a strange vernacular:  "Dash my timbers!  I must be in Fiddler's Green—everything's so changed!  Avast ye swabs—out of my way!  I've got to haul in my lines and go about with the wind!"  Following the odd man's swift departure, the medical personnel note that the ambassador has disappeared.

A short while later, Captain of Detectives Jim Corrigan is cruising another section of Gateway City when he spots a strange figure running down the sidewalk, decked out like a full-fledged pirate, having just robbed the costume shop of the get-up.  Corrigan realizes that the man matches the A.P.B. description of the character that burst out of the hospital earlier.  The pirate leaps into a convertible and with a screech of rubber on pavement accelerates away.  (Sort of makes you wonder how he learned to drive, eh?)  Jim activates his car's siren and orders the getaway car to pull over.  "There's a land crab aft of my stern!  Bah!  I'll drop him by freshening the way!"  Our editor, Julius Schwartz, explains that last phrase as a nautical term for increasing speed.  Undeterred, Corrigan pulls up closely behind the vehicle and puts a bullet into the rear tire.  To his surprise, the tire reinflates, magically and the chase continues.  The detective thinks to himself that he has a feeling this case is going to prove too big for any ordinary human being to handle, but notes that the Spectre is off on a mission to a mystic realm someplace, so he's on his own. 

As we turn the page, the Reader's Rendezvous greets us and the first few paragraphs from the editor may prove of interest: 

"How many times can The Spectre be "killed" before he stays dead permanently?  During the 1940's, the Ghostly Guardian had a life-span of some 50 issues (in More Fun Comics) before being "killed off" in that magazine. 

"Following a brief two-issue revival in 1965-1966 (Showcase, numbers 60 and 61), he succumbed again—only to make a quickie one-issue Showcase return (number 64) later that year. 

"But you can't keep a good man down (in the grave of "departed" heroes)—not when the insistent clamor from readers demands otherwise!  So once again—thanks to his admiring public—the Spirit Sleuth had been resuscitated—in his own regularly scheduled magazine.  We'll work like the devil (villain-wise) to give you the tops in thrilling entertainment.  We won't fail you—so don't fail us to—KEEP THE SPECTRE ALIVE!"

The first panel of the resuming story gives the reader a quick rundown on The Spectre:

"Meet Jim Corrigan, who "died" long ago, yet whose earth-bound spirit—The Spectre—still roams the world, seeking out and eliminating evil in the name of good.  Restored to life by the awesome power granted The Spectre, Jim Corrigan carries on as a two-fisted fighting detective—aided upon occasion by his astral alter-ego…"

Back to the action…where we see the pirate stopping his car at the statue of Gateway City's Spanish American War Hero—Rough Rider Bucko Benjamin.  The pirate leaves the car and promptly wrenches the iron railings surrounding the statue down with his bare hands.  Jim rushes up and punches him squarely in the back of his head, but the thief is merely startled and swiftly retaliates with a swing of his own, identifying himself as Cap'n Skull.  Corrigan absorbs the blow and says that the pirate sounds as if he's from the past, so perhaps he'll be unfamiliar with the judo move he executes, pulling his foe forward into his waiting foot, which then tosses him end over end until a jarring impact on his back.  Jim pulls his handcuffs to the ready, but the pirate levitates many feet into the air before descending upon Jim with a two-fisted, knockout blow, all the while talking a little piratey trash:  "If I had a deck under my boots, I'd keel-haul ye—hang ee from the highest yardarm!  Instead, I'll square yards with ye a different way!"  He then climbs the base of the statue and using his otherworldly strength, rips the horse-mounted figure from the base:  "I'll crush ee like I would a mosquito off the Hispaniola shore!  Farewell, ye lubber!"  Before he can heave the object onto the comatose Corrigan, however, a familiar green-gloved and oversized hand emerges from the earth to catch the statue.  Then, The Spectre himself rises from the ground, demanding to know who the pirate is and what he's doing in Gateway Park and by the way, why is he attacking Jim Corrigan.  Captain Skull replies:  "Belay!  Tom Pepper himself couldn't have through up somethin' like this!"  I'm sure glad "Julie" Schwartz continued to translate.  Tom Pepper was apparently a legendary sailor and teller of tall tales.

Captain Skull identifies himself and simultaneously attacks, leaping toward the Spectre, who has promptly used his supernatural abilities to enlarge his body, which the wicked Captain falls completely through, asking if he's a Dredgy, or ghost of a drowned sailor.  As the pirate passes through him, the Ghostly Guardian senses a strange, radiant force from him that is actually weakening his spectral powers.  The Spectre soon determines that he must not let Captain Skull touch him as the force has the potential to destroy him.  He'll study and find a way to counteract the evil energy.  Our hero promptly rips a tree out by its roots and wields it as a weapon, but the buccaneer pulls forth his cutlass and reduces the tree to mere shavings with awesome speed.  The Astral Avenger realizes that the blade contains the same toxic energy and he now has another object to avoid.  As a defensive maneuver, the Spirit Sleuth causes a sword of his own to appear and he parries the pirate's thrusts.  His mind working furiously, The Spectre continues to realize just what a fix he's in.  He cannot allow the evil Captain to touch him, but neither can The Spectre reach out and touch Skull without destroying himself.  Then, just to complicate things further, the pirate causes a duplicate energy-double sword to battle the Spectre remotely.

As the Disembodied Detective continues his desperate battle, Skull overturns the base of the statue and with his bare hands digs up a sea chest marked "Bonny Venture."  The Spectre speculates that he must be a reincarnation of a former buccaneer and has somehow been transformed out of his time element.  Soon the Captain is dashing away with his booty, leaving his sword to continue to battle the Spectre.  An idea soon occurs to our hero and he tosses his sword at the pirate's cutlass while inserting his being into the statue.  The sword pauses in mid-air and the Ghostly Guardian animates the statue, using it's sword to destroy the menacing blade of Captain Skull.  That little detail being dispatched, the Spectre begins to search for the pirate, but his efforts prove fruitless.  He decides to return to Jim Corrigan to compare notes.

As the two detectives discuss things, it becomes apparent that the ambassador may be the pirate himself.  The Spectre decides to investigate in a way open only to him; by visiting the Astra-dimensions where he can query what seem to be odd little starbursts of intelligence.  They begin to fill the Wonder Wraith in, explaining that a person's psychic self may reappear in the body of a descendent as a reincarnation.  When the anesthesia was applied to ambassador Clanton, it released the psychic spirit of an ancestor—Captain Skull.  Once the Captain's psychic soul was wrenched out of time, it was inundated with megacyclic forces, enabling the spirit of Skull to become so powerful that it could actually alter the ambassador's features to its own.  They then inform the Ghostly Guardian that even his spectral powers cannot stop the megacyclic power of Captain Skull.  Furthermore, unless he is defeated, he'll follow his natural pirate instincts and terrorize the modern world without fear of being stopped.  Finally, if ambassador Clanton isn't exorcised of the spirit, his stalled efforts will likely result in a world war.  Talk about your unholy trifectas…

Meanwhile, Jim Corrigan has not been idle and since the internet hasn't yet been invented, he's doing things the old-fashioned way by burning the midnight oil with some dusty books that reveal Captain Skull lived between 1710 and 1764 and performed his robberies in the ship "Bonny Venture" in the Caribbean and off the Carolina coast.

The next day, Skull is at it again, in a rather unlikely location, 50,000 feet in the air where he is confronting a jet plane.  At that moment the Astral Avenger arrives, using his giant persona tries a different tactic, using two huge halves of a stone to "rock" the Captain to sleep.  Unfortunately when the halves are removed, all that's been accomplished is a perfect impression of the pirate on each half and it hasn't even shut him up:  "Snoggle my eyes!  You've got me climbing the rigging, mate!"  Editor to the rescue yet again, clarifying that "climbing the rigging" is a nautical term for losing one's temper.  He retaliates by causing cannonballs to erupt from the tip of his cutlass and of course they contain the same deadly megacycle energy that would be fatal to our hero.  The Spectre uses his emerald cloak to whip up a strong wind current, blowing the balls safely away.  He continues to whip up a vortex to engage the vicious pirate as well.  What he doesn't appreciate is that the force of the artificial gale, combined with the spectral powers of the Ghostly Guardian has opened the portals of time and space.  The pirate is helpless as he is sucked back into time with the Disembodied Detective following closely behind.  The duo emerge in the year 1751 at the very moment in time when the Bonny Venture was at the future Gateway City prior to burying the treasure chest.  The Spectre then begins to attempt to expel Skull's spirit from the ambassador with the ripples from his cloak, but before he can do so the Captain emerges on his own from Clanton's body and re-opens the portal, attempting escape.

The Spectre gives chase to the spirit of the pirate, who is fleeing further backward in time, determined to maintain his awesome abilities.  Soon they emerge from the vortex again, this time in a medieval period when Skull's spirit dwelt as the robber baron Sir Guy the Cruel.  Soon the wicked spirit is making a beeline for Sir Guy's body to continue his campaign in this earlier era.  Soon a familiar transformation takes place when Sir Guy's visage becomes that of Captain Skull and the siege he and his men lay to the castle results in a quick advance as his megacyclic powers again come into play.  The Spectre watches helplessly, furiously trying to work out a solution.  He soon finds an opening and conceals his spectral form in a reflected sunbeam, allowing the Spectre to take control of the body of one of the horsemen in Sir Guy's forces.  In the next moment, the Spectre uses the megacyclic energy enhanced mace to crack Sir Guy's head from behind.  The energy has its desired effect and of course the horsemen have been insulated from the weapons themselves, keeping the Spectre from harm.  The Disembodied Detective takes advantage of the fiend in his weakened state, yanking him from the body of Sir Guy and propelling the spirit back into the vortex.  To the Spectre's dismay, however, the spirit of Skull soon regains his strength and again heads further into the past, this time to the era of gladiators and another ancestor of the Captain, Emperor Commodus, who fought in the Roman coliseum.

Again, Skull takes over the body of his ancestor and again the Spectre finds a way to foil him, this time by causing the net of Commodus' opponent to ensnare Skull long enough for the Discarnate Detective to cause a bolt of lightning to stun the pirate.  The Ghostly Guardian again yanks the weakened spirit back to the vortex in another attempt to return him to his time and place, leaving him mortal and harmless, but Skull escapes once more, this time to a familiar historical figure and apparently another ancestor, Paris, Prince of Troy who is in the act of abducting Helen.

The Skull-controlled Paris then stands triumphant over Achilles, but the Spectre strikes again, with his enlarged hand striking down at the ground behind Paris, releasing natural gas from the earth, overcoming the pirate while still allowing history to follow its course, the arrow of Philoctetes striking Paris a deadly blow.

Yet again we find the two spirit beings in the time vortex.  Captain Skull is on the attack again as well, firing the very motes of time at our hero.  The gloating pirate says that he's added cosmic winds to the motes which will shake the body of the Spectre apart, blowing and scattering his being across the cosmos.

The Astral Avenger retreats and hatches a plan.  Using all the power at his disposal, he stretches far and fast until the solar system fades into a speck below him.  He stretches billions of light years until he finds what he seeks; a quasar between the galaxies, filled with the same megacyclic power that has menaced him this long day.  He bathes himself in it and then returns in the blink of an eye to face Captain Skull.  Fortified with the same power, he does not hesitate to deliver a carefully choreographed punch, sending the malignant spirit back into his body, sans the abilities that had made him so formidable a foe.

Finally wrapping things up, the Spectre retrieves the body of ambassador Clanton, which has healed from the wounds due to the influence of the energy spirit.  Soon Clanton is back on the job of aiding the peace and Jim Corrigan and the Spectre note with irony that while his ancestors were evil men, Clanton is an ambassador of good.

The wizards at DC had obviously been priming the pump for awhile for this new run by the Spectre.  He'd been all over the place during the prior year, as mentioned above and had one previous appearance in 1967.  Sadly, this effort lasted a mere 9 issues before cancellation.  According to my Overstreet guide there were some neat things done in this brief tenure, too, including crossover appearances by some of the Disembodied Detective's old mates from the JSA; namely Wildcat and Hourman.  Obviously it wasn't enough, though and the lone member of the Golden Age to be given his own magazine in the Silver Age was shelved.  Twenty years later (what is it with the Spectre and 20-year spans of time?) they tried it again and it seems yet again in the 90's before someone decided to make Hal Jordan into the Spectre.  (Sorry, folks, but I still can't quite stomach that notion.)  I guess it all just goes to show that you can't keep a good character down, even when he's dead.

Gardner and Murphy did their usual top-notch work for this issue and while the "pirate-speak" got a little wearisome at times (I seem to recall a similar complaint about another story containing a supernatural pirate reviewed here, but at present I can't recall which one) I enjoyed the overall storyline a great deal.  Who but the Spectre had the capability to chase a malevolent spirit through time and space, battling the wicked Captain in many eras and settings?  I would comment, however, that at times things got complicated and difficult to follow.  Despite that, I found it overall to be another inspired storyline by Gardner Fox.  My rating for this first issue on the first day of this year is a solid 8.  If you get the chance to read it for yourself I'm sure you'll enjoy it as well. 

For questions, comments or feedback, reach out and touch me at my handy e-mail, professor_the@hotmail.com.

See you next time and…

Long live the Silver Age!



© 2000-2006 by B.D.S.


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