Mar 18, 2017

Ghost Stories 01: The Concrete Ghost

Blog posts titled Ghost Stories are posts containing news about the Spectre in media.  

Hey there Ghostly Guardian fans! Will, here - welcome to the first official Ghost Stories post. 1980's horror comic superfan band The Night Stalker released an EP recently that contains the song The Concrete Ghost. Even if the band hadn't said as much, it isn't hard to tell that the song was written about The Spectre. While we (mainly I) dig into some of the Spectre comics of yesteryear, I thought taking the time to listen to this lyric video about The Concrete Ghost would be a great way to begin our Ghost Stories posts.

I love this entire song. I love the melodic intro and I especially love the first verse: "Voice of god, bargain above. Become his vengeance, in the name of love. Find her killers, show them his hand. Trade her life for the sins of man."

The chorus to this song is catchy and hard not to hum, but that first verse has the words that really stick with me throughout the day. I think they help shape what you can expect from The Spectre in almost every iteration, especially the latest ones (which I am more familiar with as of this post). Even without the "beg forgiveness...God is laughing as you die" portion that follows this verse, you absolutely get a subtle sense that The Spectre isn't here to play games. That's one of the things I love most about this character and I guess that's why I love that particular part of the song.

Give it a listen!

William Dickstein

Mar 12, 2017

Case Files: The Spectre Interviews Neal Adams from The Spectre! (volume 01) issue #02

Case Files are hand selected letters published in Spectre comics pulled from the file!

The Spectre! (volume 01) issue #02

Date: February 1, 1968
Title: Die, Spectre! Again--and Again--and Again!
WriterGardner Fox
Penciller: Neal Adams
InkerMurphy Anderson
LettererIra Schnapp 
Colorist: ?
Cover Artist: Neal Adams
EditorJulius Shwartz
CharactersJim Corrigan, Spectre, 
Villain: Dirk Rawley 

Synopsis: Jim and The Spectre really have their work cut out for them after a series of robberies can't be explained. The man responsible? A mad magician with an Ethirial double! Can the boys work as a team to bring in the crook and his Ethirial, other self both physically and spiritually???
We open up with the worst robber ever. He is holding up a man on a dark, still and deserted street in Gateway City. The robber has no gun at first but "Presto!" he makes one appear in his hand like a magician. The man being held up quickly punches the armed robber faster than he can fire knocking the gun into the air and into the hands of the civilian. The robber immediately changes his tune and sheepishly asks if the man is going to kill him. Suddenly a gloved hand clobbers the gunman. At first, the robber's savior has no face but slowly he is revealed to be the robber's doppelganger. The doppelganger knows the robber's name is Dirk Rawley and explains that he is Dirk's Etheric Self (emotional state brought about by the intense fear of being killed). He goes on to tell Dirk that he will travel to the ancient and demon-haunted city of Arkham to bathe in evil emanations which form some kind of vortex that will give him strength. He promises Dirk they will meet again. 

Some nights later the Gateway City Bank and Soames Gem Collection are looted. The robberies have one thing in common, the valuables were stolen from sealed vaults without the integrity of either of the seals being compromised. With the seals intact, there is no way these crimes should be possible. Jim Corrigan chats with his colleagues about the case but ultimately hits a wall. Jim is the chairman of the annual ball that night and has a date lined up with wealthy, society woman, Mona Marcy. He is glad to have something to pull him away from this case so he can come back in the morning with a clear mind. The Spectre returns early from a JSA case and requires Jim to recuperate. 
At the ball, Jim meets with Mona and introduces her to the star performer of the evening. Dirk Rawley (the lame, gun dropping nobody from the first page) as it turns out is a magician. Go figure! The Spectre, now rested heads out of Jim's body to go investigate the crime scenes of the robberies. Spectre shows up to the first crime scene totally briefed by Jim's mind. Spectre suspects a spirit committed the crime and shines psychic light to uncover where the spirit made contact. He quickly realizes that it was an Etheric being who filled the vault with sinister energies and these energies start to tear Spectre apart. 
The Spectre just barely escapes the vault and his trail has run cold. He heads to the second crime scene where he senses an extension of the same force. The force that The Spectre feels is the same thief being sinister elsewhere in Gateway City. The Etheric force leads him to a museum where a man in a magicians outfit is stealing a painting. The Spectre attacks! 
It's Dirk Rawley's doppelganger returned from Arkham and stronger with Ethiric Energy than ever! During their fight, Dirk pulls an Etheric Energy infused rabbit out of his hat and throws it at The Spectre's head. It grows extremely large mid throw. Great panel of the Spectre getting hit in the face like Rocky. Spectre is swinging it by the ears with all his might while the magician doppelganger pulls a bouquet of flowers from his sleeve.
Spectre hurls the rabbit at Dirk. Dirk counters with an uncoventional version of 52 pickup. As the cards scatter from the magician's hands around The Spectre, They grow into some Alice in Wonderland looking giant, sentient, playing cards wielding weapons. 
The Spectre, treating the giant cards like giant sails, blows air at them with all his might knocking them...unconscious? Whatever giant card things do. The Spectre staggers toward his foe with "Psychic Weakness" which is totally just a fancy way of saying he was light headed. Spectre gives Dirk a hell of a right!

The punch sends Dirk to the ground but he quickly retaliates with... magical, multicolored, sash twines. It's almost painful to watch the vengeful hand of god struggle against rainbow colored cloth. The Spectre's one loose limb (his left leg) stamps the floor which causes Astral Flames to ignite and burn away the silly cloths that ale him. Too late! Dirk has fled the seen with the loot and yet again, the trail has run cold.
When you first turn to this page, you can almost hear Spectre in the first panel "It was awful man! The rainbow sash twines were everywhere!" Alas, he is actually telling Jim that Dirk Rawley (the magician from the ball) is the man responsible for the "impossible crimes."  Jim can't believe it as he was with Dirk all night. Next panel has got to be my favorite. The Spectre kicks back looking like he would be saying "Nah man, It's cool. Etheric out of body stuff..." Laying back with his legs crossed and his hands behind his head, I just love this panel so much. It seems like Spectre is so over it while Jim appears frantic like he is coming unglued. The Spectre raises his open hand dramatically to break it all down. Dirk commands a spirit counterpart which resembles him. This double can change his density to pass through solid walls while staying solid enough to pick up tangible objects. By passing his aura to the object he can transport them through walls. Spectre sites numerous cases where this was recorded by "respected" researchers. Duh! Don't you know anything? I can explain all of that in two words. "because comics."  The solution is clearly for both Jim and Spectre to punch both forms of Dirk at the same time knocking both Dirk's unconscious simultaneously.
Spectre tells Jim he better hold up his end of the plan as he tucks him in and says goodnight. The Spectre and Jim Corrigan have their own version of The Odd Couple going on. Cut to commercial.
Jim scores another date with Mona at a charity union dinner. It's almost as if these people don't eat or go out unless it's some ritzy public event! Dirk Rawley will be performing at the event and Spectre has already chased Dirk's double to a jewel store. Spectre seems extremely enthusiastic to punch this guy. Knockout Punch! Woooo! 
Jim doesn't even get the soup to his mouth before Spectre is ready to punch Dirk. Jim politely excuses himself from the table, heads up on stage and swings on Dirk mid-magic trick....and MISSES!!! Security escorts Jim away while Dirk threatens to press charges. 
Cut to Spectre punching Dirk's double who is down but not out. Spectre knows he is in for it because Jim sucks at punching magicians. Dirk's double throws his magic carpet at Spectre and the rolled up carpet administers a beat down. Let me type that again in all caps. A ROLLED UP CARPET IS KICKING THE HELL OUT OF THE GHOSTLY GUARDIAN. That is until Spectre b!$*h slaps the rug into a lamp. This issue is really heating up! 
Dirk's double says (and I quote)  "With this ruby of mighty Thulthoom, wonder wizard of dark demonolatries, which I obtained in Arkham Town...Shall I bring about your final doom, Spectre." The Spectre shrinks as he is pulled into the ruby where he will be trapped for all time." The Spectre is helplessly trapped in the ruby as Dirk's double leaves for Arkham where he will drink in demons and recharge. 
Spectre rolls the ruby around the floor by doing cartwheels. He crashes into a diamond Dirk's double left behind creating a crack in the ruby and weakening the crystalline structure. This page is riveting...
Spectre escapes the ruby and immediately seeks out Jim who is being suspended from the police force (probably for that crummy punch!) Jim and Spectre discuss their next move in Jim's car on his way home. This whole scene reminds me of Walt and Jesse from Breaking Bad. 
Jim tails Dirk to an amusement park while Spectre goes after his double. An airplane ride may prove enough to foil their plan again as Jim misses his chance to ride.

 Spectre starts a twenty second countdown to sync their punches. Dirk is completely out of Jim's reach. Luckily, Jim calls in a favor with an old friend at the human cannonball. 
Jim is fired from the cannon and into the plane themed ride Dirk is on and simultaneously the two Dirk's are punched. Neal Adams art is amazing here. The panel where Spectre and Jim land their punches is so full of motion.

 Their plan worked and both Dirk's are down. After many rites and rituals are performed, Spectre seals off Dirk's Etheric body. Jim is struggling to prove Dirk is guilty when The Spectre appears producing all the stolen goods and the guy Dirk tried to rob on the first page. He has been in the hospital the whole issue but has been released, healed and is ready to testify. 
The robbery victim from the first page points out that Dirk is wearing his watch and when they open it up his name is inscribed proving Dirk is guilty. Jim's rank is restored and both him and Spectre are glad that most of their cases aren't this challenging. 

I actually really enjoyed this issue. It is riddled with flaws but is also a lot of fun and Spectre and Jim are a hoot here. It's going to be hard when I revisit Crisis On Infinite Earths knowing that years prior, Spectre was beat up by a rabbit, playing cards, a rug and multicolored fabric... I laughed so hard through this issue it actually has me digging it. The page with Jim and Spectre chatting together in bed wins M.V.P. (most valuable page) hands down. That page is what ultimately turned my feelings about this comic around. It's creepy in all the wrong ways and funny for all the wrong reasons. Fantastic. I want to point out that Neal Adams is on fire this issue. There are subtleties in every panel that make even the silliest scene look great! This is my first read through of The Spectre's silver age series.  Issue #01 of this volume had me concerned however here I am at issue #02 having a blast! Looking forward to the next review! 

Stay spooky folks! 

James von Boldt

Mar 7, 2017

The Spectre! (volume 01) issue #01

DateSeptember 21, 1967
TitleThe Sinister Lives of Captain Skull!
WriterGardner Fox
PencillerMurphy Anderson
InkerMurphy Anderson
LettererIra Schnapp 
Colorist: Jack Adler 
Cover ArtistMurphy Anderson
EditorJulius Shwartz

Characters: Jim Corrigan, Spectre, Joseph Clanton, Sir Guy the Cruel, Commodus, Paris Prince of Troy

Villain: Captain Skull

An experimental operation conjures a long dead, pirate, Captain Skull into the body of an American ambassador. Captain Skull pillages and plunders Gateway City until The Spectre intervenes to fight him throughout time and space. A wacky time travel, body swapping, reincarnation, science fiction, fantasy! 

When popular American Ambassador, Joseph Clanton is publicly shot, the country's best surgeons do everything they can to keep him alive including the implementation of an experimental and untested anesthetic. 
The surgery lasts for three hours. As the surgeons are speaking outside the operation room, a muscular man emerges, plowing through the doctors and out of the hospital. The doctors deduce that the man may have been the injured ambassador who is no longer on the operating table. Meanwhile the muscular menace is seen stealing a pirate outfit from a costume store by Detective Jim Corrigan.

As the pirate steals a car, Jim realizes he fits the A.R.B Bulletin of a mysterious character who rushed out of the operating room where ambassador Clanton was in surgery. A high-speed chase ensues while Jim draws his firearm and shoots out one of the pirate's tires which immediately re-inflates. Jim realizes that this is no ordinary case. 
Jim pursues the pirate to Gateway Park where the statue of Gateway City's Spanish American Rough Rider Bucko Benjamin resides. Though Jim knows there are mystical forces at work, he decides to get out and apprehend the pirate anyway. As he approaches, the pirate is tearing apart the iron cage surrounding the monument without breaking a sweat. Jim punches the pirate in the back of the neck because I guess that's what you do to mystical, super strong pirates, only to himself take one on the jaw. The pirate, unaffected by Jim's attack mounts a fallen Jim Corrigan who has strategically placed his left leg and arm. The pirate speaks in first person as Cap'n Skull. Skull's speech is full of pirate slang and old English which clues Jim in that he is of the past. Using that to his advantage, Jim attempts a Judo throw figuring a pirate wouldn't know how to counter.
Successfully throwing Skull (who curses Jim in pirate speak), Jim notices that he's knocked the wind out of his opponent. A comforting thought that quickly dissipates as Skull begins to levitate into the air. Captain Skull nose dives into Jim who is laid out on the lawn around the statue.
While Jim is dazed on his face, Skull picks up the monument statue and hoists it above his head in preparation to crush Jim. As he hurls the statue downward, a giant, green gloved hand on a long pale arm emerges from the ground to catch it before any harm can come to Jim. The mysterious interception is revealed to be none other than The Spectre! Spectre asks Skull what he is doing in Gateway Park and why he is attacking Jim Corrigan.
Spectre demands an answer and an agitated Skull responds with an attack. The Spectre grows in size and becomes intangible (classic) but when the enraged pirate passes through him The Spectre notices a strange energy about the pirate. The energy has a quality that weakens Spectre's spectral power enough that he decides he has to defeat this enemy without touching him. His idea? Pick up a tree and bash Captain Skull into unconsciousness. 
The Spectre's attack is countered by Skull who twirls his cutlass so fast it shreds the tree to nothing. Spectre senses the same harmful energy radiating off of the pirate's sword as he jumps over Skull's slash. Spectre summons a spectral sword to duel with but Skull summons a second sword that levitates and fights for him via remote control.
While Spectre defends himself against the self-wielding sword, Skull lifts the base that the statue once stood on and digs up a treasure chest. Seeing this, Spectre also figures the pirate is from another time period. As Skull is making his escape, Spectre is caught up dueling the phantom sword. He devises a plan to materialize in the fallen statue to confuse the sword.
His plan works and while the possessed sword hesitates to locate him, he breaks the enemy sword in two with one swing! With the threat defused he searches far and wide but yields no leads as to Skulls whereabouts. Spectre decides to meet up with Jim Corrigan to rest and compare notes.
Jim and The Spectre connect the dots that the the pirate and the ambassador are one and the same. To be sure of their findings, Spectre visits the astra-dimensions "where are to be found the many answers to perplexing problems" great stuff. The Spectre discovers that Captain Skull's psychic spirit was released when the experimental anesthesia was applied to Joseph Clanton (the ambassador).Because Skull was wrenched out of time it caused his psychic soul to become inundated with Cylic Forces as it reached the ambassador's body. He also learns that these Cylic Forces are a threat to his spectral power and that if he is unable to stop Skull, war will erupt on Earth. Meanwhile on Earth, Jim Corrigan hits the history books and discovers Captain Skull lived 1710-1764. He robbed and looted in his ship "The Bonny Venture" in the Caribbean Sea and off the Carolina coast. Spectre returns to tell Jim what he's uncovered in the mysterious Astra-Dimensions. 
The next day Captain Skull is seen by two pilots flying a commercial plane at 50,000 feet! As Skull runs on air toward the plane, the giant Spectre crushes him between two giant rocks in each hand. When he separates them to see the state of the Skull, he is unaffected and left the impression of his body in the rock! 
Skull fires several cannon balls filled with Megacylic energy from his sword? Magic is crazy...The Spectre creates a wind current with his cape while striking a hell of a pose. After the cannon balls go god only knows where he whips his cape back around creating a vortex of Astral Power! 
Skull and Spectre are pulled into a (ever so 1960's looking) vortex. When they come out on the other side it's 1751 (The day Skull buried his treasure in what would become (Gateway City). Spectre expels Skull's evil spirit from the body of the ambassador using ripples in his cloak which at this point is a very handy garment. 
The spirit of Captain Skull emerges from the ambassadors body. Now glowing in the harmful Megacylic energy, Skull is able to accelerate Spectre's vortex and drags them to Medieval times. Skull's aura enters the body of of Sir Guy the Cruel (who is Skull in a past life). Skull plans to use his old body with his new powers to become the richest and most powerful man of this era.
Sir Guy the Cruels face changes into Captain Skull! Skull orders the men of his army to fire arrows at the castle, which charged with Megacylic energy, do some serious damage. Spectre must end this but still can not make contact with him!
Spectre takes a moment to appreciate the oddity that the great American ambassador, Joseph Clanton could be such a rotten guy in two past lives. As Skull and his army charge the castle, Spectre rides a sunbeam reflecting off a sword into the eye of a soldier. "He's walking on sunshine! Wooooahhhh!' He materializes in the soldier without Skull knowing.
The Spectre (in a solider's body) clobbers Skull with a mace enchanted with Megacylic energy. The blow weakens Skull enough that Spectre can now handle Skull without harm. He brings Skull back into the vortex but he wakes up and flies back out of the vortex and into the famous Colosseum. Emperor Commodus, as it conveniently turns out also was Skull's ancestor. Hard to believe this guy was the ambassador about to bring about world peace on the first page...
Skull's opponent gladiator throws a net over him and The Spectre pulls down a lightning bolt from above the Colosseum which strikes down on the temporarily captured Skull. The electricity forces Skull out of  Commodus' body. Skull is weakened enough from the lightning strike for Spectre to grab him and head back into the vortex only to again lose him to another time period. This time Skull steals the body of Paris, Prince of Troy.
Waiting till after Skull kills Achilles, Spectre's giant hand pushes down on the ground beside him releasing Earth's mighty natural gasses. Skull becomes numb and the arrow from the bow of Philoctetes  strikes Paris (Skull) as history intended. Pulled back into the vortex, Skull summons up the very motes of time and hurls them at Spectre before unleashing cosmic winds that pull The Spectre away threatening to fly what's left of him after the attack in all directions throughout space and time! 
As Spectre feels the cosmic tides washing through him, he uses every strange power he has. Basically Spectre turns it up to 11. Upward he stretches and grows until the universe is but a speck. Spectre bathes in the radio wave energy of a quasar (Megacylic energy) which cannot hurt him when not directed by a malignant mind. He sets history straight and then turns to Skull, who he no longer has to avoid contact with. Oh, it's on now! Spectre punches Skull precisely hard enough to send him to his respective timeline. 
With the spirit of Skull in his proper body/timeline, the ambassador, Joseph Clanton is revived and the whole spirit, body swap thing has cured him somehow. Happy ending indeed. Meanwhile, Jim Corrigan has a cup of coffee. 

Review: A lot is happening here and there are so many inconsistencies I won't even get into it. This story is proof to me that The Spectre works best when he is all powerful. He comes across goofy and awkward here as a hero type who struggles to save the day. I am much more interested in Jim Corrigan struggling and The Spectre owning it. That being said, I am not apposed to The Spectre having his own trials and tribulations but this comic really goofs him up. The M.V.P. (most valuable page) for me is definitely when Spectre defeats the remote controlled sword and then goes looking for the pirate. The panel where The Spectre stands giant over the city makes the whole thing!  It's possible that I am being too hard on this book. I am a bronze age fan at my core but I appreciate and enjoy silver age stories. I think if the main character of this story was Superman or The Legion of Superheroes I could get down and enjoy some light hearted cheese. This is a Spectre series I have not yet read at this point (I know...) so I accept the challenge of changing my attitude about this silver age series! There was an entry by Bob Butts, South Bend,Ind. in one of the "Readers' Rendezous--Extra"  (letters page) that really spoke to how I felt about this story and the handling of this character. Here it is: 
Stay spooky folks!

James von Boldt