One foot on horror: The Spectre

“Gutter of Horror” is a Brazilian column from Dinamo Studio website about horror comics.
This is a translated version of the articles.

Created within the superhero genre, The Spectre, with stories associated to the supernatural has also some connection to the horror genre and pulp. Created for More Fun Comics in 1940 by Jerry Siegel (also creator of Superman) and Bernard Baily (who also created Hourman), the Spectre is originally Jim Corrigan, a policeman who was murdered in the best “killed by the mob” style: they shoot him several times and put him in a barrel full of cement that was thrown into the ocean. His spirit, however, refused to cross the afterlife and he was taken back to Earth with the mission to destroy evil. There was not much information about who sent him back. At the time, it was known just as “the voice”, but later the voice would be associated with the Christian god – sometimes subtly, sometimes explicitly. This was still the early days of superhero genre, so the stories still resembled very much the pulp crime comics, just with a little twist. Still in the 1940s, Spectre was part of the first Superhero team ever, the Justice Society of America. But the popularity of the superheroes declined after World War II and, just like most of his peers, the Spectre started to become just a supporting character in his own title, until the inevitable cancellation.

During the Silver Age in the 1950s, editor Julius Schwartz revived several golden age characters in new versions – and the Spectre was one of them. This new version, made by Gardner Fox (who was also made the Justice League) and Murphy Anderson, also saw Jim Corrigan as a vengeful spirit, but it diverged in a significant way: he was much more powerful than his golden age counterpart – just like the Flash and Superman in comparison to their golden age versions. The Spectre became extremely powerful, sometimes close to omnipotence. The character had his own title, but ended up having the same fate as his golden age counterpart.

In the 1970s, the Spectre found a more dark path – once again following the trend of that time – in the title Adventure Comics. He was written by Micharel Fleisher (who also wrote Jonah Hex) with art by Jim Aparo. This time the focus of the stories was the final fate of the criminals and frequently the title challenged the Comics Code, creating horrific situations each issue, which generate some controversy at the time. Despite the problems, the title had a good run, but ended with several scripts ready that never saw the light of day. Funny enough, there was no consensus in DC editorial body about who was indeed this new Spectre. Editor Joe Orlando explained that he was the Earth-one version of the Spectre – which was expected, since this was the case for all of the revived silver age characters – but not everyone agreed with that. Later stories showed that this Spectre was actually the Earth-two Spectre (the original) that jumped to the other earth and took over the body of earth-one Jim Corrigan.

In the 1980s, Spectre once again had his own title, written by John Ostrander with art by Doug Moench. This time the stories were more complex and got deep into moral discussions about the Spectre’s activities in human life. It was during this run that he played a huge part in Crisis on Infinite Earths crossover, representing another level of reality and also as the last hope of the multiverse in the battle against the Antimonitor.

In 1990s, following seminal works like The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen, the superhero genre become a pastiche of itself by trying too hard to make its heroes dark and gritty – without the layers of the works that inspired them. In this context, Hal Jordan, once a Green Lantern, became the villain known as Parallax by killing every other green lantern and most of the Guardians. Later, DC found a way to redeem the character by making him sacrificing himself to save earth. At this point, many fans wanted Hal Jordan back as Green Lantern, but at the same time, the new Green Lantern, Kyle Rayner, was also really successful. DC’s solution was retire Jim Corrigan and make Hal Jordan the new host of the Spectre. Most of the stories from this period focus on Hal Jordan wanted to redeem himself for his mistakes

But in the 2000s, Hal Jordan ended up being brought back to life and reinstated as a Green Lantern in Green Lantern: Rebirth miniseries. Because of that, Spectre become a spirit with no host, which made him susceptible to Eclipso, so the villain used him to trying to destroy all magic in DC Universe during the Day of the Vengeance storyline – a tie-in story for Infinite Crisis crossover. After these events, the Spectre found a new host: Officer Crispus Allen, which was killed by a fellow cop called Jim Corrigan. But, as far as I known, this was not the same Jim Corrigan that was once the host of the character. I don’t think DC has ever explained what was this all about. This version of the character lasted until the next DC reboot, that brought “The New 52”.

Later, the character was incorporated to the New 52 timeline with a new origin. He was once again Jim Corrigan, but this time, things take a different turn. He is a cop from Gotham PD whose fiancee Is kidnapped. Guided by the Phantom Stranger under the instructions of “the voice”, Corrigan goes to the place where his fiancee is being held captive, but discover that it's a trap. Both are killed by the kidnappers and he is then transformed into the Spectre. He immediately accuses the Phantom Stranger of betraying him, but when he tries to attack the Stranger, the voice intervene and sends him far away, so he can focus his anger in those who deserved more.

The New 52 version explains that the voice choose Corrigan to be the “mirror to his wish for justice”. But Corrigan doesn't care about that and comes back to the police, taking revenge of the criminals instead of making justice. He ends up joining the “Detailed Case Task Force”, a small department responsible for investigate supernatural events off the books.

Despite being a recurring and important character in DC Universe through the ages, the Spectre never had much chance outside the comics until 2010, when an animated short was release with the Crisis on Two Earths DVD. The short featuring the character was written by Steve Niles (30 days of Night). More recently, his host Jim Corrigan was seen in Constantine TV series (2014) and in Arrow, where he made Oliver Queen the new Spectre during the Crisis on Infinite Earths Arrowverse crossover (2019-2020).

Rafael Algures is a Bachelor of Philosophy specialized in Neurosciences of Language. He is also a copywriter, content and science writer, and a comic book creator. His latest work, “Gutter of Horror: Transition” is available at Amazon – digital and paperback.

Further Reading: The Golden Age: Spectre - Archives, Volume 1, by Jerry Siegel