The Spectre was the first dead hero. When he was alive he was hard-edged cop Jim Corrigan, who shared a room in a boarding house with his partner in the force, Wayne Grant, while romancing wealthy socialite Clarice Winston, to the dismay of her parents. Jim is trying to bring down mobster “Gat” Benson, and gets a tip from stoolie Louie Snipe that turns out to be a set-up. Benson’s men capture Jim and Clarice, and put Jim in a barrel of cement, tossing him into the river.
Jim dies, but his soul is called by God (not named or shown, but the clouds and beam of light that accompany the all-powerful being kind of make it obvious). Jim is to remain on Earth battling crime, and his astral, ghostly form emerges from the barrel and the river. Jim saves Clarice and takes vengeance on his killers, turning one into a skeleton.
As the Spectre he is virtually omnipotent himself. He can read minds, fly, turn invisible and intangible, grow to great heights or shrink. He can travel through space, or to other realms, transform people into things (like ice, and then they melt). He can inhabit inanimate objects, making the move and speak, and can even take on the form of other people.
But Jim is dead, and this stresses him out. He moves out of the boarding house, and calls off his engagement to Clarice. Wayne remains his partner on the force, though he appears less often as the series goes on, making his final appearance in More Fun 64. Clarice refuses to give up on Jim, and keeps trying to patch things up, though her appearances are sporadic as well.
My favourite moment in his two-part origin story is the panel in which he sews his Spectre costume. As the Spectre, he wears a white body stocking, covering him from head to toe, and a long dark green cloak with a hood, with matching gloves and boots, and shorts. Aside from this one panel, it really does not seem like the Spectre wears a white thing under his cape. He is a ghost after all, and it feels like his white body is simply his ghostly form. At first, Jim turns into the Spectre, though in later stories the Spectre will emerge from him – sometimes both will happen over the course of the same tale. But never again do we get to see him put a costume on.
The Spectre was created by Jerry Siegel and Bernard Bailey, and Bailey would stick with the series until it ended. Siegel’s name continues popping up in the credits, and no other writer is ever credited, but not all stories are ascribed to him.
The Spectre’s stories take place in Cliffland, for the most part, though issue 61 refers to Centre City, and 82 to Gotham Town. As Cliffland is mentioned before, between, and after these two stories, I believe those are both names of suburbs, or sections of the city.
The Spectre stories are at their most intense at the outset. They have the feeling of a horror series, not a hero one, and the Spectre’s appearance is threatening. He thinks nothing of killing bad guys, in horrific ways, and will fly them into space simply to scare them and make them reveal information.
In his first two years, the Spectre faces his most powerful foes. Zor is a master magician who rivals the Spectre in power. He faces the Spectre in issues 55 and 57 of More Fun, and their battles see them changing size, and paralyzing each other, temporarily. The godly voice informs the Spectre of Zor’s vulnerability to ectobane, and the Spectre manages to imprison Zor in a coffin made of it. Zor returns in the late 90s.
Xnon wears a costume almost identical to that of the Spectre, though in dark purple, and uses advanced alien science to steal an entire train, and create a giant image of the Spectre so that he will get the blame. The Spectre cannot best Xnon, and the godly voice gives him the Ring of Life, which enables the Spectre to seal Xnon in a meteor. I really enjoy Bailey’s art throughout the Spectre series, but the meteor is a very childish five pointed yellow star, and the worst illustration of the run.
The Ring of Life gives the Spectre the edge in what few battles he finds difficult. The character was already so powerful, and this really would prove to be too much. He uses it in More Fun 63, which came out a few months after All-Star 2, but I believe the order of the stories should be reversed, as the Spectre loses the Ring in All-Star, as he battles the three-eyed High Priest of Brztal, Kulak, who causes the “whispering death,” that drives people into murderous frenzies. The Spectre does not sacrifice the Ring, he simply loses it as they chase each other through mystical dimensions and throw comets at each other. Kulak, and the Ring of Life, return in All-Star Squadron in the 80s.
Bandar makes three appearances fighting the Spectre, though he only gets named in the last one, and it is not clear if that is his real name anyway. He, like Xnon, wears a purple costume almost identical to the Spectre, and seems to be a force of pure evil, from some other dimension. He debuts in More Fun 63, returns in 64 as a living shadow, and then in 70, leading the Crimson Circle Mystical Society, killing those who attempt to leave his cult.
Issue 73 is the last of the “classic” Spectre stories, as he deals with a mystical volcano that appears in the centre of Cliffland. The final panel of that story introduces Percival Popp, the Super-Cop, and the Spectre series begins its decline.
At first, the only really bad thing about Percival Popp is his name. He is an amateur detective who has become a fan of Jim Corrigan, and hides in the trunk of his car to meet him. Jim wants nothing to do with the geeky, bespectacled man, but Popp does prove himself a competent detective.
In issue 75, the godly voice allows Jim to return to life, but retain his powers. Jim being alive is never mentioned again, and makes little sense as far as retaining his powers goes, but the whole purpose is to allow him to reconcile with Clarice, so that she can more easily appear in the stories.
The look of the Spectre changes at this time as well. Not a huge difference, the costume remains the same, but the cowl now has a bit of a peak to it, making his face clearer, and the cloak is usually over his shoulders and behind his back, instead of being draped around him, making the Spectre appear less ghostly, and more of a hero. He still likes flying bad guys into space to scare them, but no longer kills them, and tends to simply beat them up.
As the series trudges forward, Percival becomes more and more important in the tales, and more and more incompetent as well. In More Fun 90 Jim enlists in the army, and leaves the invisible ghostly form of the Spectre behind to hang out with Percival. The Spectre is basically reduced to Percival Popp’s guardian angel. These stories are not really bad, and Bailey’s art remains enjoyable, but the series has moved just so far away from the frightening and violent early days.
The Spectre makes his last appearance in More Fun 101. He does not return until the 60s, in a JLA/JSA crossover. Percival Popp makes a surprisingly good return in the Ostrander/Mandrake series in the 90, and Clarice returns in that book as well.
The Spectre: More Fun 52 – 101 (Feb 40 – Jan/Feb 45)
All-Star Comics 1-2 (Summer – Fall 40)