Today I’m introducing a new department at Sentimental Drift… Random Comic Friday! Yes, on select Friday’s throughout the year I will deep dive into my comic long boxes and pull out an issue at random and write a review about it. I will write the review with no real research into the context of the issue or the arc from which it was contained. I will simply take it all in like we used to back before we had the luxury of performing a Google search. Ah, the good ol’ days. Enjoy!
Title: The Spectre
Issue: 4 (vol. 3)
Date: March 1993
Writer: John Ostrander
Artist: Tom Mandrake
I’ll go ahead and state up front that I’m a fan of John Ostrander and Tom Mandrake having already read a few select arcs from this volume of The Spectre. The cover art from Mandrake depicts Corrigan, the host body for the wrath of God, in an agonizing posture, arms flailing with intense motion lines that lead back to the face of his parasitic co-pilot. We see the issue title “The Fall of Jim Corrigan” beneath him printed over a bed of screaming human faces. Now I don’t know about you, but I think that’s pretty rad. Let’s dig in, shall we?
Right out of the gate, we seem to be in a flashback sequence that gives us a glimpse into the origin story for this iteration of The Spectre. Jim Corrigan, the host body for said spectre, is recounting the tale of his death to Amy Beitermann, a character we will get to know more intimately throughout Ostrander’s run on the title. The detective talks of being encased in cement by some baddies and thrown into a river where he died and began his true life as The Spectre. In case you aren’t familiar with the concept, The Spectre is the wrath of God tied to a human host who seeks vengeance at every turn. Pretty sweet, right?
Anyways, after his drowning death he is cast into Limbo where he sees the murdered dead, all begging for vengeance. Jim asks The Spectre about his killer, a man named Gat Benson. He asks the physical embodiment of the wrath of God why this man gets to walk away scott-free after killing Jim. Jim can’t fathom the reasoning behind such an injustice. The Spectre goes on to explain that this is no longer a concern for Jim. Of course, Jim becomes angry at this notion and implores the guy in the green hood to reconsider on behalf of the friends and loved ones left behind after his death. After all, Benson might come for them too!
We then cut to a scene where we see Jim’s fiance, Clarice, wandering around asking Jim’s partner Waylon where the heck she might be able to find Jim. Apparently she and Jim were going to announce their engagement the night he was killed. As one might expect, they run directly into Mr. Big Bad himself, Gat Benson!
Jim, watching from Limbo, begs The Spectre to intervene and save the two. The Spectre just sort of says “Nah son, don’t worry yourself, Benson will eventually pay for his crimes”. Jim will have none of this and tells the Spectre that he’s seen little of God’s justice in the world. Jim demands justice right now!
So yeah, this ticks The Spectre off royally. How dare Jim not wait for God to meet out justice on his own schedule! As punishment, Jim is told he is not worthy of heaven or hell. His spirit must walk the Earth bound to The Spectre until he is able to “understand why people choose the paths they take”.
Back to the scene on Earth, Gat Benson is regulating all over Clarice and Waylon just as Jim shows up, Spectre powers in tow.
As you can see, Jim melts Benson into a pile of goo after his fiance Clarice is murdered at the hands of the goon. Clarice sort of floats up to heaven but then sort of… doesn’t? It’s hard to tell what exactly happened. Maybe Jim brought her back with his new Spectre powers? This pisses Amy Beitermann off big time as she tells Jim to leave Clarice alone and let her die.
I have to say, I agree with Amy on this one. Corrigan just goes on to break the engagement and dump Clarice after this whole fiasco. Clarice was happy in heaven… now he’s going to bring her back to life and dump her? Wow, that’s harsh. After this exchange the Spectre just sort of rages out and goes off about how he was sent here to confront evil in the world and see that it’s punished. He then, in a creepy sequence of panels, shoots himself into Amy in order discover what evil lies inside of her.
We are then presented with Amy’s life story, framed as a fairy tale. We learn that her ex-husband Ted slept around and gave her AIDS. Without knowing it, Amy had passed it on to other men after her marriage ended. Jim and The Spectre fight over what should be done to Amy for her sins. In the end, Jim fights back his past feelings of shame and seeks forgiveness from Amy. She says she’ll forgive him if he can first forgive himself.
This issue really has that special 90s feel to it and not just because of the HIV/AIDS references. The art from Tom Mandrake is a prime example of the era’s overall look and feel. It captures the visual aesthetic found in other books from DC’s dark line like the early Hellblazer issues with scratchy art from John Ridgeway. Ostrander, having studied at seminary, was also a nice fit as the writer for the series. In this run he seeks to explore questions involving God’s seemingly passive role in seeking out justice for the abused and victimized. He also explores sin and guilt at a personal level without coming across as heavy handed. Ostrander handles these themes well without alienating people of faith, or those who remain skeptical.
I would recommend the issue to anyone who enjoys a touch of the supernatural in his or her comics. For me however, The Spectre vol. 3 falls into second place overall behind the late 80s series by Doug Moench with early issue art by the great Gene Colan. So yeah, check out The Spectre vol. 2 first, and then if you’re still into the character, give the Ostrander run a try.