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Monday, October 24, 2016

A review of the 1987 Spectre v2 ongoing series

It was DC Executive Editor Dick Giordano's idea to give the Spectre his own book again. This was apparently decided before Crisis On Infinite Earths, since the DC editorial team determined that the Spectre was TOO powerful of a character and would need to be taken down a few notches before he was given his own ongoing series. Marv Wolfman, Roy Thomas, Steve Gerber* and Bob Greenberger conferred and set a plan in motion: as a result of various events in 1986's Crisis on Infinite Earths maxi-series, Alan Moore's Swamp Thing and the Last Days of the Justice Society Special #1, the Spectre gets demoted to becoming a lesser-powerful supernatural being.

*If you're wondering why Steve Gerber is in the aforementioned list, it was because Gerber was Giordano's original choice as writer for the Spectre v2 ongoing series (scheduled to start in 1986), Gerber is best known for his work on Marvel's Man-Thing, Defenders and Howard the Duck titles. Due to scheduling conflicts between Gerber and DC comics [i.e., animated G.I .Joe cartoon and Howard the Duck film], Gerber writing Spectre v2 never actualized. Actually, a few of Steve Gerber's early 80s DC proposal never saw the light of day, and you can read about them on Brian Cronin's Comic Book Legends Revealed #254.

Prior to Spectre v2, Doug Moench had been writing Batman AND Detective Comics, as well as a few other projects for DC (Slash Maraud, Electric Warrior, and Lords of the Ultra-Realm). When Denny O'Neil became editor of the Bat-books in 1986, he was looking to move Batman into a new direction and Moench was replaced as writer [don't worry: Moench would return as regular writer again in 1992]. Moench offered a proposal to Giordano and Greenberger on a Spectre v2 ongoing series, which was well-received and the idea was ultimately given the 'go ahead'.

As the ongoing series begins, Moench wastes no time in addressing what happened to the Spectre after Swamp Thing v2 #50 and Last Days of the Justice Society Special, quickly explaining to the reader that this is a not-so-powerful Spectre who has had most of his powers stripped away. Moench also quickly introduces Kim Liang and (re-introduces) Madame Xanadu as supporting characters — as they will both play major roles throughout this series. Jim Corrigan was also reinstated as the Spectre's 'alter ego', but more on that later. Meonch chose the Cult of the Blood Red Moon (last seen during the I...Vampire! issues of 1982/1983's House of Mystery) as the Spectre's first major antagonists and they would remain a thorn in the Spectre's side for the first dozen issues or so.

By issue #2, we get a better idea of the Spectre's situation; the Spectre is Jim Corrigan's "soul", and can leave Corrigan's body for a maximum of 48 hours. It's explained that if Corrigan dies then the Spectre has no "host" body to return to and will also die (in a manner of speaking). Having the Spectre's incorporeal form split from Corrigan is a painful experience for Corrigan.

As far I can tell, the Spectre has the following powers: he can 'possess' inanimate/inorganic objects and transform them, he can become invisible, he can turn into a mist, he can communicate with the deceased (some exceptions apply) and he has limited mind-reading capabilities. Despite being 'ghost-like', the Spectre can still throw a punch. Another stipulation imposed on the Spectre (by whoever he answers to) is that he now has to mete out punishments that 'fit the crime' — no more turning jaywalkers into glass or whatever.

Spectre v2 #1 - pencils by Gene Colan and inks by Steve Mitchell
The Spectre v2 really makes a REALLY STRONG first impression with Gene Colan on pencils and Steve Mitchell on inks. Colan and Mitchell (along with Gerber) were part of Giordano's original vision for the Spectre v2 creative team. [Coincidentally, like MoenchColan had also been working on Detective Comics from 1982 to 1986.] Colan on the Spectre is a natural choice, as Colan is best known for his work on Marvel's The Tomb of Dracula (and other various Dracula-related titles). Colan's pencils bring a sinister and foreboding atmosphere that is perfectly suited for supernatural-themed stories (as evidenced in DC's Night Force). Mitchell's inks compliment Colan's pencils quite nicely, and it's a bit of shame that the Colan/Mitchell team-up only lasted for the first six issues of the series. Nevertheless, after Colan and Mitchell left, we were still treated to a really impressive line-up of artists:

Spectre v2 #7 - illustrated by Cam Kennedy 
Cam Kennedy (best known for his work on 2000 AD's Judge Dredd and Rogue Trooper features) took over as guest artist for two issues.

Spectre v2 #10 - illustrated by Gray Morrow
Gray Morrow became the regular penciller and inker as of Spectre v2 #9 and remained until issue #15. Morrow, who's realistic art had been featured everywhere in the 1970s (DC, Marvel, Warren Publishing and Archie Comics), was an amazing fit for this series and I'm so glad that this series existed just so that Morrow had a chance to draw several issues.

Spectre v2 #17 - Chris Wozniak pencils with Ricardo Villagran inks

Gray Morrow would be the last regular penciller/inker for the next nine issues. Following Morrow leaving the book, it was pretty much a rotating creative team. Chris Wozniak was one of the few pencillers that would stay consistent and on any given issue teamed up with Mark Farmer, Ricardo Villagran, or Mark Badger. Bart Sears and Mark Pennington illustrated issue #22. Tom Artis pencilled a six issue story arc that lasted until issue #29. Artis had a rotating cast of inkers which included Ralph Cabrera, Al Vey, and Tim Gula during this run.  The series concluded with Fred Butler and Gonzalo Mayo as pencillers for the last two issues. respectively. Jim Baikie pencilled and inked the 1988 Spectre v2 Annual #1.

Spectre v2 #19 - illustrated by Mark Badger
I wanted to give a special mention to Mark Badger's art for Spectre v2 #19 (as well as issues #18, #20 and #21 — you can see his strong influence in the finished work). During a previous review of the 1988 Martian Manhunter mini-series, I was a little harsh regarding his art on that mini stating that it was 'too abstract/psychedelic' for the story. In this case, Badger's abstract style fits the mood and theme of the Spectre v2 ongoing series perfectly, and I really wish he had stayed on as the regular artist until the end of the book. Just terrific stuff.

I can't talk about the art in this book without mentioning how impressive the cover gallery to the first half of this series was. A lot of big name (and soon to be 'big name') artists had contributed covers that are absolutely pin-up worthy. Here a few covers that really stood out...

A few Mike Kaluta covers:

A few Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez covers:

A few Mike Mignola covers:

A few Charles Vess covers:

I feel that some books (particularly the Spectre) need the RIGHT artist in order to convey the RIGHT mood, which is why I'm putting so much emphasis on the art in this book. Now that we've dealt with who illustrated what, it's time to talk about what was going on between the covers. So far, this article is running way longer than I had planned, so we'll conclude with a comprehensive review in part 2.


1 comment:

  1. I only recently found out that Kim Liang was an artificial construct created by Madame Xanadu. When did this happen?