Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Comic Book Review: The Spectre (Vol. 3) #2

TITLE: The Spectre (Vol. 3) #2


COVER DATE: January 1993


24 pages


My most vivid memory of this run is buying the first issue on a lark. I was still somewhat of a Marvel zombie at this point, just branching out into some DC books. I didn't have any history with the character of The Spectre, really only reading about him in the pages of Crisis On Infinite Earths.

I had recently got on board The Sandman bandwagon, and this liked it could be something similar so I gave it a shot.

From the first issue I was hooked. I was familiar with John Ostrander from his work on Grim Jack, but Tom Mandrake on pencils was new to me. What I saw literally blew me away. There was really nothing else like it at the time. His art was perfectly suited for this title and Ostrander's writing style.

Over the years, I've forgotten the specifics of the actual stories, but I do remember being fascinated with this title from beginning to end. If I remember correctly, Ostrander and Mandrake were responsible for just about the entire run.

With all that said, let's get to reading...

Crimes of Passion

  • Writer: John Ostrander
  • Artist: Tom Mandrake
  • Colorist: Digital Chameleon
  • Letterer: Todd Klein
  • Editor: Dan Raspler

The book opens up with Jim Corrigan walking the beaches of Long Island Sound. He looks up to a house on the hill and sees a flash of light in the window. Believing that someone has been shot, and outraged that someone would dare to kill before his very eyes, The Spectre emerges.

He approaches the scene of the crime to see a woman falling back. She does not respond to his inquiries, with The Spectre soon realizing that she is a ghost caught in a loop. Forever must she relive the horror of her death until the perpetrator is caught. The Spectre decides to utilize the skills that he learned as Jim Corrigan when he was a police detective to track down this woman's killer. That way, at least one of them can know peace.

Back in New York City, a visitor arrives at Jim Corrigan's old office. Her name is Amy Bitterman, and she had an encounter with him and The Spectre last issue that has touched her deeply. She tracked him down to this office, which he used to share with Madame Xanadu. I had forgot about that little fact. I wonder if Matt Wagner will play with that at all with her new ongoing title.

Amy finds out that Corrigan has abandoned this office through her encounter with Madame Xanadu. It turns out that they're all looking for him: Amy, Madame Xanadu, and a ghost called Kimmie.

The next day, Corrigan heads back to the house where a couple of local sheriff deputies are inspecting the damage left by The Spectre from the night before. Corrigan starts to get the old small town sheriff lecture about outsiders nosing around where they don't belong, when Corrigan gives him the Spectre stinkeye, and he spills the beans.

The woman who was murdered was the mistress of a local big shot. She had left her humdrum husband, to shack up with her old high school flame in this house that he had built for her. About five years ago, she gets beaten to death and her husband ends up getting convicted for the crime.

He still sits on death row, which is where he heads to next...this time as The Spectre. He decides to skip right past good cop, and play bad cop. That is something that The Spectre excels in, as he gives him a vision of his life in hell for murdering his wife. Even in the face of eternal damnation, he still professes his innocence, which is enough to convince The Spectre.

He returns the innocent man to his jail cell, with the promise to prove his innocence. In a chilling scene that shows how precarious the power of The Spectre is, the innocent man hangs himself with his bedsheets after The Spectre disappears. The torment is just too much, and even after his innocence is revealed to someone other than himself, it's still too much for the wronged man to bear.

The next stop on his quest for justice is the high-rise penthouse office of the murdered woman's lover. The Spectre is once again called into action as he confronts the evil man's soul. He fancies himself a merchant god-king, sitting on a throne of jewels held aloft by lesser men.

This doesn't fool The Spectre, as he shows him who he really is...a pathetic boy, lying and pretending to be a great man. It turns out that he didn't kill the woman either, but let everything think he did so that people would fear him even more. The Spectre leaves him a crumpled man, crying on the floor.

Out of leads, Corrigan heads the the murdered woman's grave to plead with her to give him a sign or some direction on where to look next. Seconds later he is confronted in the flesh by the dead woman herself. It turns out to be the dead woman's twin sister. It seems there's always an unknown twin that shows up when the detective hits a dead end.

The sister attempts to blow Corrigan's inquiries off, but soon has to deal with the wrath of The Spectre, who will not be denied. He pulls the same trick on her as last time, and confronts her soul personally to find out what she knows. She is hiding something, as The Spectre has to claw his way through thorny vines and climb unassailable castle towers to find her.

But find her he does, and soon learns the ugly truth. The sister was jealous of her twin, who was favored by their parents...unjustly in her eyes. Her anger got the better of her, and her sister's life was taken as a result.

Corrigan finally has his murderer, but not everything is wrapping up as neatly as he would like it to. In a scene that addresses one of the main theme's of this series, The Spectre realizes just how his actions affect the real world. She tells him how her sister's husband has killed himself in prison. She breaks down, distraught that her actions have resulted in another death.

The Spectre, outraged at another death, chases her off the edge of the cliff to her death. Vengeance is his for the collected wrath of the murdered dead, and for the justice mocked.

The Spectre returns to the scene of the crime to let the dead know that they can finally rest in peace, when the apparition of the murdered woman appears again. The Spectre realizes that in his quest for justice, he has failed to understand what made the dead woman unable to rest. Anyone who could tell him now is either dead or a broken man. Once again, the anger that drives him also blinded him to true justice.


Good comics are good comics, no matter what decade they're from.

John Ostrander and Tom Mandrake meshed together flawlessly to create a comic that made you think. They took The Spectre into situations that forced you to address the meaning of morality, justice, vengeance, and theology without ever getting too preachy. The best comics from the 90's took the fantastic elements of previous decades and mixed them with more "serious" topics. They didn't assume comics were for kids, and figured that we were smart enough to want, and appreciate, more intelligent comics.

The renaissance in comic book storytelling that we've been experiencing over the last decade owes a huge favor to books like this.

For any of you that have never read any of Ostrander and Mandrake's Spectre run, you really owe it to yourself to check some of these out. There's very little you need to know going into this series, which is only aided by the fact that Ostrander brings you right up to speed with the first issue.

Unfortunately, as far as I know, DC has never really kept any of the trades for this series in print. On the bright side, however, seeing as how this run has never reached the legendary status of a book like Starman, you should be able to find the back issues for cover price or less.

All characters and artwork reproduced are (c) DC Comics.

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