Spectre 1992: Hidden Gem? Or Just Another Average Comic?

Before diving into the third Volume of Spectre comics debuting in 1992, first, I must ask the question, “what do you think about comics from the nineties?” Well, I think it’s very hard to argue against the point that the nineties were a chaotic time for both Marvel and DC. Finances were tight, titles such as Spider-Man struggled, and characters like Batman and Superman found themselves struggling to stay consistent in sales for the first time in their histories. However, while X-Men essentially self-destructed, the decade still gave us influential storylines such as KnightfallThe Death of Superman, and the Clone Saga. Now, those series made a huge splash, but some fans still argue that those arcs weren’t all that great. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love the moment Bane broke Bruce Wayne’s back, it’s one of my favorite panels in all of comics, and the brutal battle between Doomsday and Superman that killed both competitors is one I would argue is one of the best fights within DC’s history. Then, the Clone Saga, a story that got mixed reviews but revolutionized Jackal as a villain and added another layer to the dense world of Spider-Man. Except, the issue with all three is what came afterward, all spawning a series of convoluted, rather underwhelming storylines that left some fans preferring not to read comics connected to the previous, impactful titles.

So, when it comes to the nineties, I usually tell people to take everything they read with a grain of salt. Some comics, including my personal favorite Ghost Rider run, are worth reading, but due to the nineties being filled with an overwhelming amount of new characters and desperate stabs at trying to achieve sales, comics at that time were simply a chaotic mess for a large portion of the decade. And of course, I understand most of this is a matter of opinion. Some comic fans love X-Men from the nineties and will absolutely shred my personal favorite Ghost Rider run (and I will gladly acknowledge the run’s faults within reasonability), but it’s still important to note because it’s a time in comics that some fans refuse to touch no matter what the comic is, resulting in a ton of great comics being overlooked or diminished because of when they were released.

The nineties were all about taking well-known characters, as well as new ones, and cranking them full tilt in the direction of shock factor. Most comics from this time focused primarily on action and little plot development in addition to giving readers art filled with unnatural looking, behemoths of heroes, and over-sexualized female characters. It is what it is, and at that time, publishers were struggling to keep sales up, so they commonly resorted to using eye candy to keep people reading. Naturally, a blind squirrel finds a nut every once in a while, and if you try something hundreds of times, it has to go in your favor once, right? Well, that’s what most would like to think, and in this particular situation, I think one of those times was Ostrander’s underacknowledged run with Spectre in 1992- even if it was published before things really got bad for comics.

In 1992, John Ostrander would reimagine the Spectre as a spirit of vengeance, focusing primarily on murderers who wrongfully took the souls of others. There are similarities to Ghost Rider in a sense, as Ostrander took the god-like being that had limitless potential and reigned that power in, making it smaller and more concentrated. Sure, it wasn’t the strongest Spectre seen in comics, but one could easily argue it was the most troubled. The Spectre is known for being more of an observer at times, but in Ostrander’s run, the spirit that is Spectre is horribly obsessed with vengeance, so much so that in one of the issues, Madame Xanadu criticized Jim Corrigan for using the power of Spectre for nothing but petty vengeance, when he could easily use the power to reshape the world. So, she took that power from Corrigan before realizing the potency of the Spectre’s obsession, killing rapists and those who displayed misogynistic traits in an attempt to avenge women who have been treated wrongly instead of reshaping the world like she claimed Corrigan should do.

Of course, Corrigan would get his powers back and continue his endless journey to avenge murdered souls. And, to be honest, this dynamic between the Spectre’s obsession with avenging murder victims and Jim’s desire to be set free from the pain he feels are what make the comic tick. Jim was murdered himself, sealed in a barrel of cement, and tossed into a river before being revived with a power so great, it pummeled a demon ruler of hell in one of the earlier issues. Jim’s a god, but it’s no secret to the reader that he isn’t just one of vengeance, but one of pain and misery as well. The only thing keeping him happy is the woman named Amy Beitermann, who Corrigan slowly begins to fall in love with as he starts to get over the pain of his wife being long dead. Outside of his interactions with Amy, however, Jim is generally portrayed as this grim, melancholy character wandering his way across the Earth like a nomad. He always seems miserably alone as he continues to avenge doomed souls, and when he does, there are moments where Corrigan almost seems disgusted with what he has become. Xanadu was right, he should be using the power capable of reshaping reality given to him to reshape the world, but he can’t because of its corruption, leaving Corrigan feeling discouraged since the Spectre cares for nothing but vengeance.

It’s this conflict that gives the comic an identity of sorts, along with the amazing artwork from Tom Mandrake. Now, a comic such as this generally has a darker pallet, and I have heard many people talk in awe of this art style, as well as speak negatively about it. However, it fits the identity of the comic as Corrigan finds himself murdering killers, generally taking them to a sort of nightmarish realm either within their heads or the one of the Spectre. The Spectre’s staple power in this run is his ability to cast illusions and dissect the minds of his victims, driving them nearly insane before dying. So, as Spectre torture’s his targets, it results in an acid trip of a panel flashing the victim’s memories as Spectre is generally seen turning into a giant, killing them with an epic decree for justice (or vengeance). Drawing some of these panels can be risky, generally looking amazing in black and white, but sometimes losing that clarity after being mucked with colors. Mandrake opted to color his panels, however, and did an amazing job of maintaining the clarity of his art through the chaos even if there are a few panels the reader couldn’t possibly hope to understand.

With all that being said, the third volume of Spectre comics is a chaotic, intense roller coaster that gives the reader countless shocking moments, but is it a hidden gem? Well, to me, a gem is a comic that one- has fantastic art, two- has substantial character development, and three- is a comic that almost every fan will enjoy or feel an emotional impact after reading. The series has good art, and Corrigan is developed interestingly, but the third is kind of hard for me to check off. That is because this comic sort of falls into the same cycle similar to the Punisher (in my opinion). Much like Frank Castle, Jim Corrigan feels a damned soul, seeks it out, and unleashes the Spectre to avenge it. It’s a cycle of killing a man than another in the next issue with a big threat such as a demon king, Madame Xanadu, or a killer targeting Amy occasionally popping up. The comic is almost a never-ending cycle, and maybe it’s written that way to portray the madness Corrigan goes through constantly, wearing him thin into the husk of a man we see on the pages. Nonetheless, this cycle can make things somewhat predictable at times, and I believe this will push a portion of readers away, but screw it, the Spectre is such an immensely powerful and interesting character, so I’m checking it. Go, read this comic even if it’s the first few issues; you’ll put them down with nothing less than a handful of incredible, somewhat trippy moments that will leave an impact on your very soul (not in an invasive way like Spectre’s methods).

Oh yeah, and the cover of the first issue is glow-in-the-dark!

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