Friday, January 3, 2014


Script: Michael Fleisher | Art: Ernie Chan & Jim Aparo
Art Continuity: Russell Carley | Letters: Jim Aparo | Colors: Adrienne Roy
Editor: Joe Orlando

Ernie Chan (credited as Ernie Chua) provides guest pencils for two consecutive stories, and the work is excellent. A few years ago I read the majority of the BATMAN and DETECTIVE COMICS issues published in the seventies, and Chan had a long run on the character around that time. He was inked most frequently, as I recall, by Frank McLaughlin during that run, and while the work was good, it can't even begin to compare with Jim Aparo over Chan. Aparo's heavy blacks maintain the visual continuity from previous Spectre chapters, while Chan's layouts lose nothing from the previous all-Aparo chapters.

The stories are more of Fleisher's usual, featuring a gang who turns people into human bombs (and poor Gwen just happens to be one of them), and then a deranged taxidermist who kills people in order to stuff them and add them to his "exhibits". All villains meet suitably grisly ends.

Script: Michael Fleisher | Art & Letters: Jim Aparo
Colors: Adrienne Roy | Editor: Joe Orlando

The next pair of stories are a two-parter, featuring Corrigan's return to life as a flesh and blood human. He pleads with God to release him from his mission, and his prayers are answered. In short order, Corrigan proposes to Gwen, but before the couple can be wed, a criminal family targets Corrigan, killing him (and delivering his corpse to Gwen). Corrigan rises as the Spectre once more, taking revenge on his killers, and parting with Gwen yet again.

Of all Fleisher's Spectre tales, this one may be my favorite. It reads the most like one of those seventies revenge films I've mentioned previously -- everything is going great for our hero, but fate just won't let him have a happy ending, forcing him to become an anti-hero. Off the top of my head, it reminds me a bit of DEATH WISH. The only missing element would be Gwen's death, but in a way it's more tragic (and comic booky) that she's still alive and unable to be with the man she loves.

If Fleisher's Spectre stories had ended here, it would've been a great run. And for over a decade, this was the end. Following issue #440, the Spectre feature was pulled from ADVENTURE COMICS, replaced with an Aquaman serial (which also happens to be collected in trade format and which I plan to read/review someday). But DC had purchased three additional scripts from Fleisher, which sat un-illustrated for years, until DC reprinted the original stories in a WRATH OF THE SPECTRE limited series. To cap off that run, DC commissioned Jim Aparo to draw the three remaining stories, and then printed them in WRATH #4.

Script: Michael Fleisher | Art: Jim Aparo & Mike DeCarlo/Pablo Marcos
Letters: Augustin Mas & John Costanza | Colors: Adrienne Roy
Editor: Robert Greenberger

I have no reason to doubt DC when they say Fleisher had left three scripts with them years before. But I highly doubt these three stories represent unaltered versions of those scripts. Someone must have done some uncredited rewriting before (or after) Aparo illustrated them. The Spectre spends too much time running around like a real superhero, and Gwen acts as his "gal Friday", carrying out helpful tasks for our hero with virtually no angst about their relationship. Beyond that, the inter-story continuity is far heavier than anything Fleisher had written previously. Don't get me wrong -- there was definitely some continuity in the original Spectre stories; more than in any other early seventies DC comic I've seen. But these three tales read like a traditional comic book serial, and that wasn't Fleisher's original approach.

Moreso than the stories, however, the artwork is disappointing here. Aparo's style has evolved since those original Spectre adventures, becoming bolder and cartoonier. He no longer spots as many blacks on the page, and a great deal of the noir atmosphere is lost as a result. His inkers, Mike DeCarlo and Pablo Marcos, probably don't help. They're both fine inkers, but all the previous stories had been inked by Aparo himself, and the change in styles is jarring. Additionally, Aparo draws these final stories according to the style of the time, meaning lots of full-bleed pages. After reading ten tales drawn in a traditional guttered style, this is another change that pulls a reader straight out of the book. Even the colors by Adrienne Roy -- an excellent colorist and the same one as in the original stories -- are brighter and bolder, which works great for a full-on superhero comic, but robs the Spectre's gray world of much of its personality.

And since, plotwise, these final stories add nothing to the overall mythos -- as I noted above, the story had a perfectly fine ending with "The Second Death of the...Spectre", as Corrigan's relationship with Gwen had ended, and he had returned to his destined fate of murdering criminals -- they feel like an exercise in continuing the Fleisher run past its expiration date. I can see the novelty of dusting off some old unused scripts and getting the original artist to draw them, but these stories have nothing new to say or add to the existing canon. They're just three more humdrum adventures, mainly focused on Earl Crawford (again declared insane -- literally, committed to an institution even when he has photographic proof of the Spectre's existence), which barely fit with the original works.

So, in summation: I loved the first ten Fleisher/Aparo Spectre stories. I would happily recommend them to anyone who enjoys a good old fashioned seventies revenge movie. But if you pick up the WRATH OF THE SPECTRE trade, do yourself a favor and stop before the final three stories. They are an unnecessary coda to a story which already had a satisfying finale.

1 comment:

  1. It's been long enough since I've read these that I don't recall the later installments being disappointing in terms of Fleisher's overall story, but their publication is around the time that Aparo's work began to go south. He's always been a tricky guy to ink, just because we're so used to seeing him ink his own pencils (and letter for good measure), but I don't think that Mike DeCarlo did him, or frankly any other artist he worked over, any favors. Presumably age slowed Aparo down to the point that economically, for him and/or the publisher, having him stick to pencils became necessary.