Created by Superman scripter and co-creator Jerry Siegel, a fan of the infamous "Weird Tales" pulp, who admitted "The Spectre" was his opportunity to inject the elements of horror and upernatural that were too disparate for the science-fiction oriented Superman. apparently "the Spectre" was a reworking of an earlier Siegel and Schuster creation "Dr. Occult".
"Spectre" co-creator and artist Bernard Baily recalled that he "went over to DC Comics after Harry Donenfeld took over from Nicholson. I was offered a job as editor, but I could make more money drawing so I didn't take it. I must've been 18 or 19. When I was there at DC, Siegel came up with the feature "The Spectre". The look of the character I created, the script he wrote. Siegel did the writing on "The Spectre" the whole time. The thing I crteated in "The Spectre" was his sidekick, Percival Popp the Super Cop."
Sure is nice to know where to put the blame for that one.
Even in his first appearance, murdered policeman Jim Corrigan is already up to his notorious and bizarre form of vigilante justice from beyond the grave, transforming one criminal into a skeleton before killing him, and cornering another with multiple versions of himself. Another popular riff was The Spectre growing to "King Kong" like proportions and scooping evil-doers up into his giant hand, as well as another staple of many subsequent Spectre stories, that of whisking adversaries and evil-doers to some conveniently far-off "astral plane' to do battle... often konking each other on the head with planets and the like. As the series progressed, The Spectre's adversaries and adventures became increasingly fantastic to say the least, see the example stories below from More Fun #54 and #66.
I can't help but wondering if these stories had, in their day, the same kind of visual impact as Steve Ditko's ground-breaking depictions of alien dimensions did in Dr. Strange twenty years later.
But the writing was on the wall with issue #73 of More Fun, featuring the introduction of "comic" sidekick, Percival Popp.
Soon, The Spectre became the second banana as the editorial focus shifted the emphasis onto more humorous adventures. Once one of DC's major characters (and a founding member of the J.S.A.), The Spectre disappeared for real before the end of the 1940's.
I'd be tempted to say that the character was too weird to live, but he's already a ghost, so there goes that idea.
Far more likely (as evidenced by the later attempts to tone the more extreme elements of the strip down) is that, as far as long underwear characters go, The Spectre represents the version of the archytpical "avenging ghost" from myth and legend. Just because he wears a costume, he's still a ghost vigilante. The source of The Spectre powers is vague in the early stories, but it seems obvious that it is intended to be some aspect of a supreme deity (if a somewhat nebulous and off-camera one), which then begs the question.... is The Spectre an avenging angel? If so, he's definitely working The Old Testament side of the street, eye for an eye and all that....
From More Fun 54
From More Fun #66
While this makes for exciting (if some what ambigious) stories, The Golden Age Spectre raises more questions than he answers, and some of these are of a pretty deep metaphysical nature. Here's just one - If The Spectre is (to quote Elwood Blues), "on a mission from God", an avenging angel fighting evil and injustice, how is it O.K. for him to not only kill these afore-mentioned bad-guys, but torture them as well? While the punishment may fit the crime (as Gilbert and Sullivan wisely said), The Spectre does seem to go overboard more often than not, dishing out his extreme forms of punishment in an out-of-control manner that would do Mr. A proud. There are more, but let's just leave it there, as i don't want this to get too heavy... but my point is that he was a pretty scary concept (for a kid) as far as super-heroes go..... I wondered how many kids back in the '40's wondered if The Spectre would come after them for stealing some other kid's lunch money..... I can see it now... he turns the offending youngster into sandwiches of thinly sliced deli-style bully meat. Yum yum! Ok, now i'm just being sarcastic, but you get my drift...
Another question i've often wondered... just who the heck IS The Spectre anyway? Post-modernist retro-active continuity implants aside, it seems to go like this: Jim Corrigan dies, becomes a ghost, avenges his own death, becomes The Spectre in More Fun #52 and #53... we even see Corrigan at a sewing machine, making his Spectre costume at the end of #53. But a few issues later, we see The Spectre leave Jim's body, we see them talking together, as two separate and distinct entities. So, IS Jim Corrigan The Spectre? Maybe? Kinda sorta? Or are the two different "people"? And before you can say it, I know The Spectre is supposed to be Jim Corrigans' "spirit" or "soul" that "lives" in his body, I must point out that Jim Corrigan's BODY is still in a barrel full 'o' ce-ment at the bottom of the river, which would make Jim Corrigan a "spirit", not a real live mortal-type-person.
And for that matter, which continuity does he come from? As a kid, I could never figure out if the Silver Age Spectre lived on Earth 1 or Earth 2. I'm over it now, but at the time, I wondered if there was just one Spectre for ALL the Earths.... I know it's a minor point, but as a kid, you wonder about that "Stand By Me" stuff... I did establish at the time (with the aid of notes, color charts and diagrams) that T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agent No-Man is, in fact, The Spectre turned inside out and upside down.....
Coming next -
Part 2 - The Many Deaths Of The Spectre