06 March 2010

Getting to Know the Spectre

If Superman grew from Jerry Siegel’s fantasy of how a near-sighted, Aspie nerd could beat up bullies, the Spectre was his fantasy of righting all the injustice in the world—and beat up bullies so bad they’d never walk again, or possibly even have legs.

Siegel created the Spectre in 1940, two years after the first issue of Action Comics introduced readers to Superman. Hard as it is to imagine, the Spectre was actually more powerful than the Man of Steel, and has stayed so, even as Superman’s strength grew to planet-moving levels.

In fact, the Spectre has so much power that he’s a plotting challenge. No force seems capable of standing up to him. In the Spectre story reprinted in Jules Feiffer’s The Great Comic Book Heroes, the hero investigates a tenement fire by interviewing a soul, seeping through a roof, flying, becoming invisible, paralyzing a man’s legs, turning flames to ice, growing gigantic, reading a man’s mind, and finally just willing the main villain to die. And he makes it look easy.

The thrill in these stories can’t come from worrying about the Spectre when he seems to be beaten. Instead, it lies in seeing what awesome new power he comes up with next. Among comic-book heroes, only Fletcher Hanks’s Stardust doled out more overpowering vengeance in every story, and Hanks was actually insane.

Comicvine lists the Spectre’s “usual” powers as:

  • Intangibility
  • Flight—fly at any speed
  • Invisibility
  • Teleportation
  • Fear Projection—can project fear into the heart and souls of adversaries
  • Inanimate Possession—inhabit and animate inanimate objects
  • Illusion Casting—ability to project realistic illusions
  • Magic Mastery—various mastery over virtually all forms of magic
  • Discern Motivation—can sense the intentions of people
  • Cosmic Awareness—knows many secrets of the universe
  • Precognition—sometimes gets glimpses into the future
  • Superhuman Strength
  • Superhuman Stamina
  • Superhuman Speed
  • Invulnerability
And that just scratches the surface. In the Spectre’s case “Superhuman Strength” is more like “as strong as the gravitational pull of small stars.”

The Spectre uses all those powers for just one thing: vengeance. He’s so single-minded that in the 1980s DC’s writers decided that the Spectre is in fact the wrath of God. He feels no mercy, no compassion, and no limits. He plows through the world unstoppably, leaving the evildoers who catch his attention as quivering, half-human wrecks.

The magazine that featured most of the Spectre’s early adventures was called, naturally, More Fun.

TOMORROW: The Spectre’s judgment on Robin.


Jer Alford said...

Spectre recently had a short animated film in the Justice League: Crisis On Two Earths DVD/Blu-Ray

J. L. Bell said...

Yeah, the Spectre has mass entertainment written all over him.

Anonymous said...

Spectre appears in a forthcoming "Brave and the Bold" episode ("The Chill of the Night" currently available via iTunes, and on TV soon), as the avatar of Vengeance (with the Phantom Stranger, as the avatar of Justice).

They are basically arguing over whether, when Batman discovers who murdered his parents, he will seek revenge or justice. (It's a REALLY dark episode)

Wisely, the Spectre does practically nothing directly, but still comes across as supremely menacing, with the skull pupils, and Mark Hamill giving him as sepulchral a voice as one might hope.