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The Spectre: Crimes and Punishments. Written by John Ostrander. Illustrated by Tom Mandrake. New York: DC Comics, 1993. 1v. (unpaged). price not found. ISBN 1-56389-127-1

Superheroes, horror

Adults, teens; adult situations, horrific imagery.

NOTE: This comic collects issues 1-4 of The Spectre (the revisionist version of 1992).

New York City. Grim detective Jim Corrigan, a.k.a. the Spectre, confronts a dying mobster, Snipe, in a hospital. What did Snipe know about Corrigan's murder 50 years ago? Snape isn't telling. Corrigan's questions are overheard by Amy Beitermann, who introduces herself to Corrigan and offers help. But Corrigan thanks her politely and is gone in a trice. Amy is amazed at how fast he got outside. Then she witnesses a drive-by shooting in which Corrigan is unharmed--and furious. In shock, Amy watches Corrigan disappear; she can barely stumble over to get help for the wounded outside. Meanwhile, bringing the shooters into his psychological world, the Spectre deals with the them in a particularly gruesome way; they are burned to death from the inside out, which is reflected in the real world when they are trapped under their burning car. Later, the Spectre enters Snipe's mind to find the truth of who betrayed Jim Corrigan way back when. Although Snipe is more powerful than the Spectre in this situation, he is a dying man and cannot stand up to the Spectre when that spirit of vengeance shows him his hollow soul.

Intrigued by the mysterious man, Amy sets off in search of him, but finds only an empty office with a ghost in it. She runs from it into Madame Xanadu's office, and the mystic promises to let the Spectre know Amy's looking for him--and Amy has to promise to do the same for her.

Next, the Spectre witnesses what he thinks is a murder but turns out to be a ghost replaying her murder over and over. As both Jim Corrigan and the Spectre, he seeks out the various people supposedly involved in the murder, including her ex-husband, Mike Landau, who is in jail, awaiting execution. Although the Spectre determines Landau to be innocent, the man is pushed over the edge and commits suicide. Eventually, the Spectre finds the culprit and executes her. However, the ghost is still not put to rest, and Corrigan ponders his mistakes, both with Landau and the ghost.

Soon Amy and Corrigan hook up. Amy is at first terrified of him, but she is more curious than scared and returns to hear his tales. He takes her on a mental journey into his life, death, and rebirth as the Spectre. Appalled and angry, Amy makes it clear to the Spectre that he is unable to distinguish between genuine evil and mere guilt. She prompts him to examine a life that he's left untouched until now: his own.

The book also contains a lengthy introduction by Ostrander about how he and Mandrake updated the Spectre and made him a viable character rather than someone able to challenge God.

The Spectre is several cuts above the average superhero titles. Although the actual events in the book aren't all that original, Ostrander's writing and Mandrake's art together make the story compelling and even touching. Ostrander's Spectre is a mixture of good old spirit-of-justice, Jim Corrigan after 50 years, and Jim Corrigan of the past, which makes for a complex and interesting character. He has vulnerabilities. His powers, while overwhelming, are used creatively and appropriately (i.e., often), though we can see that Amy's influence might start to make him more Corrigan and less Spectre. Amy is also an appealing character, though she perhaps becomes a bit too preachy and understands too much about Corrigan. (She seems more psychologist than social worker.)

There's one bit of egregious silliness. When the Spectre enters the mind of the murdered woman's lover, he calls out, "This is YOUR soul, so you have the upper hand here...." Nothing like announcing one's weakness to one's opponent!

Mandrake's art is really slick, with lots of horrific images. He outdoes himself in depicting the Spectre's ingenious torments of his victims and of the various cosmic happenstances that make up the Spectre's memories.

An enjoyable book by one of my favorite comics writers. Recommended.


Copyright 2000, D. Aviva Rothschild


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