Writer: Michael Fleisher
Artists: Jim Aparo, Ernie Chua, Frank Thorne, Mike DeCarlo, and Pablo Marcos
Rating: Nine of Ten Stars
"Wrath of Spectre" collects all thirteen tales of DC Comics' Wrath of God on Earth--the Spectre, a being who rose in place of hardboiled police detective Jim Corrigan after he was murdered by gangsters. This restless spirit takes Jim Corrigan's form until it comes across criminals so violent and evil that there is no waiting for earthly justice to deal with them. Then Corrigan melts away and the terrifying figure of the Spectre brings strange and painful ends to the evil-doers... such as melting them like candle wax, turning them to wood and cutting them to pieces at a sawmill, or causing the emblem of a terrorist group to animate and kill its members.
Although several writer/artist teams have come close to matching the wildness and weirdness of the Fleisher/Aparo stories (Aparo pencilled, inked, or handled the full art chores on all of the stories), none have quite succeeded. The team of John Ostrander and Tom Mandrake came close during an extended run on the character in the 1990s, and their Spectre more or less picked up where Fleisher and Aparo left off. (I will probably review that Spectre series at some point in this space.)
In "Wrath of the Spectre", each tale sees the grim ghost of vengeance going after particularly violent and heinous criminals. Each story sees one or more villains commit a crime that they go out of their way to make unneccesarily violent. By the end of the tale, the Spectre visits a gory and hideous revenge upon the evil-doers, sometimes reflective of their crimes, sometimes just bizarre and violent. As the stories unfold, a young woman named Gwen Sterling and a tabloid reporter named Earl Crawford become tangled up in the Spectre's otherworldly mission of vengeance, bringing a view on the Spectre from a normal person's perspective to the story. Gwen Sterling in particular lends some interesting twists to the story, as the bond she forges with Jim Corrigan leads him to long once again to be a living human being.
The thirteen Fleisher/Aparo tales (funny number that, given the supernatural subject matter) are among some of the very best American comics created. Like all classics, these stories have a timeless quality to them, and they are well worth a look by anyone who loves comics... and who needs to be reminded that there ARE good non-superhero comics that have been published by American companies.
(As I post this review, "Wrath of the Spectre" is out of print. But here's hoping DC Comics will bring back this excellent group of horror comics.)
For more October monsters and horror,
visit Terror Titans and Shades of Gray!