Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Retro Review: More Fun #55 (The Spectre) Review and **SPOILERS**



At War with Zor

Written By: Jerry Siegel 
Art By: Bernard Baly 
Edited By: Whitney Ellsworth 
Cover Price: 10 cents 
Cover Date: May 1940

**NON SPOILERS AND SCORE AT THE BOTTOM**

One of DC Comics’ most misunderstood and downright dickish characters is the Spectre, dispenser of cruel justice with tenuous connections to Judeo-Christian concepts of morality. I’ve never really liked most modern takes on the character, but I love the Golden Age origins of Jim Corrigan and his green-and-white alter ego because it’s so over-the-top. Don’t believe me? See what you think after reading my review of the Spectre’s story, “Zor,” in More Fun #55 from 1940!


Explain It!

More Fun #55 is not actually the first appearance of the Spectre; that was in More Fun #52, which details the life of Detective Jim Corrigan, and how he was murdered by some hoodlums and then turned back from Heaven with bizarre powers in order to enact justice for “The Voice.” We meet his fiancée, socialite Clarice Winston, whose parents Jim…ghosts…while following a hot tip on his biggest case, and we also get amazing panels with dialogue like: “Jim Corrigan–you’re a tyrant, a bully and a conceited fool…but I love you!”
"By the way, I've developed a drinking habit as well."
The problem with that origin story is that, in terms of content featuring The Spectre, it is lacking. It’s not even a complete story, ending essentially when Jim Corrigan is bestowed his unique abilities. He doesn’t even put on the green-and-white costume in that issue, for cripes sakes! So I jumped ahead a few issues to #55, which is a better example of what The Spectre was capable of in the Golden Age of DC Comics. Our story begins when a bank manager calls in Detectives Jim Corrigan and his derby-wearing partner to arrest some guy for embezzling. While there, Jim uses his Heaven-sent mind-reading ability to discern that Simmons, the bookkeeper, is actually the culprit. Is this what we call modern police work?
Ah, the old "make a random accusation" gambit
Simmons freaks out and tries to escape, so Jim hurls out the Spectre to threaten and cajole him into confessing. Of course, it works. Turns out that coercion on the ethereal plane doesn’t constitute entrapment.
You have to enjoy your work, whatever it is that you do.
Hmm...does the Valley of Death have an Arby's?
After blowing off his partner’s suggestion to be social...or maybe to have sex with him, Jim Corrigan gets struck down by a speeding truck, manned by a criminal seeking revenge!
Read: A ghost can't be seen with nerdy dudes in bowler hats.
Since Jim died already, he’s fine, a fact that stuns his police partner. Jim blows him off again and runs after the truck in his green-and-white guise, eventually alighting on the roof in a very “come hither” pose. I love the idea of The Spectre running, here’s a guy with the power to do almost anything, but he’s still huffing and puffing after vehicles like a shlub.
Tawny Kitaen, eat your heart out
The Spectre menaces the criminals, who careen off the road in pants-shitting terror. But then, the truck backs up in mid-air and lands safely back on the road!
"'Take a left here,' you said. 'It's a shortcut,' you said."
Alarmed by a spooky happening he did not commit, The Spectre forgets these folks that attempted vehicular homicide and turns his attention on Zor, a guy dressed like a vaudeville magician that is like the Spectre, but evil.
"I haven't even done my 'Disappearing Rope Trick' yet!"
The two of them grow bigger than mountains and duke it out, then Zor concedes because he cannot equal Spec’s size. But he has other ways of torturing The Spectre! Like making him run after cars some more.
You'd think this would have made some newspaper headlines or something.
Zor finds Jim Corrigan’s fiancée, Clarice, and transforms himself into Jim to intercept her.
"To get the free sandwich on Corrigan's Subway™ punch card!"
Stepping from behind a lightpost, he says he’s sick of all the fussin’ and the feudin’: he wants to elope! Clarice, being a woman in a 1940s comic book, is elated and has no further questions.
"Frankly, I would have accepted a proposal from anyone that stepped from behind that post."
The Spectre finds Zor driving away with Clarice, but is unable to stop them from fleeing to another dimension!
The Spectre's one weakness: personal preference!
This is, somehow beyond The Spectre’s capabilities…
"I hope it's the Dimension of Fuzzy Puppies."
…He needs help from “The Voice!” This is the catch-all God figure that tips the balance of everything in The Spectre’s favor. Why even bother having The Spectre? Just exert your omnipotence omnipotently. “The Voice” calls Zor to, uh, Heaven I guess, moments before he can plant a wicked smooch on Clarice.
Cock-blocked by the Lord!
Again, The Spectre is thwarted by Zor’s flat-out refusal to comply!
"Someday you'll be willing to stop your evil ways, and then I'll be there!"
Zor splits, so “The Voice” gives The Spectre the ability to track Zor across different dimensions. The Spectre is very grateful, which we know God requires in spades. You could learn something here, Zor! A little kindness goes a long way!
"Also, here's my credit card. Use it only in emergencies, Spectre!"
The Spectre phases through the wall of Zor’s castle, and is instantly held in place by a paralyzing ray…that is more powerful than the wrath of God, apparently. Zor is prepared to hold him there forever, but then The Spectre makes a deal: free him in exchange for the secret of creating life!
"I cannot give you the audio version, someone else has the rights."
Hold on, where did The Spectre get this secret? Did “The Voice” give it to him? One page ago, he’s super grateful to have a minor extension to his powers, now he’s got the crib notes to Creationism in his palm. Though he never mentioned it before, Zor really wants to know this secret, so he agrees—though The Spectre gives him the formula before he is freed, which is bad negotiating.
Frankly, the whole plan seems ill-conceived.
The moment he’s freed, The Spectre lunges at Zor!
There’s a struggle, but eventually Zor wrests the secret of creating life from The Spectre. I love, by the way, that it’s written on a slip of paper like some kind of grocery note. It would be hilarious if the only thing written on the page was “Believe in yourself.”
Mr. Zor? Would you like to stand and read that note in front of the whole class?
In his rush to snatch up this recipe, Zor neglected to notice that he was right in the path of this all-powerful paralyzing ray—so powerful that it is able to freeze its creator! I don’t want to read about The Spectre and Zor, I want to know more about this paralyzing ray! What did it get up to after this adventure?
Zor didn't seem so concerned for The Spectre's mental faculties when he tried the same shtick.
Back in our dimension, Clarice is troubled by having been menaced in another dimension by a eons-old demonic spirit, but Jim calms her nerves by telling her it was just a bad dream. And it’s not his problem anyway, because he’s breaking off the engagement. The Spectre’s got justice to dispense, no time for dames!
"I wonder whose heart I can break in the next adventure?"
People always make a big stink about how Superman was the ultimate creation of two Jewish boys from Ohio, a wish-fulfillment of Abrahamic proportions against the forces of evil and dizzy dames that didn’t give nerds the time of day. But I think Jerry Siegel’s other creation, The Spectre, is much more of an Old Testament-style dealer in wrath than Superman ever was. Besides the fact that he can adjust his powers on the fly, The Spectre is also quick to punish, and attacks on his ego supersede acting for the common good. Art-wise, this thing is awful—you’d think the co-creator of Superman might rate something a little cleaner and more polished. But since the story is silly and poorly-written anyway, this seems like a cruel point to make. Overall, this tale is moronic, this character ridiculous, and yet he’s never been better than as the cruel jerk of the Golden Age.
Run, Spectre. Run.

Bits and Pieces:

An asinine character and a lame story make for some good fun, for ten cents. If you had to buy this in some overpriced bound edition, you might be furious. The Golden Age of comics has its certain charm, but this stuff looks like someone spilled a bottle of ink on the page.

4/10
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