THE SPECTREMedium: Comic books
Published by: DC Comics
First Appeared: 1940
Creator: Jerry Siegel
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the exemplar of the super-speedster, Batman of the mysterious creature of the night, and Captain America of the patriotic-style hero (despite the fact that The Shield beat Cap to the stands by more than a year). The Spectre is the template upon which the "avenging spirit as superhero" is based. Others of that type include Mr. Justice and The Vision.
It was Jerry Siegel, co-creator of Superman, who created The Spectre and wrote his early adventures, with Bernard Baily (Hourman, Tex Thompson) providing the art. The Spectre began in DC's More Fun Comics #52 (February, 1940), when Detective Jim Corrigan, murdered by gangsters, was turned away from the Pearly Gates by a voice telling him he still had things to do on Earth. He returned, his body now inhabited by a ghostly-pale spirit with a green cloak, which frequently emerged from the body to combat evil in all its forms. This being, The Spectre, seemed capable of accomplishing literally anything necessary to achieve his goals. Flying, growing to enormous size, transmuting criminals' bodies into wood — these were trivial, ordinary feats for the so-called "Ghostly Guardian".
For the next year and a half, The Spectre was featured on a majority of the More Fun covers, but eventually he relinquished that position to Dr. Fate. He also appeared in the first issue of All Star Comics; and when, in that title's third issue, The Justice Society of America began, The Spectre was a charter member. But his stardom was short-lived, as, in January 1945, he became one of the first major DC superheroes to disappear completely.
A likely reason for the loss of his series (and, without comment, his JSA membership, tho that could also be explained by DC's split with All-American Publications) was the difficulty of writing interesting stories for a character so powerful. Within the comics, however, the explanation given (decades later) was that he'd become trapped in Corrigan's body as a result of conflict with an evil supernatural entity named Azmodus. He broke free in Showcase #60 (Jan-Feb 1966), in the first of three try-out issues before receiving his own comic — becoming the first of the 1940s DC superheroes to be revived in his own title, in his original form.
Since then, The Spectre has been a continuing presence in the DC Universe, sometimes holding down a series of his own and sometimes not, but always lurking in the background, at least, as an immensely powerful being devoted to the cause of righteousness.
From the beginning, it was clear that, although The Spectre was closely associated with Jim Corrigan, the two were not one and the same. In fact, they actually separated for a time, when Corrigan went off to fight World War II and The Spectre stayed in America. In more recent years, their relationship has been clarified by writer John Ostrander (Warp, Grimjack), who scripted a Spectre series that ran from 1992-98. The Spectre is actually the incarnation of the Wrath of God, who can exist and act on the Earthly Plane as long as he is given voice and direction by a human spirit unable, as yet, to go on to its final reward.
In 1999, Jim Corrigan's mission on Earth finally ended, and his spirit was allowed to move on. The new Spectre was Hal Jordan, formerly Green Lantern, who died a couple of times during the 1990s in various company-wide crossover events. That didn't last, and Hal returned to both life and his old job in 2005. At the moment, nobody is The Spectre.