Book review: "The Spectre (1990's version) Vol 1"

I was in the comics shop today and noticed that DC has just come out with a
trade paperback collection of the first 12 issues of the John Ostrander-Tom
Mandrake version of THE SPECTRE; "The Spectre Vol. 1: Crimes and
Judgments".   I didn't buy it, for reasons explained below, but I
wrote a review of it for Amazon anyway.  As I've done with some
other comics-related Amazon reviews, I'm also sending the review to the
list, in case it's of interest to some of you, though it's not really Silver Age
related. It starts with a potted history of the Spectre character, intended
for Amazon readers who may not be familiar with him.

The book has a $19.95 list price, or $15.47 ordered from Amazon (or $9.99
as a Kindle e-book, though I'm not sure I want to try reading a comic book on
the small screen of my standard model Kindle).  And I see that Vol. 2, "The
Wrath of God", presumably including the second year of the comic-book
series.  is scheduled for publication in Jan. 2015.  If they get all
the way to the end of the series, maybe I'll buy the last book just
because, as mentioned in the review, I've never managed to collect the
next-to-last issue (#61) of the original series.

Amazon review begins:  This is one of those reviews of mine where
technically maybe I should not be reviewing this book, since I haven't bought or
read the actual book itself.  However, I've read the original comic books
reprinted in this volume, issues #1 through 12 of THE SPECTRE series published
by DC Comics from 1994 through 1998, written by John Ostrander and drawn mainly
by Tom Mandrake.  Based on that, I can give this book collection a strong
The Spectre is a character who keeps coming back to life even
though he's been dead for over 70 years.  Created in 1940 by writer Jerry
Siegel (better known as co-creator of Superman) and artist Bernard Baily, the
Spectre was a costumed superhero who got his super powers the hard way, by
dying. He was originally Jim Corrigan, a tough police detective who was murdered
by gangsters.  A supernatural power (hinted, but not explicitly said in the
original comics, to be God) raised Corrigan's ghost, charged him with a mission
to avenge his own murder and then go on to eliminate all evil on Earth, and
endowed him not only with traditional ghostly abilities such as invisibility and
intangibility but with nearly limitless magical powers.  In terms of sheer
power, the Spectre made Siegel's other famous creation look like a 98-pound
weakling.  And the Spectre took a much harder line with crime than most
other comic book heroes. He didn't bother beating crooks up and dropping them
off with the police; he literally scared them to death or put them to death in
various gruesome magical ways. 
But apparently the Spectre was a little
too creepy for comic book readers of the 1940's. After a couple of years, he was
demoted to a backup slot instead of being a lead feature, was saddled with a
funny sidekick named Percival Popp, and became about as menacing as
Casper.  Then, in 1945, he was dropped.  20 years later, after DC
Comics had successfully revived several other "Golden Age" superheroes, the
Spectre too was revived.  The Comics Code and DC editorial policy wouldn't
allow him to be a death-dealing avenger as of old, but he was still almost
infinitely powerful.  In his second revival appearance, he defeated
"Azmodus," a villain clearly intended as a stand-in for Satan.  What do you
do for an encore after you've defeated the Devil himself?  Not much; the
revived Spectre didn't catch on and was again dropped.  Yet another revival
in the early 1970's was said to have been inspired after editor Joe Orlando
suffered a mugging and sought vicarious vengeance.  This time, in a series
written by Michael Fleisher and drawn by Jim Aparo, the Spectre was once again a
terrifying figure of vengeance, skirting the edges of the Comics Code by killing
criminals in bizarre magical ways.  Reportedly that series sold well, but
it made DC management queasy, and again the Spectre was
After another brief and unmemorable revival in the 1980's, the Spectre returned
again  in this version by Ostrander and Mandrake (so finally we get to the
comics appearing in the book I'm actually reviewing).  This was, in my
opinion, by far the best of all the Spectre series (including a couple more that
have appeared since then-- you just can't keep this guy in his grave).  The
1990's have sometimes been called the "Dark Age" of comics, dominated by
psychotic anti-heroes who reveled in violence for its own sake. The new Spectre
seemed outwardly to fit into that mold, but Ostrander and Mandrake had something
deeper and ultimately more satisfying in mind.  They went once again with
the idea of the Spectre as a vengeful spirit who killed evildoers at will. But
they didn't just use the idea as an excuse for "violence porn".  Unlike the
earlier series, they actually went into the moral issues and dilemmas that would
apply to such a being as the Spectre.  In their re-imagining, the Spectre
was an ancient embodiment of the "Wrath of God," who would appear periodically
through human history, detached from the Deity's other attributes but tethered
to a single human soul whose function was to temper the Spectre's implacable
justice with a sense of humanity.  In the case of Jim Corrigan, this
restraint didn't always work out so well, since Corrigan-- as his character was
developed in a series of flashbacks back to his original lifetime in the
1930's-- was himself an angry, bitter and morally flawed mortal.  And yet
not beyond redemption.   Over the course of the original 12 issues
reprinted in this book-- and the total series which ran 62 issues plus several
annuals and specials-- Corrigan learns and grows, suffers tragedy and learns
about hope, and develops the compassion that his ghostly alter ego lacks. 
This isn't just a psychological study; it is a superhero comic book, and the
Spectre faces off with a variety of villains, monsters and menaces in his
God-given yet ultimately impossible mission to "destroy all evil".  But the
most compelling conflict is that which develops between Corrigan and the Spectre
I originally passed up this comic-book series when it first appeared in the
1990's, but then discovered how good it was and went to some trouble to collect
the whole series (I'm still missing just one issue, the next-to-last in the
series).  So I don't really need this book collection myself, but I'm glad
to see at least the beginning of the series back in print for others to discover
and enjoy.