Thursday, May 29, 2014

Ostrander and Mandrake’s The Spectre

Hey, DC finally decided to reprint the entire sixty-two issue (plus a “zero”) series of The Spectre from 1992, written by John Ostrander, and drawn (almost completely) by Tom Mandrake.

The first volume, Crimes and Judgments came out this month, and contains the whole amazingly gripping and deep first twelve issue story arc.  Go to your local comics shop and pick one up.

What, you’re still here?  Don’t you people listen? Go buy it.

You need more details? 

Fine, you’ll have to endure one of my stories then.

It was in the Comic Book Dark Times of the 1990’s.  Previously, I had been buying the weekly Superman titles, the near weekly Batman titles, Green Lantern its Quarterly, and any Flash or Green Arrow story that tangentially connected to Green Lantern, or just looked cool, to be honest.

Thanks to Emerald Twilight  I was down to one comic book a month, the out of continuity Legends of the Dark Knight, and that was only because I had the series from issue one.

This was before there were a million trades of “good old days” stories available every week, meaning there really wasn’t much else.  I had almost severed my addiction.  One week in a short lived Rockaway Mall comic book store, I pulled The Spectre issue 13 off of the shelves. 

I’d never read any of his appearances before, I’d seen (what I’d learn was a very different interpretation of him) in some old Justice Society reprints, but didn’t buy it for the adventure. I bought it simply because it had a glow in the dark Headless Horseman inspired cover.  I planned to hang it on my wall.

Then I read it.

The series instantly went on my pull list, and the back issues on the “need” list I carried in my pocket.  Back in the “thrill of the hunt days” quick internet finds weren’t as easy. I still keep the list, but now it’s only for the unexpected used book store or garage sale finding.

The worst part of the “thrill of the hunt” years came some months later.  I went to Disney World during the Great Nineties Comic Book Crash.  When I came back three of the four comic stores I frequented were gone.  Of course that’s when The Spectre issue 22 came out, with the Alex Ross Superman cover.

It took me two years to find that one.

This series came out a couple of years into Gaiman’s Sandman, and was trying to grab onto some of that magic.  It doesn’t have the layering and theory of stories that Sandman is famous for, but excelled in another area, that Gaimain’s work mostly avoided.

Ostrander’s Spectre stories addressed a large number of heavy and important topics, such as racism, justice, and many different looks at many different types of faith.    What made it different from the Sandman was that it brought all those powerful ideas into the main sandbox of the DC Universe proper, with all the toys that came with. 

Its themes were a mix of topics relevant to the modern world, old fashioned horror comic tales, and superhero adventures.

The comic intersected with several line wide crossovers, without losing its own individual voice.

Unfortunately, it not only pulled me back into monthly buying of an ongoing story, it pulled me back in to the DC Universe itself, and by Zero Hour I bought every single DC issue for that event…The Spectre was that good.

When the series ended, it was a full on finale.  It kind of ruined me for the character afterwards. I put it in the same category as Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing and Simonson’s ThorThe journey was so powerful, and the ending was so satisfying, it somewhat prevents me from enjoying other appearances or returns to that mythos.

The art kept up with the writing of these comics as well. Each cover was by a different artist, which brought exciting variety and interpretations each month.  The interior art, with only a hand full of exceptions, was by Tom Mandrake, a perfect visual compliment to Ostrander’s tales balancing horror, spiritual, and human sides.  

NO ONE draws Hell like Tom Mandrake, only a couple of artists are worthy of any comparison.

There, I’ve laid down some more evidence…
So what are you waiting for?

Go get one! 

And pre order Volume 2 Wrath of God due out in December.

As for that Issue Number Thirteen I bought that started it all: it is sitting in the long box between twelve and fourteen…

But I bought a second one for the wall. 

I keep the bag it’s in unsealed, of course, in case of an emergency rereading need.

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