The Spectre's last stand. But it was a good one.
The Astral Avenger's run in Adventure Comics # 431 (January-February 1974) through 440 (July-August 1975) was marked by controversy. Writer Michael Fleisher's bloodthirsty tales of vengeance and retribution seem mainstream today, but they were more brutal than anything else bearing the Comics Code Authority's seal of approval in the mid '70s. If they'd been published by, say, Warren, they would have fit right in with that line's black and white horror magazines Creepy, Eerie, and Vampirella; hell, a Vampirella-Spectre crossover woulda been awesome, especially if Spectre artist Jim Aparo had an opportunity to draw the lovely and lethal Vampi. But no, The Spectre appeared in newsstand comics published by DC, with the perception (right or wrong) that the contents should be appropriate for a general audience. Some would say that scenes of The Spectre turning criminals into wood and runnin' 'em through a buzzsaw may have violated that perception just a smidge.
My memory of The Spectre's dismissal from Adventure Comics insists that it was more abrupt than it actually was, that we picked up Adventure # 441 and suddenly found Aquaman starring in the spot where The Spectre had stalked evildoers the previous issue. Upon further review, we see that the change was announced at the end of this issue, # 440, both on the letters page and in a blurb at the end of this issue's Seven Soldiers Of Victory chapter (starring The Crimson Avenger and Wing). DC's official position was that sales of Adventure Comics with The Spectre had been disappointing, and that an immediate change was necessary to save the title from cancellation; I suspect DC execs may have just caved to outside pressure, though the official story is plausible, too.
But the decision to kill The Spectre (again!) was indeed sudden. For cryin' out loud, this was the first and only issue to prominently feature The Spectre's logo on the cover, which hardly seems like a move to distance the book from its soon-to-be-cancelled star player. Although the two-part story that ran in Adventure # 439 and 440 felt like a closing chapter (and a satisfying one at that), Fleisher had three more Spectre scripts completed and awaiting the magic Aparo touch. Those stories would have to wait more than a decade before Aparo was given the go-ahead to finish them; they finally appeared in the fourth and final issue of the 1988 mini-series Wrath Of The Spectre!, which reprinted The Spectre's complete Adventure Comics run.
To supplement this original issue's Spectre and Crimson Avenger stories, we've added Golden Age reprints starring Captain Triumph and Plastic Man, and Silver Age stories starring The Doom Patrol and--YES!!--The Inferior Five. 1967's The Inferior Five # 1 was my introduction to writer E. Nelson Bridwell's daffy quintet, and I've been waiting for the right time to reprise it in a 100-Page FAKE! That time is now!
The Spectre in "The Second Death Of The Spectre," Adventure Comics # 440 (July-August 1975)
Captain Triumph (untitled), Crack Comics # 53 (February-March 1948)
The Doom Patrol in "The Night Negative Man Went Berserk," My Greatest Adventure # 83 (November 1963)
Plastic Man (untitled), Plastic Man # 17 (May 1949)
The Inferior Five in "Five Characters In Search Of A Plot!," The Inferior Five # 1 (March-April 1967)
The Crimson Avenger and Wing in "Kings Make A Full House," Adventure Comics # 440 (July-August 1975)
All characters are copyright DC Comics Inc. The Captain Triumph and Plastic Man adventures are now public domain; the rest can only be shown here in representative samples pages. My subscribers get to see the whole thing. Jim Corrigan, we hardly knew ye. Farewell, Spectre; Aquaman swims in next time.
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