Showcase Presents The Spectre Vol. 1

spectreFirst Published: April 2012

Contents: Showcase #60 (January/February 1966), #61 (March/April 1966), and #64 (September/October 1966); The Brave and the Bold #72 (June/July 1967), #75 (December 1967/January 1968), #116 (December 1974/January 1975), #180 (November 1981), and #199 (June 1983); The Spectre #1 (November/December 1967) to #10 (May/June 1969); Spectre stories from Adventure Comics #431 (January/February 1974) to #440 (); DC Comics Presents #29 (January 1981); and Spectre stories from Ghosts #97 (February 1981) to #99 (April 1981)

Key Creator Credits: Gardner Fox, Murphy Anderson, Bob Haney, Neal Adams, Michael Fleisher, Jim Aparo, Jerry Grandenetti, Ernie Chan, Ross Andru, Paul Kupperberg, and others

Key First Appearances: Azmodus, Gwendolyn Sterling

Overview: With his debut in More Fun Comics #52 (February 1940), the Spectre remains one of DC’s oldest characters. Developed by Superman c0-creator Jerry Siegel (with an attributed assist by artist Bernard Baily), the Spectre was originally Detective Jim Corrigan. The good detective found himself the target of hoodlums, who placed him in a barrel filled with concrete and then drowned. However, Corrigan’s spirit is denied entry to Heaven, and must return to Earth to eliminate evil. During this era, the Spectre would serve as a member of the Justice Society of America.

This volume picks up the Spectre’s story in the middle of the Silver Age. The Spectre, along with the rest of the Justice Society, have returned to action in the pages of The Flash and Justice League of America. DC editor Julie Schwartz wanted to see if the Spectre could stand on his own, so he gave the character a try-out in the pages of Showcase, followed soon by appearances in The Brave and the Bold. The interest was there to warrant the Spectre getting his own series, but that only ran for 10 issues.

When we see the Spectre again, it is now in the Bronze Age, and the haunted hero is now a feature in Adventure Comics. These stories show the dark potential of the character, as the Spectre exacts brutal punishments to those committing evil acts. This run lasted around a year, before the pages in the book were given over to Aquaman.

The volume concludes with multiple other appearances of the Spectre in team-up books and as a backup feature in Ghosts. However, although not collected in this book, our hero could still be found making appearances in Justice League, All-Star Comics, and All-Star Squadron.

Why should these stories be Showcased?: This is a mixed volume in terms of the types of stories collected. You get the superhero aspect with the various team-ups, the angel of vengeance in other stories, and would-be horror anthology host in others. So there might be some type of story that you can find in here that you will enjoy. But reading these in consecutive order, the character seems under-utilized most of the time. It’s not until much later, specifically the 1990s, where I feel like a writer and artists finally found the full potential of the character.

Earth(-2) Angel, Earth(-1) Angel: So which DC Earth do the Spectre stories take place in? For the stories that involve the Justice Society members such as Wildcat, those take place on Earth-2. For his team-ups with Batman, Superman, and the Flash, those take place on Earth-1. As for the rest, well, I think that is up to the reader to decide. The Spectre seems to not be bound to any one Earth in particular, especially when the story is scripted by Bob Haney.

Footnotes:  The Brave and the Bold #75 is also reprinted in Showcase Presents The Brave and the Bold: Batman Team-Ups Vol. 1.

The Brave and the Bold #116 is also reprinted in Showcase Presents The Brave and the Bold: Batman Team-Ups Vol. 3.

DC Comics Presents #29 is also reprinted in Showcase Presents DC Comics Presents: Superman Team-Ups Vol. 2.

If you like this volume, try: The Spectre series from 1992. The series ran for five plus years, and it was written entirely by John Ostrander. The series focused on the Spectre serving as the embodiment of the Wrath of God, dealing out punishments for murders of any kind. Ostrander is a former theology student, and his knowledge and experience were reflected in the story topics found over the course of the series. The first 22 issues of the title were recently reprinted in trade paperbacks, but you will need to hit the back issue bins to track down the remainder of the series. Well worth the hunt!

Showcase Presents The Brave and The Bold Batman Team-Ups Vol. 3

Showcase Presents The Brave and the Bold Batman Team-Ups Vol. 3

First Published: December 2008

Contents: The Brave and The Bold #109 (October-November 1973) to #134 (May 1977)

Key Creator Credits: Bob Haney, Jim Aparo, and others

Story Continues From: Showcase Presents The Brave and The Bold Batman Team-Ups Vol. 2

Overview: Before it became commonplace to have Batman appear in the early issues of a new title, the guests came to Batman to team up with the Caped Crusader. Welcome back to the Batman team-ups from The Brave and the Bold, as writer Bob Haney and artist Jim Aparo finds incredible ways to have Batman cross paths with the likes of Wildcat, Mister Miracle, and the Metal Men.

The highlight of this volume is the introduction of the Joker as a team-up partner and not just the opposing foe. The Joker stories really stand out, creating a new dynamic that broke the mold for the typical TBATB team-up. The Joker of this era was more of a comedic threat and not a homicidal maniac. Based on his success here, the Joker would become a frequent guest-star as well in DC Comics Presents, teaming up with Superman.

Why should these stories be Showcased?: Yes, yes, yes – these stories deserve to be showcased like this. The Brave and the Bold served as a solid way to introduce all aspects of the DC Universe to any reader, be it your first time or your five hundredth time. Nothing is in continuity, so you don’t have to worry about what is going on in Batman, Detective Comics, or any other title of the era. My only gripe – if this can be considered a gripe – is that Volume 3 came out over seven years ago, with no Volume 4 anywhere in sight. The Brave and the Bold ran to issue #200. DC Comics, if you are reading this, PLEASE get the next volume out for this title!

Who’s Who / Reprinted Elsewhere:
#109 – Batman & The Demon
#110 – Batman & Wildcat
#111 – Batman & The Joker
#112 – Batman & Mister Miracle
#113 – Batman & Metal Men
#114 – Batman & Aquaman
#115 – Batman & The Atom
#116 – Batman & The Spectre / Showcase Presents The Spectre Vol. 1
#117 – Batman & Sgt. Rock
#118 – Batman & Wildcat, co-starring the Joker
#119 – Batman & Man-Bat
#120 – Batman & Kamandi, The Last Boy on Earth!
#121 – Batman & Metal Men
#122 – Batman & Swamp Thing
#123 – Batman & Plastic Man and Metamorpho
#124 – Batman & Sgt. Rock
#125 – Batman & The Flash
#126 – Batman & Aquaman
#127 – Batman & Wildcat
#128 – Batman & Mister Miracle
#129 – Batman & Green Arrow, co-starring the Atom, the Joker, and Two-Face
#130 – Batman & Green Arrow, co-starring the Atom, the Joker, and Two-Face
#131 – Batman & Wonder Woman
#132 – Batman & Richard Dragon, Kung-Fu Fighter
#133 – Batman & Deadman
#134 – Batman & Green Lantern

If you like this volume, try: the 2007 The Brave and the Bold series, specifically the first 12 issues, from Mark Waid, George Pérez, and Jerry Ordway. This was a fun reboot of the classic series, with a new spin on the team-ups. Waid created an ongoing story where one guest would carry over into the next issue, teaming up with a different guest. And that different guest would then host the following issue, and so on. Waid has proven many times over that he is a master storyteller with the DC characters, and Pérez & Ordway are two legendary artists, each deserving of a hardcover collection showcasing their careers at DC. This run of The Brave and the Bold series has been reprinted in both hardcover and trade paperback collections, and the individual issues are readily available in the back-issue bins. Track down this run and enjoy the read!

Showcase Presents The Phantom Stranger Vol. 2

Showcase Presents The Phantom Stranger Vol. 2

First Published: March 2008

Contents: The Brave and the Bold #89 (April-May 1970) and #98 (October-November 1971); Justice League of America #103 (December 1972); The Phantom Stranger #22 (December 1972) to #41 (February-March 1976); DC Super-Stars #18 (Winter 1978); and House of Secrets #150 (February-March 1978)

Key Creator Credits: Len Wein, Jim Aparo, Bob Haney, Paul Levitz, Arnold Drake, Gerry Talaoc, and others

Key First Appearances: Spawn of Frankenstein

Story Continues From: Showcase Presents The Phantom Stranger Vol. 1

Overview: This volume continues the supernatural tales of the Phantom Stranger. Many stories are stand alone tales that use the Phantom Stranger to introduce the issue and then makes a cameo at the end. Other stories cross over multiple issues, to provide an ongoing storyline, such as his battles with Tala and Nathan Seine.

During this era, most issues featured a back-up story. Dr. 13, a.k.a. the Ghost-Breaker, would star in many of them, and his character would often appear as well in the main Phantom Stranger story. Another backup story was the Spawn of Frankenstein, a then-modern retelling of the Frankenstein story written by Marv Wolfman with art by Mike Kaluta. In the final year of the title, the backup story was occupied by Black Orchid, but those stories are not collected in this Showcase Presents volume.

Other Phantom Stranger appearances are collected in this volume, such as his appearances in The Brave and the Bold and in Justice League of America. Those issues have been collected in their respective Showcase titles (see Footnotes), and it may not have been necessary to include them in this volume.

Why should these stories be Showcased?: I am a huge fan of Jim Aparo’s art style, which is why I purchased this book. While Aparo stayed on to provide covers for the title, he left the monthly art duties to a rotating list of artists, with most of the work done by Gerry Talaoc. Talaoc and friends do a serviceable job, but you would rather look at the Aparo covers. My other issue with this volume is that these stories do not carry any impact going forward in the DC Universe. Reading these issues is not critical to understanding what happens elsewhere in another title. I personally prefer the Phantom Stranger that makes the occasional guest appearance in other books over the Phantom Stranger headlining his own title.

Footnotes: The Brave and the Bold #89 and #98 are also reprinted in Showcase Presents The Brave and the Bold Batman Team-Ups Vol. 2.

Justice League of America #103 is also reprinted in Showcase Presents Justice League of America Vol. 5.

If you like this volume, try: tracking down old episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents via DVD or HULU. At the start of each episode, Hitchcock would introduce a story, dropping a joke or two, and a make a vague reference to the story you were about to see. At the conclusion, Hitchcock would return to wrap things up nice and neat. Rod Serling would later follow a similar format with The Twilight Zone. It’s easy to see how this format bled over into comic books, as the Phantom Stranger would often introduce the stories, then fade into the background until the very end to help wrap the story up. 

Showcase Presents The Brave and The Bold Batman Team-Ups Vol. 2

Showcase Presents The Brave and The Bold Batman Team-Ups Vol. 2

First Published: January 2007

Contents: The Brave and The Bold #88 (February-March 1970) to #108 (August-September 1973)

Key Creator Credits: Bob Haney, Neal Adams, Ross Andru, Nick Cardy, Jim Aparo, Bob Brown, and others

Story Continues From: Showcase Presents The Brave and The Bold Batman Team-Ups Vol. 1

Story Continues In: Showcase Presents The Brave and The Bold Batman Team-Ups Vol. 3

Overview: Welcome back to the Batman team-ups from The Brave and the Bold. Once again, Bob Haney weaves a unique take on Batman, finding unusual ways to bring Batman together with the likes of Green Arrow, Deadman, and the Metal Men.

A couple of books highlight this volume in particular:

  • The Brave and the Bold #98 featured Batman meeting up with the Phantom Stranger. While that match-up, in particular, is not huge, it does mark Jim Aparo’s first take on Batman. Aparo was a rising star at DC at this time, having gained notice for his work on Aquaman and The Phantom Stranger. Aparo would then go on to handle the art on nearly 80 of the next 100 issues of The Brave and the Bold.
  • The Brave and the Bold #100 (February-March 1972) featured Batman “teaming up” with Robin, Black Canary, Green Arrow, and Green Lantern. In all actuality, Batman had been shot and needed the other heroes to solve a crime for him while he recovered. This was published around the same time as the “Hard Traveling Heroes” storyline was coming to an end in the pages of Green Lantern (see Showcase Presents Green Lantern Vol. 5 for that full story).

Why should these stories be Showcased?: I’ve said it before and I will say it again – any of the team-up books from DC (or Marvel) should be must-own for any fan. This is Batman with some of the greatest art talents of the time (Adams, Aparo, Cardy) providing covers and enticing stories to match the crazy stories being delivered to us by Bob Haney. These stories do not worry about continuity, so try not to take these too seriously. Just enjoy the absurdity of Batman teaming up with Sgt. Rock or the House of Mystery.

Who’s Who / Reprinted Elsewhere:
#88 – Batman & Wildcat
#89 – Batman & The Phantom Stranger / Showcase Presents The Phantom Stranger Vol. 2
#90 – Batman & Adam Strange
#91 – Batman & Black Canary
#92 – Batman & The Bat-Squad
#93 – Batman & House of Mystery
#94 – Batman & Teen Titans / Showcase Presents Teen Titans Vol. 2
#95 – Batman & Plastic Man
#96 – Batman & Sgt. Rock
#97 – Batman & Wildcat
#98 – Batman & The Phantom Stranger / Showcase Presents The Phantom Stranger Vol. 2
#99 – Batman & Flash
#100 – Batman & Black Canary, Green Arrow, Green Lantern, and Robin
#101 – Batman & Metamorpho
#102 – Batman & Teen Titans
#103 – Batman & Metal Men
#104 – Batman & Deadman
#105 – Batman & Wonder Woman
#106 – Batman & Green Arrow
#107 – Batman & Black Canary
#108 – Batman & Sgt. Rock

If you like this volume, try: the Batman: The Brave and the Bold animated series. Running on the Cartoon Network from 2008 to 2011, this was a beautiful and fun homage to the Batman team-ups of the 1960s and 1970s. While some team-ups occurred more frequently (Aquaman and Green Arrow), the creators of the series pulled team-ups from all corners of the DC Universe. You would think that the spirit of Bob Haney was supervising the writer’s room for this series. Truth be told, I think I even teared up some with Batman teaming up with the Doom Patrol at the end of that group’s career. The finale of the series tied everything together and made promises that the adventures of Batman will never end. If you have not watched them, or not watched them recently, you owe it to yourself to give this series a look. (There was a Johnny DC book released to support this cartoon as well. While it captured the look and humor of the series, part of the joy with the series is seeing the team-ups animated on the screen. Track this series down for the young Batman fan in your life.)

Showcase Presents Batman and the Outsiders Vol. 1

Showcase Presents Batman and the Outsiders Vol. 1

First Published: September 2007

Contents: Batman and the Outsiders story from The Brave and the Bold #200 (July 1983); Batman and the Outsiders #1 (August 1983) to #19 (March 1985); Batman and the Outsiders Annual #1 (September 1984); and New Teen Titans #37 (December 1983)

Key Creator Credits: Mike W. Barr, Jim Aparo,  Marv Wolfman, George Peréz, and others

Key First Appearances: Brion Markov/Geo-Force, Gabrielle Doe/Violet Harper/Halo, Tatsu Yamashiro/Katana, Baron Bedlam, Dr. Helga Jace, Masters of Disaster (Coldsnap, Dust Devil, Heatstroke, Mudslide, New Wave, Shakedown, and Windfall), Force of July (Major Victory, Lady Liberty, Mayflower, Silent Majority, and Sparkler)

Overview: Lucius Fox, who oversees Wayne Enterprises for playboy Bruce Wayne, has gone missing in Markovia during a revolution. As Batman, he goes to his friends in the Justice League asking for help – and is rejected, as the JLA has promised the State Department that they would not interfere in matters of state. Fed up with the JLA, Batman quits the League and strikes out on his own. Enlisting the help of long-time friends Metamorpho and Black Lightning, Batman works his way into Markovia to rescue his friend. Along the way, new heroes are met to aid Batman in the rescue of Fox. Realizing the need for a team, Batman organizes these heroes into a new team, the Outsiders.

Over the next 18 months of stories, the Outsiders gel as a team. Questions are answered regarding the origins of Halo and Katana. Geo-Force finds a missing sibling hanging out with the Teen Titans. Metamorpho continues to seek out a cure for his condition, which would allow him to someday finally marry Sapphire Stagg. And Batman learns along the way to trust those around him, finally revealing his identity to his teammates.

Why should these stories be Showcased?: This is a fun read of Batman in the mid-1980s, before the dark and gritty Batman introduced by Frank Miller takes over the direction of the character. The new characters introduced (Geo-Force, Katana, and Halo) all continue to be part of the ongoing DC continuity, throughout multiple crisis and reboot events. These are not the greatest comics ever – in the grand scheme of things, this was definitely the #3 monthly Batman book on the shelves in this era, behind Batman and Detective Comics. That said, this is a very good run on an interesting set of new and veteran characters. Give this book a look, that can be appreciated by readers of all ages.

Footnotes: In a reversal of teacher and student roles, Batman and the Outsiders received a boost by doing a crossover with The New Teen Titans. At that time, the Teen Titans had recently added a new member in Terra, who had a similar costume and similar powers to Geo-Force. (For the record, Terra was introduced first, by about six months.) In the story, we find out that Terra is the younger step-sister of Geo-Force, and received her powers from Dr. Jace. The two teams unite to take on Dr. Light and the Fearsome Five, with Robin taking the lead in directing the heroes and Batman taking orders from his former protege. 

If you like this volume, try: the Legends of the Dark Knight: Jim Aparo hardcover collections, released in 2012 and 2013. Aparo started his career at Charlton Comics, before joining DC in the late 1960s. Although he is most closely associated with Batman, Aparo also did memorable runs on Aquaman, Spectre, and Green Arrow. Aparo had a long run on The Brave and the Bold, working on the majority of the issues between #98 and #200. Many of those issues are collected in these two volumes of Legends of the Dark Knight, as well as in Showcase Presents The Brave and the Bold Batman Team-Ups Vol. 2 and Vol. 3.

Showcase Presents The Phantom Stranger Vol. 1

Showcase Presents The Phantom Stranger Vol. 1

First Published: October 2006

Contents: Showcase #80 (February 1969), The Phantom Stranger #1 (May-June 1969) to #21 (September-October 1972)

Key Creator Credits: Neil Adams, Mike Friedrich, Jim Aparo, Mike Sekowsky, Len Wein, Robert Kanigher, Tony DeZuniga, Murphy Anderson, and Gerry Conway

Key First Appearances: The Phantom Stranger*, Dr. Thirteen*, Tala, Cassandra Craft, Tannarak

Story Continues In: Showcase Presents The Phantom Stranger Vol. 2

Overview: Meet the Phantom Stranger, a man with a mysterious background forced to live in the shadows of the supernatural and unexplained. No one knows where he came from or how he came to be.

The Phantom Stranger first appeared in a six-issue self-titled anthology in 1952. Those stories are reprinted in Showcase #80 and the first three issues of the 1969 series. Similarly, Dr. Thirteen first appeared in the pages of Star Spangled Comics, but his early stories are collected in these first issues as well.

Beginning with issue #4, new ongoing stories featured both characters, either together in the same story or in solo stories. These early issues have Dr. Thirteen at odds with the Phantom Stranger, trying to prove that he was a fraud. Dr. Thirteen eventually comes around to accept the Phantom Stranger as an ally, even if he may not fully understand him.

Two longtime foes are introduced in this volume, Tala, Queen of Evil would challenge the Phantom Stranger over and over, while the sorcerer Tannarak would be a thorn in his side. The psychic Cassandra Craft was brought in a potential love interest for the Phantom Stranger. In an effort to protect Cassandra (or maybe a fear of commitment), the Phantom Stranger faked his own death to let her move on with her life.

Why should these stories be Showcased?: Read this for the art – most covers were done by Neil Adams, and many issues featured work by Jim Aparo. As much as I like the character of the Phantom Stranger, I believe he works much better as a supporting character, such as his appearances in the Justice League of America. I find this to be an average collection.

Footnotes: In the backup story of The Phantom Stranger #14 (July-August 1971), Dr. Thirteen battles a mysterious creature from the murk that bears a striking resemblance to the Swamp Thing. The story was written by Len Wein, with art by Tony DeZuniga. Call it coincidence or accident, at that same time on the newsstand, House of Secrets #92 (July 1971), the Swamp Thing made his first appearance as a mysterious creature from the murk. That story was written by Len Wein, with art by Bernie Wrightson.

If you like this volume, try: tracking down Secret Origins #10 (January 1987). In 1986, DC launched an ongoing Secret Origins series to detail the new origin stories of characters following the events of Crisis on Infinite Earths. Most issues were double-sized and featured two characters, often a Golden or Silver Age character in the first story, and a modern age character in the other. For this issue, the entire issue was given over to the Phantom Stranger, with four possible origin stories. Each story featured a different creative team: Mike W. Barr & Jim Aparo; Paul Levitz & José Luis García-López; Dan Mishkin & Ernie Colón; and Alan Moore & Joe Orlando. The last story has been reprinted in the various editions of DC Universe by Alan Moore collections. The other stories can only be found in this issue, so it is worth finding.