Tuesday, December 25, 2018

The Spectre # 9, DC Comics, 1987 by Moench & Morrow

This is an exceptional comic, aimed at adults and published by DC comics in 1987.  Nowhere on the cover does it announce "mature readers" or "adults only".  The Comics Code stamp is gone. Perhaps in dealing with a direct market, this comic never saw newsstand distribution and DC was able to eschew these conventions.  However, considering how much nudity and suggestiveness there is in this comic, it remains somewhat of an anomaly. After all, the ads in this issue are still for Saturday morning cartoons and Oxy 10 zit cream.  Were the publishers/editors even reading this stuff?

Gray Morrow was not the regular artist for Doug Moench's The Spectre although he did several other issues after this one.  His figures are very well proportioned and not nearly as exaggerated as some of the other mainstream artists from this time and those who would come after.  Another very distinguished aspect of Morrow's art is his unparalleled creative use of zip atone, shading film and ink mixed with conte crayon.   His layouts are untraditional and as experimental as say, Neal Adams, even though his figures are more conservative and composed. At this point, Morrow had been drawing comics for around 30 years and has really developed a very distinct style.  He was also an illustrator for science fiction magazines, paperback covers, a Buck Rogers newspaper strip and even a slew of posters for B motion pictures.  He almost always inked his own work and often colored it as well.  I loved his work for the short lived Sorcery and Madhouse published by Red Circle/ Archie in the early 1970s.  Likewise, his stint on the magazine sized Space 1999 comics, published by Charlton, was equally impressive.

The amount of comics Morrow worked on is amazing, but he was not always paired with the best writers.  This particular pairing with Moench though, works extremely well.  Moench's story in this issue stays far away from the usual superhero tropes.  What we have instead is a sort of philosophical musing on crime and self-sacrifice with a bit of the supernatural thrown in. Add to that a good dose of sex and even some romance and what you have here is a dense, complex and visually exciting story.  

The Spectre in this story is different than in the older versions scripted by Fleischer and drawn by Aparo (those are also great and worth seeking out).  In this version James Corrigan is a private investigator, aided by Kimmie Lang, his sometimes girlfriend.  Corrigan is dependent on the Spectre, who uses his body as a charging station.  Once the Spectre remains with Corrigan long enough, he can go out on his own to seek vengeance upon criminals.  If the Spectre is gone for too long, Corrigan will become ill and eventually die if the two are not reunited.  The Spectre is also able to gain strength independently from a psychic, Madame Xanadu, who in this issue, receives sexual pleasure through the Spectre's exploration of his destructive qualities.  The Spectre believes he can stop crimes before they happen.  Corrigan sees The Spectre's acts of violence as an antithesis  to his own morals.  He decides that the only way he can stop the Spectre is to finally separate and kill himself.  Kimmie, however, loves Corrigan and will not allow this to happen.  Eventually she reunites the two.  At the end of the comic, Corrigan is still emotionally distraught, but he is healthy enough to indulge in his attraction towards Kimmie with a very suggestive embrace.

The images in this book bleed off the page.  The page layouts are experimental and never once repeat themselves throughout the 24 pages.  The colors by Adrienne Roy are also quite good and look great on the paper DC used here which is an upgrade from the usual newsprint stock.  The color becomes part of the storytelling when the Spectre becomes a ghostlike figure or a foggy presence that overlays scenes of foreboding, menace, or in this case - both violence and sexuality.  I only wish Gray Morrow did the cover as well (it was drawn by Mike Mignola). Morrow never did get around to drawing a Spectre cover.  Perhaps they gave other artists this assignment because Morrow's art looked too sophisticated for the projected market? On that note, I am including a cover for another DC title from 1985 by Gray Morrow that also got away with nudity in a mainstream publication.  

Hey, I'm sure you've heard this one too many times before with statements like..."comics aren't just for kids!".  Sure, okay, well here's some proof below:











All artwork by the great late Gray Morrow.  RIP.

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