Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Spectre

There are heavyweight heroes and then there is The Spectre. Seriously, this guy is a pain to write for in any sort of meaningful continuity. As a nigh-limitless Spirit of God's Vengeance, Spectre has all the same problems people tend to levy against Superman - he's boring because he can do anything, and because he acts with the will of God, he's automatically justified in anything he does. Attempts at a serial narrative would just becomes repetitive as each story would follow a distressingly similar arc: Bad Dude Does Bad, Gets Away With It, Spectre Intervenes, Ironic Punishment Occurs.

Ungh. Lettuce and cottage cheese indeed.

So in thinking about The Spectre's place in the Drewniverse, I'm thinking of a character that should be treated like the shark in Jaws - unseen until the last minute. Being constantly on the page would rob the Spectre of its power as Serious Business in the setting. The Spectre can't have its own title, but it can play a role in shaping the future of the setting. And I'm aware of the his/its weirdness here - the bonded Spectre/Jimmy Corrigan/Crispus Allen character for the comics is the 'he' while the unbonded Spirit of Vengeance is an 'it.'

In thinking about the Spectre's past exploits, we see a lot of deus ex machina behavior. The only thing really checking his power was the Comics Code's prohibition against blood and guts. So we got a lot of 'turned into an object then destroyed' scenes as a way around that. I agree that limiting the power of the Spectre is a Good Idea - otherwise you'll have to start jumping through hoops to explain why it doesn't simply avenge all injustices, thus leaving the rest of the JLA sitting around with nothing to do. "Hey, Batman looks like there's a bank being robbed- oh, right, I forgot in a world with a brutal force of vengeance actively stalking the planet, you'd never become Batman as Joe Chill would have been turned into, I dunno, an ice sculpture and melted at a Wayne Family Charity Benefit."

But if we can keep the ghost in the machine and have vengeance visited by proxies of the Spectre, we might have something. Imagine Jimmy Corrigan, Gotham City homicide detective. Gotham is a notoriously corrupt town, so being an honest (or even mostly honest) cop is probably an exercise in futility. How can you bring down the Bad Guys when they can buy off a judge or psychiatrist so easily? Instead of getting them off the streets, all you really do is shunt them to Arkham for 3 months or so before they are announced 'cured' of some mental disease or defect that they paid a doc to rubber stamp them with in lieu of going to trial. And that's only if the crook would make it to trial in the first place! Evidence has a way of walking off in Gotham.

So Detective Corrigan starts receiving anonymous messages from a mysterious benefactor. These messages give hints as to the guilt or innocence of current suspects, the relative trustworthiness of Corrigan's fellow cops (including partner Renee Montoya), and other breadcrumbs of information that help him get to the bottom of certain crimes. It doesn't take long before Montoya starts to suspect that something's up - Corrigan may be a good cop, but he's not a great one, you know? She begins to question the leaps of logic that he's able to make getting from Crime A to Suspect B. Is someone using Corrigan as a tool to help purge the city? There were rumors that Commissioner Gordon had a secret task force of incorruptibles that got shut down a few years back, maybe this is the new iteration of that? Or maybe it's The Batman, feeding information to Corrigan regarding crimes he's just too busy to deal with? Or could it be a crime boss using his police connections to target rivals?

Question, questions.

While Montoya starts to get to the bottom of her partner's suddenly improving clearance rate, Corrigan is dealing with his own quandary. He's becoming more and more trusting of the messages he receives, often to the point where he knows but is not able to prove who committed a given crime. So what then? Is it acceptable to frame up a crook for a crime he didn't commit because he got away with one he did? What about simple vigilante justice? If the courts are demonstrably corrupt, why not just skip them all together?

To add to this ambiguity, we'd be keeping it vague as to whether or not it's an outside force that's informing Corrigan's investigations, or maybe some sort of psychic ability he has. So if Montoya manages to get access to Corrigan's email (with the help of Jack Marshall, a hacker she knows), for example, it would appear that Corrigan sent the incriminating information to himself at some point in the past. Aware that his partner is on to him, Corrigan finds he has to branch out and starts to reply on his old partner, Slam Bradley, now a PI after being drummed out of the GCPD after pissing off the wrong politician.

So what's going on here and what does it have to do with The Spectre? Obviously, The Spectre is the force sending messages to Jim Corrigan. Prevented from taking a heavy hand in the mortal world, the Spectre entity can only work through proxies. The proxies it has chosen for itself are Jim Corrigan, Renee Montoya, Jack Marshall, Slam Bradley, Helena Bertinelli, and _______ (We'll leave the last one open for the time being, pending how I slot some other street-level detective heroes in future reboots). It is bringing these secret six agents together in order to free it from its prison. What's keeping it there? The litanies and rites contained within the Crime Bible, a holy book at the heart of a Gotham-based criminal sect.

So the Spectre does not start out with a title all its own. Instead, it starts as the guiding force of Secret Six (#20/52), which in itself will be a miniseries with a limited issue run (24?). The Return of the Spectre (Vengeance Unleashed?) would actually be a future Big Event in the Drewniverse (along with Darkseid, Conqueror and The Wrath of Zod) that we'd use to move the continuity football a few yards forward. I'll talk more about the use of these Big Events in the future, but for the time being, we'll assume that they are not the giant time-sucks we've come to expect form the infinite crisising we've had for the past few years from DC. They are more mile markers than anything else - with the vague nature of time in comics, we'd be able to date random one-off stories as being between certain events if we need to.

What's more, Secret Six will give us a chance to build up the backstories of future heroes like Montoya's The Question or Bertinelli's Huntress. I think that in order to keep a sense of youthful energy, we need to have new characters constantly being (re)added to the continuity. The New Hero On The Scene is a great POV character for new readers and using some of these classic fourth-tier heroes in those roles would give older readers something to look forward to as well. Secret Six, because it takes place in Gotham, would also be a great vehicle for introducing the rebooted cast of villains surrounding Batman. Otherwise, it'd take like seventy kajillion years to get them all out across the various Bat-titles.

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