Saturday, November 07, 2009

Out of the Vault - Adventure Comics #436

Since my mid-October hiatus forced me to skip a couple of weeks of Vaults, I thought I would extend October for one more week. If you remember, I decided to spend the month of October honoring Halloween by presenting non-horror horror stories, including a man falling in love with a ghost and a race car, Batman shooting a vampire (or maybe werewolf) through the heart with a silver bullet and Superman fighting a blob of giant cells. The final comic I had planned to revisit was Adventure Comics # 436 (or as the cover says, Weird Adventure Comics).

This was part of Michael Fleisher's infamous run on the Spectre, which led to perhaps the most ridiculous lawsuit in comics history and the most boring issue of The Comics Journal ever. But more of that later.

The story, cover-dated Dec. 1974, is titled "The Gasmen and... the Spectre." It was written by Fleisher (with script continuity credited to Russel Carley, whatever that means) and drawn by Jim Aparo. Interestingly enough, the opening splash page is almost identical to the cover, only with an extended "NGYAAAAAAAA..." sound effect. But that scene comes at the end of the story.

The story opens at a custom car show which is suddenly attacked by several men in coveralls with gas masks. They fire streams of noxious green gas which kill everyone at the show (and maybe only Aparo could render a gas attack quite so violently--he was really at the top of his game in those days).

Meanwhile, reporter Earl Crawford of Newsbeat magazine is arguing with his editor over a story he has written about the Spectre. Apparently, Earl is the only man who has ever seen the Spectre and survived, so the editor is having a hard time buying the story. Just then, word comes in about the massacre at the auto show, and Earl rushes to the scene.

There he runs into Detective Jim Corrigan (who, as all good comics fans know, was the Spectre, a cop killed in the line of duty, but allowed to live on as a vengeful spirit to visit divine justice upon evildoers). Corrigan's plan to investigate consists mostly of "wait for someone to take credit for it."

They don't have to wait long. Soon enough, a ransom demand comes in from Field Marshall Offal (really), a nutcase who dresses and acts like a Nazi commander, humored by his henchmen (I guess because he's such a criminal genius or something). Offal demands one billion dollars, or else he'll do something worse. Corrigan argues against giving in to the terrorists, but the mayor decides to pay the ransom. Corrigan volunteers to deliver it.

He ends up boarding a bad guy helicopter, followed by Earl Crawford, who smells a scoop. When they reach the bad guy headquarters in an abandoned observatory, the henchman gasses Corrigan. But instead of dying (since he's already dead), Corrigan simply becomes the Spectre. The henchman screams.

The Spectre enters Offal's command chamber, where he dispatches a couple more henchmen.

Offal flees and jumps onto a getaway boat, but the Spectre catches up to him and transforms his boat into a giant squid which...

Later, Crawford arrives and finds the first henchman absorbed into the stone cliff. He suspects the Spectre has been there, but only finds Corrigan, who swears nothing unusual has happened. Yeah, right.

This was one of the stories to which Harlan Ellison referred in his infamous Comics Journal interview, in which he compared Fleisher to Robert E. Howard, stating both men wrote unforgettable, over-the-top stories because both were absolutely crazy. Fleisher got offended at being called "bugfuck," "certifiable," and "a derange-o." Ellison later said he meant it as a compliment, but Fleisher sued for libel to the tune of two million dollars (he lost). But more about that next time.

One sad note: this issue might have been worth something if I hadn't cut out part of a page of the back-up feature, a mediocre Aquaman seven-pager. I was cutting out a coupon to order the giant-size reprint of Batman #1. And since the back-up was illustrated by Mike Grell, I didn't figure it was any great loss (I was never a fan of Grell and had no idea I would later become a collector, though I was never very serious about it). So now my infamous Fleisher Spectre issue has no collector's value, and if I remember correctly, the Batman #1 reprint was burned in a fire, so I've lost on both counts.

Oh well. La vie. There, I said it.

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