REVIEW: DC UNIVERSE CLASSICS THE SPECTRE
He's quite probably one of the most powerful beings in the DC Universe. He's also sort one of the creepiest. His name is THE SPECTRE, and he's one of the additions to the increasingly superb line of DC UNIVERSE CLASSICS figures from Mattel.
The Spectre has been around long enough to qualify as one of those "Golden Age" heroes, even serving as a member of the Justice Society. Mattel seems to be bringing more of these characters into the line, and I can't say that I object. Wildcat was part of Series 9. The Spectre is here in Series 12, and official news has given us the assurance of Hourman and Alan Scott, the first Green Lantern. I'm rather hopeful that Jay Garrick, the original Flash, will turn up in a future assortment.
Before I get into reviewing The Spectre figure himself, I want to discuss a few aspects of the packaging, something I realize I don't usually do, but there are some matters worth mentioning here.
First off, the package card has been changed. Although the predominant color is still a sort of "explosive orange", the package now features images of a great many DC characters -- most of whom have been made as DC Universe Classics figures, or will be shortly. There are a couple of notable exceptions -- specifically the Ryan Choi Atom and Vixen. Neither of these have been announced as planned figures for DC Universe Classics -- yet, anyway.
Secondly, the "age number" on the package has been changed. Formerly, it read "4+". Now it reads, "Adult Collector", rather surprisingly, with an advisory that the figure is not suitable for children under the age of four. I honestly found this surprising, although perhaps I shouldn't have. The DC Universe Classics line is continuing to plumb some rather obscure corners of the DC Universe. While this is certainly of interest to longtime DC fans such as myself, the flip side to that coin is that there's no shortage of characters that young children probably have never even heard of -- more's the pity.
Thirdly, and possibly another explanation for the revised age statement, the latest assortment of DC Universe Classics figures includes a collector button! This is actually a metal button with a clasped pin on the back. It's worth noting that the age warning on the package makes very specific reference to a "functional sharp point". Since there aren't any on the figure herself, we can assume that this refers to the button. The button, by the way, features a very classic Golden Age image of The Spectre alongside Alan Scott and Jay Garrick (so at least he's appeared in this line in some small way...!)
Finally, the DC Universe logo has been slightly altered. It looks a bit more dynamic, but is not at all unrecognizable. The base of the package commemorates DC's 75th Anniversary with the words "75 YEARS OF SUPER POWER!" Happy 75th, DC!
So, let us now take a look at The Spectre, with some background on his character, courtesy of a little online research.
The Spectre first appeared in a next issue ad in More Fun Comics #52 (February 1940). He was created by Jerry Siegel and Bernard Baily.
The Spectre's career began in 1940, when hard-boiled cop Jim Corrigan was murdered. His spirit was refused entry into the afterlife, however, and, in the guise of a grey-skinned humanoid being in green cloak, gloves, trunks and boots was assigned to eliminate all evil from the world by an entity referred to only as "The Voice". The Spectre's skin was changed to chalk-white six stories into the run. The Spectre began by seeking bloody vengeance against Corrigan's murderers in a grim, supernatural fashion.
The Spectre proved quite popular, and was awarded charter membership in the first ever super-hero team, the Justice Society of America in All-Star Comics. Another reward was the resurrection of the body of Jim Corrigan, from which the Spectre's ghostly form could emerge and function independently (seen in More Fun #75, January 1942).
During the mid-1940s, the popularity of superhero comics began to decline, and the Spectre suffered as a result. Eventually, Jim Corrigan enlisted in the military to serve in World War II, and on his departure, the Spectre became "permanently" invisible (in More Fun #90, April 1944), becoming a secondary player in his own series. The feature's final installment was in #101, and the Spectre made his last JSA appearance at the same time, in All-Star Comics #23.
When the Silver Age of comic books arrived in the 1960s, editor Julius Schwartz had the Spectre re-written and returned to the role of an avenging undead spirit, beginning in Showcase #60, January–February 1966. Under the authorship of Gardner Fox and as drawn by Murphy Anderson, his power was vastly increased. The end to this era came in Justice League of America #83, August 1970, when, at the climax of another JLA/JSA crossover, the Ghostly Guardian appeared to be destroyed.
In the 1970s, the Spectre was revived in the pages of Adventure Comics #431 in 1974. This series, written by Michael Fleisher and drawn by Jim Aparo, was notorious for its gruesome depictions of the Spectre's poetic-justice style retributions against criminals.
The Spectre has also played a pivotal role in the Crisis on Infinite Earths and Zero Hour storylines. In both cases, in the final struggle against the main villain — the Anti-Monitor and Parallax, respectively — the Spectre was the only hero capable of standing against the villains directly, allowing the other heroes time to put a plan into action that would destroy the villains once and for all.
The 2001 Green Arrow story Quiver and the final Supergirl story arc, Many Happy Returns revealed that the Spectre (as the Hal Jordan incarnation) is aware of the Crisis on Infinite Earths. He is one of the few DC Universe characters with this knowledge.
Eventually, Corrigan's soul found peace. He relinquished the Spectre, and went on to the afterlife. The role of the Spectre was later assumed by Hal Jordan, the spirit of the former Green Lantern, during the Day of Judgement storyline written by Geoff Johns; the Spectre chose Hal as his new host because Hal sought to atone for his actions as Parallax. In a series written by J. M. DeMatteis, Hal Jordan was able to bend the Spectre's mission from one of vengeance into one of redemption, also making other appearances through some of DC's other storylines.
In Green Lantern: Rebirth, written by Day of Judgment writer Johns, the Spectre's decision has been retconned of choosing Jordan as his host wasn't because he's worthy, but because of trying to destroy the fear entity Parallax, which was infecting Jordan's soul ever since it was freed from Oa's Central Power Battery. After the Spectre was able to purge the Parallax from Jordan, he departed in order to move onto the next recipient of the Spirit. Jordan, restored to, sall we say, more normal life, resumed his careers as an Air Force pilot and as a Green Lantern once more.
A hostless Spectre subsequently caused no end of trouble. As covered in one of the lead-ins to Infinite Crisis, Day of Vengeance, Jean Loring was transformed into the new Eclipso. She went after the Spectre, who was on a vengeance-fueled rampage. Not only was he killing murderers, he was also killing people for minor crimes, such as petty theft. She seduced the Spectre, who was unstable due to the loss of his host, into removing all magic in the DC Universe.
The Spectre went on a rampage, destroying magical constructs, institutions that taught magic, and magical dimensions. In one such dimension, his acts included the mass murder of over 700 battle hardened magicians.
In Gotham Central #38, Crispus Allen was killed by a policeman coincidentally named Jim Corrigan (not the same Corrigan formerly associated with The Spectre). While Allen's body was in the morgue, the Spectre was forced against his will to enter Crispus Allen, taking Allen as his new host.
As to his powers and abilities, The Spectre is regarded as one of the most powerful beings in the DC Universe. He is considered a spirit of vengeance and justice, serving a higher power which, for all apparent intents and purposes, is the DC equivalent of God. He is literally capable of just about anything. His powers have vastly increased over the years, and concurrently, he's tended to be increasingly detached from humanity and his one-time teammates in the Justice Society and other heroes.
So, how's the figure? Really nicely done. It's clearly intended as the original Spectre, since the Hal Jordan version of The Spectre actually carried over some elements of his Green Lantern uniform, and the Crispus Allen version of The Spectre has a mustache and goatee, distinctly lacking here.
The Spectre isn't the most colorful character ever created. He has a white body, with a dark green hood, cape, gloves, trunks, and boots. Some portrayals of The Spectre have almost made it look as though he's wearing a mask over his eyes, although modern interpretation tends to be that this is more shadow cast by his hood as much as anything. The figure leans distinctly in this direction, as there is no mask over the face, although there is a very slight compromise in that the face around the eyes has been given an overspray of gray which seems to cast it in more shadow than the rest of the figure.
Let's take a little time to discuss the detailing -- Mattel's done a really amazing job here. Normally, I don't approve of airbrushed or painted-on detailing of a figure, for this precise reason: It's virtually impossible to maintain a properly high standard of quality and accuracy on that sort of thing for a mass-produced figure. Plus the fact that I just don't see any great reason to dirty up a figure with weathering for no good reason.
In the case of The Spectre, however, Mattel went all out, and it really enhances the figure's ethereal look. The body has been cast in white, but the musculature has been given a surprisingly precise grey airbrush detailing that really serves to bring out The Spectre's spookiness. The only other significantly white-uniformed male figure in the line to date is Lightray, from the New Gods two-pack a while back, and he was not given similar detailing, nor would it have been appropriate for him. Standing the two figures side to side is an interesting comparison. Certainly you're not going to mistake one for the other, but the grey shading on The Spectre makes him look like that much more of a grim customer.
The gray shading on the upper part of the face also serves to make The Spectre's stark white eyes stand out that much more. They have a rather penetrating gaze to them. The face-sculpt is superb. It has a bit of a gaunt look to it, although not on a scale of Deadman or anything. The features are narrow, but very determined. This really isn't someone you'd want to get in a stare-down contest with.
Most of the figure uses the standard "male hero" body molds that were crafted by the Four Horsemen design and sculpting studio for this line. While some fans may have a problem with the repeated usage of the same basic design, as I have said before, I most certainly do not. It lends a consistency to this action figure line which I sincerely appreciate. And, it's once heck of a good design, first and foremost. It looks good, it works well, and it's superbly articulated.
This is not to say that The Spectre doesn't have some distinctive parts to him, apart from the head, hood, and cape. He most certainly does. The gloves and boots are distinctive to the figure. The Spectre has rather low, almost loose-fitting gloves and boots, unlike the higher-fitting ones of most super-heroes, so his hands and lower legs had to be crafted specifically for this figure, and even the feet are distinct to the figure, as his boots have rather pointy toes to them. The hands are especially impressive, posed neither in fists nor in a grasp, but rather somewhat open hands, with each finger separate from the others.
The cape, collar, and hood combo is surprisingly effective. The hood is part of the head. The cape, as is standard for DC Universe Classics figures, is actually attached to the upper back of the figure. However, the collar, a little more tight-fitting than some similar attributed on some characters, is part of the cape, and by my reckoning, the cape and collar has to be put in place during assembly before the head can be attached. It's a good overall fit, and a superb look, that comes together amazingly well.
Painted detail on the figure, apart from the airbrushed shading, is relatively minimal. However, as I indicated before, the eyes are painted a very stark white, and if you look closely, the buttons on the collar have been painted a rather glossy green. This is a nice little touch to the figure that arguably wasn't necessary, but it's rather cool to see it.
I want to add this about the cape -- it's nice and flexible. The capes in the DC Universe Classics line have tended to be a bit variable in this regard. While I understand that an actual fabric cape in this scale of figure wouldn't look all that good, especially since the costume is not fabric, I also believe that if we must have plastic capes, then two things should be paramount. They should not be overly "pre-posed" -- i.e., looking like they're blowing in the wind or something, although there's nothing wrong with a proper "drape" -- and they should be as flexible as possible. That latter matter has been a problem from time to time. The last time I saw a figure with a cape this color, it was Mister Miracle, and his cape was so stiff it was actually a severe impedance to his articulation! Fortunately, this isn't the case with The Spectre.
Of course, the figure is superbly well-articulated. The Spectre is fully poseable at the head, arms, upper arm swivel, elbows, wrists, mid-torso, waist, legs, upper leg swivel, knees, and ankles. The waist is a little loose, but not grievously so. I've certainly encountered worse on other figures and other parts, and it doesn't adversely affect the look or the stance of the figure. And I'll certainly take it over stuck or misassembled parts, which The Spectre certainly does not have, thankfully.
Two additional notes: There's a glow-in-the-dark variant of The Spectre available, if you can find it. While I suspect the basic color might tend to be a bit off from The Spectre's gaunt white, it's certainly not inappropriate to the character.
Secondly, for those waiting for The Spectre to get some additional media attention, there's an animated short featuring the character on the JUSTICE LEAGUE: CRISIS ON TWO EARTHS DVD movie, which I highly recommend just for itself, as well as the Spectre short.
So, what's my final word here? This is a very cool figure of a very classic character. The Spectre has had a few identity problems in recent years, but he remains at his core one of the DC Universe's most intimidating and eerie cosmic characters, and the figure of him certainly reflects this superbly well.
The DC UNIVERSE CLASSICS figure of THE SPECTRE definitely has my highest recommendation!