In keeping with the spirit of Halloween (or is that the Halloween spirits?), today we’re teaming up with several other comic-focused blogs to highlight tales of fright and suspense sure to liven up your day (or maybe just scare your pants off).
Jerry Siegel’s writing talents went beyond the cape-and-tights pack that Superman led. What are perhaps Siegel’s most-enduring creations other than the Man of Steel, Doctor Occult and the Spectre, are prime-pickings for Halloween favorite stories. We’ll talk more about the Spectre’s creation in the future, but today’s tale is the Ghostly Guardian’s fourth appearance, originally published in MORE FUN COMICS #55. While untitled at the time, it has since been given the title, “Zor!”
Writer: Jerry Siegel
Artist: Bernard Bailey
Editor: Whitney Ellsworth
Jim Corrigan and Wayne Grant are summoned by the manager of First National Bank and told to arrest a clerk for embezzlement. During their investigation, Corrigan uses his ability to read minds, deducing that the real guilty party is the bank’s bookkeeper, Simmons.
Not taking well to being found out, Simmons pulls a gun, holding all three men at bay. Invisible to all, however, the ghostly form of the Spectre emerges from Corrigan’s body, confronting Simmons as he tries to escape. Unable to see the Ghostly Guardian, the bank manager and Grant think Simmons might be going mad as he speaks to the Spectre. Simmons tries firing his gun, but the Spectre wills it not to fire, and then gives Simmons an eerie ultimatum.
After depositing Simmons in jail, Corrigan and Grant leave for a night off when Corrigan is viciously run down in the middle of the street by two criminals intent on revenge. Grant thinks his partner is no more, but is surprised to find him unharmed. Little do he or the criminals know, though, that the Spectre is hot on the criminals’ tails.
As the cowardly would-be murderers flee, they are shocked as the the Ghostly Guardian appears on the hood of their truck… his eyes staring at them with a penetrating stare.
The shock causes the truck to plummet off a nearby cliff. But, to the amazement of the criminals and the Spectre, hangs momentarily in mid-air, before backing up and setting gently down on the road again. While puzzling over what could have caused the freak phenomenon, the Spectre is confronted by a dark figure, who introduces himself as “Zor!”
“Like yourself,” Zor says, “I am a spirit confined to Earth — only thru the centuries, I have spread evil upon this world!” And soon, the two ghostly spirits are locked in combat.
When Zor inexplicably disappears, the Spectre resumes his residence within Jim Corrigan, but puzzles over the mad ghost’s words.
At just that moment, Zor transforms himself into the image of Corrigan and approaches Corrigan’s fiancée, Clarice Winston. Zor tells Clarice he’s been a fool and invites her to run away and elope… and the two drive off, with Clarice little knowing the deadly danger she’s in.
Corrigan arrives at Clarice’s home only to find her gone. The Spectre then streaks out into the night, soon catching up the car. Though “Corrigan” (Zor) appears to be driving, the forms of the Spectre and Zor hover above the car, with the dark ghost taunting the Spectre, before escaping — along with the car — into another dimension in a brilliant burst of energy.
As the Spectre puzzles over where Zor and Clarice have gone, the car streaks through the blackness of the void. Frightened, Clarice turns, but faints when she sees the man driving the car is not her fiancée as she believed, but the monster Zor! Shortly, Zor has carried her into his castle and makes devious plans… when the madman gets a surprise of his own.
The Spectre implores the Voice for help in rescuing Clarice and Zor is summoned before him, only to disappear once again. Now granted the power to traverse dimension on his own, the Spectre soon appears before Zor’s castle stronghold, little knowing Zor has laid a trap for him inside. Upon entering the castle, the Spectre is caught in a brilliant shaft of light — and frozen in place!
“Yes,” Zor mocks, “And thru the centuries you will be forced to listen to Zor fling taunts at the prince of fools who thought he could outwit me!”
Desperate to free himself and save Clarice, the Spectre makes Zor an offer — if he is freed, he will give Zor the written formula for creating life! Unafraid, Zor accepts and releases the Spectre. But the Ghostly Guardian capitalizes, lunging at Zor and the two again engage in a fierce battle. Zor quickly gains the upper hand and goes after the formula… but the Spectre then springs a trap of his own!
Clarice saved, the Spectre hurtles back across the dimensions and later, as Corrigan, visits his fiancée. He comforts the woman, dismissing the entire episode as a nightmare. Clarice implores him to stay, but Corrigan declines…
One of the biggest things I take away from this story is the atmosphere Siegel and Bailey were able to convey.
When you read Siegel’s Superman stories from this period, even the sillier ones, they are big and brash. There’s a frenzied energy about them. You can almost hear a brassy score… the Sammy Timberg theme in the background as Superman goes after the villain. When everything is firing on all cylinders, it’s the best Saturday afternoon nickel serial ever printed on the comic book page.
Siegel’s strength in writing shines through here given just how different the atmosphere is with this story. The music evoked with this is the eerie strings and the low hum of an old organ. They keep you on your toes and in suspense as to what’s coming next.
Siegel’s narration and dialogue set the scene as well. There’s no brash, in-your-face superheroics here. Sure, there’s a criminal, a damsel in distress and a rescue at the end. But this is story is decidedly darker in tone than anything Siegel wrote with Superman, particularly around this time.
Siegel’s Spectre stories are generally not considered early horror stories. And this was published a full decade before they boom and heyday of EC and horror comics. However, you can definitely see the seeds of such being sewed in this story.
To his credit, Bailey also does his part. While his art lacks the energetic action of Shuster or dynamic layouts of someone such as Bob Kane and his studio, Bailey’s sparse art adds a creepy air of solitude and solemness to scenes. By Bailey’s hand, the grim scowl never leaves the Spectre’s face and Corrigan, while more inviting than his ghostly counterpart, broods behind a layer of darkness and mystery.
– DC 100-Page Super Spectacular #6 (1971)
– Golden Age Spectre Archives, Vol. 1 (2003)
– DC 100-Page Super Spectacular #6 Replica Edition (2004)
Unfortunately, because this story was first reprinted in 1971, a time when neither Siegel or Shuster were being credited by DC Comics, Siegel’s name was removed from the opening splash. This modification and lack of credit has remained in subsequent reprints.
This story was published during what is perhaps the busiest period in Siegel’s writing career.
In addition to the Spectre story, MORE FUN COMICS #55 contained a six-page “Radio Squad” story. Other Siegel-written features published in the same month included a six-page “Spy” story and a 10-page “Slam Bradley” story in DETECTIVE COMICS #39, an eight-page “Red, White and Blue” story in ALL-AMERICAN COMICS #15 and a four-page “Federal Men” story in ADVENTURE COMICS #50.
And, of course, there was a 13-page “Superman” story in ACTION COMICS #25, where, for the first time, Lois tries to uncover the Man of Steel’s true identity. And, outside of comics, the Superman daily and Sunday newspaper strips, both written by Siegel, were going full steam. (SUPERMAN was going at this time, as well, but did not have an issue this month due to being a bi-monthly title at the time.)
I want to thank Chad Bokelman over at Corps Conjecture for allowing the blog and me to play along in this Halloween crossover. It was a whole lot of fun! And special thanks to Rob Kelly at Aquaman Shrine and Garrey Adams at Gotham Knights Online for the crossover’s custom graphics!
As mentioned earlier, several blogs have joined forces to look at the various spooky or Halloween-themed stories. Be sure to visit the other blogs to see how they spotlight their favorite heroes!
– The Atom in “Shrinking From The Past” @ Power of the Atom
– Aquaman in “Dead Calm” @ The Aquaman Shrine
– Batman in “Bough Breaks” @ Gotham Knights Online
– Booster Gold in “Seeing Ghosts” @ Boosterific
– The Creeper in “What Creeps Out the Creeper? @ DC Bloodlines
– Firestorm in “Shoe Shine… Back from the Dead” @ Firestorm Fan
– The Flash in “Haunts” @ Speed Force
– Green Lantern in “The Corpse Corps” @ Corps Conjecture
– Green Lantern in “The Legend of Driq” @ The Indigo Tribe
– The Justice League of America in “Life Itself” @ The Captain’s JLA Blog
– The Martian Manhunter in “Heart’s Afire” @ The Idol-Head of Diabolu
– The Phantom Stranger cosplay @ I am the Phantom Stranger
– Ragman in “Tattered Remnants” @ Ragman: DC’s Tatterdemalion of Justice
– The Spectre in “Zor!” @ Siegel & Shuster: Mythmakers
– Superman in “The Death Sentence” @ Great Krypton!
– Swamp Thing in “Ghost Dance” @ The Blog From the Bog
– Vixen in “Role Model” @ Justice League Detroit
– Wonder Woman in “The Distance Gone” @ Diana Prince is the New Wonder Woman