Inspecting the Spectre
John Ostrander's The Spectre was one of the better series of the 1990s. He took a character traditionally so powerful that other writers had struggled, and managed to weave a fascinating tale of evil and morality.
So it irritates me to see how the Spectre is treated in the Days of Vengeance mini-series. I'll let writer Bill Willingham explain: "Since the new Eclipso is a female now, she basically seduces the Spectre, and convinces him that if he really wanted to stop evil in the world, he needs to destroy magic....the Spectre is a little screwed up right because he’s coming off a weird trip with a human host, and is now without a human host for the first time in a long while. Without that guidance, that conscience, he’s a little wigged out, so that when someone makes what may or may not be a good argument about destroying a whole lot of evil, he falls for it."
This is so far removed from what Ostrander established about the primal, hostless Spectre that I wonder if Willingham ever read the series, or if DC editorial cares about that particular mythos. But since I prefer a Wrath of God that is nigh-omnipotent, not nigh-incompetent, I feel like expounding on the Spectre's backstory.
First of all, the Spectre and Eclipso have something of a common history. Their relationship was explained by the Phantom Stranger in #14:
"There are many sides to the Almighty - many names by which God is called. Even his wrath has a name and, in the beginning, it was what became known as Eclipso. In the name of God, Eclipso swelled the waters and blanketed the Earth. Only one lone vessel escaped: Noah and his ark. But even when God forgave, Eclipso did not. He overreached himself and that which made him mighty brought him low. Unyielding in his anger - in his pride - Eclipso was banished into a prison, one that should have lasted for all time, save for the perfidy of man.
"So the Lord brought forth another spirit of wrath - one more directed, more suited to God's anger. Men would call it the Spectre."
It was not until #60 that we learned the details of how the Spectre came to be. A demon named Aztar, who had taken part in Lucifer's rebellion against the Almighty, returned to Heaven to repent and accept his punishment. God's judgment was to burn out all of Aztar's memory and awareness of self, and for him to become the vessel for God's wrath: the Spectre.
The Spectre was intense and unforgiving. It was the Spectre who destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, and turned Lot's wife into salt. It was the Spectre who performed the plagues of Egypt, including killing all the first-born sons. And it was the Spectre who brought down the walls of Jericho and stopped the sun in the sky.
When Jesus was born, the Spectre was cast into limbo, for vengeance and forgiveness could not walk the earth simultaneously. But when he died on the cross, the Spectre exploded from limbo. It was the Spectre who tore the Temple curtain from top to bottom, and who raised the dead.
Finally, he was approached by the Archangel Michael, who had a message. "The rules are changed. Since the Godhead assumed mortal form, it has been decreed that all beings such as yourself must be linked with human souls. You can no longer walk the Earth unfettered." The Spectre resisted, but Michael forced it into submission, declaring "We must find a soul for you to mel with, one that suits you - an angry soul, crying out for justice, for revenge."
Michael looked to India, and found a man named Caraka. His wife and child were slain in front of him, and then he was murdered too. He agreed to join with the Spectre-force so as to seek vengeance. And so the Spectre lived on, passing through different people and different cultures over the years.
There were two occasions during Ostrander's series that Corrigan was removed as the Spectre's host. The first was in #17-18, after the Spectre was Eclipsed. Corrigan's soul was magically extracted, but that still left Eclipso in control of a manic Spectre intent on destroying the Earth.
The second was in #35-36, when Neron granted the Spectre-force's wish to be free of Corrigan. Corrigan went to Heaven and asked why this was possible, since the primal Spectre was required to be bound to a human soul. Michael replied that none of Heaven's edicts were being violated, and Jim subsequently discovered why: Neron had joined the Spectre with the soul of Louie Snipe, the man who arranged Jim's murder. The presence of Snipe's soul satisfied Heaven's rules, but he was too weak to curb the Spectre's primal instincts. Thus, the unemcumbered Spectre desired to continue his vengeance for the death of Christ.
In other words, when hostless and left to his own devices, the Spectre-force is not a glossy-eyed and easily-manipulated schlub. It's a focused and cruel agent of destruction and vengeance. It doesn't look mopey on its own; it appears skeletal, particularly in the face, and has a tendency to hiss more than speak. The host's function wasn't to guide the Spectre-force so much as restrain it. It isn't "wigged out" without a host; it knows *exactly* what it wants to do. And it's a reformed demon, not a mere physical male, so being seduced by a pretty woman borders on being an insult to the character.
Basically, it's just one more reason for me to avoid Infinite Crisis, if this is how DC intends to twist and manipulate its characters for the sake of an editorially-driven story.