The Prisoner: episode 4 – Free For All – discursion


Be Seeing You

Free For All was the fourth episode of The Prisoner to be broadcast, and the second to be filmed, after the introductory episode, Arrival. It was written by Paddy Fitz, a pseudonym for Patrick McGoohan, whose first commercially produced script it was, and also directed by McGoohan, who had previously directed three episodes of Danger Man. Unlike the sunny, sunshine aspects of almost every other Portmeirion-based episode, Free For All seems to have been filmed during a cool, almost autumnal spell, of which McGoohan takes great advantage in directing a dark, often sinister episode.
After an Escape story and a Resistance story, it would be satisfyingly symmetrical to discuss Free For All as a Revolt episode. Indeed, that was my initial intention, until another re-watching demonstrated that that was altogether too tenuous a suggestion. The episode has an Escape element, clumsily inserted midway, and an ending that attempts to drag the whole affair into Resistance, and these categories have a greater claim on the episode, but the truth is that Free For All is nothing more than what it is on the surface: an open, unsubtle satire on politics that uses The Prisoner as its vehicle, without ever properly integrating its theme into the series.
McGoohan’s script was in line with a rising number of television stories about the artificiality of Politics, and its manipulation by those in charge. Number Six is initially cynical as to the whole idea that the Village is a democracy at all. I mean, even as early as this, it’s as obvious as can be that the notion is unreal, and it would have been equally as unconvincing had Free For All been broadcast as well as filmed second.
This hands the script some early and easy targets: Number Six’s cynical agreement to run exposes a campaign already set and organised for him, the Press put words in his mouth, which are already set in type and being sold, the ‘outgoing Council’ is every bit the complete farce Number Six treats it as being. Not for nothing does this sequence lead directly to the (appropriately) underground chamber where Number Six is brainwashed into becoming the typically false candidate. McGoohan can’t resist slipping in a line about his brainwasher having recently arrived from the (British) Civil Service and adapted immediately.
So far, so good, and the later scenes of Number Six, throwing himself whole-heartedly into campaigning, and trading political snipes with Number Two across the Village square by megaphone, are equally good.
The first problem lies in between. This sequence begins promisingly enough: Number Six is spouting the complete Village line, of Fascist benevolent control in return for compliance. He catches himself at it, and is horrified. But where you’d expect some element of realisation, an understanding that he is being brainwashed and/or drugged to be the Village’s trained monkey, instead, he panics, enters a paranoid fugue, attempts an absurd escape by grabbing a boat and sailing off into the bay. The scene immediately dips towards farce as he’s pursued by the Village helicopter: not unusual in itself, save that it’s being piloted by Number Two himself, whose only contribution is to warn one of the mechanics struggling with Number Six from braining him with a pole.
The situation gets even more ridiculous as Rover is launched (with reused footage from Arrival) and, instead of staying on the motor boat to confront it, Number Six jumps into the sea to do so. He is brought back by three Rovers, is not taken to the hospital, and lies there in his bed experiencing a medley of scenes from the episode so far. This last bit is pure filler, the sign of an episode that is running short, and that’s the whole feel of this sequence. It’s illogical and sloppy: where do the other Rovers come from? If Number Six’s brainwashing is cracking, why doesn’t he get a booster? Given also that this is the only action sequence in the entire programme, from first to start, the episode is nothing but a crude insertion to fill in time, executed with insufficient thought for the damage it does to the overall episode.
Because, of course, Number Six’s conditioning does indeed go on to fray, and the Village have to reinforce it.
It doesn’t matter that, second time around, this is much better approached and acted upon, it is second time around, and it lends a certain amount of drag to the episode. It suggests that the episode has so few ideas of how to sustain itself that it has to resort to repetition.
The approach is far more sophisticated. This time, Number Six starts to get a little drunk with the assumed power of his candidacy, enough to want to get physically drunk, which is not possible in the Village nightclub (The Cat and Mouse – nice touch). He’s taken to what appears, at first, to be a place of privilege, where those in power can indulge themselves in ways not available to the ordinary Villagers. It’s everything that the Prisoner would expect to find, but even that is pure misdirection, intended to manipulate Number Six into drinking a drugged Village concoction that he would otherwise not have touched with a bargepole.
This is explicitly stated to get the Prisoner through to Election Day, and indeed we jump directly there. Predictably, Number Six wins, and unpredictably but to great effect, the crowd react with silence and an indifference that borders on hostility. This leads into the end game.
Number Two, on this occasion, is played by veteran Eric Portman, who had a very solid film career behind him, the highlight of which being his performance as the Magistrate Thomas Culpepper, who is also the ‘Glueman’, in the Michael Powell/Emeric Pressburger film A Canterbury Tale. His Number Two is written to be someone that, in other circumstances, the Prisoner could have trusted and liked and Portman, one of the two oldest Number Twos to be appear in the series, impresses with his encouraging, slightly mellow approach.
This does not totally conceal an inner steel, seen in the Still, when, after convincingly playing the part of a man trying to cope with the stress of command, he instantly snaps back into a cold, determined commander, fully in control of himself.
Portman gives us an early hint of the man within during the Council Chamber scene: he is the man with the gavel which, when Number Six is sent spinning and starts to be dropped into the underground chamber, he is seen banging frenziedly, holding on the the wooden block as if it might escape from his vicious hammering.
But the star of the episode, without doubt, is actress Rachel Herbert as Number Fifty-Eight who, on the evidence of this episode, deserved a considerably more successful career than she appears to have enjoyed.
Herbert has the unenviable task of speaking a language completely foreign to everyone in the episode. She’s further burdened by this language being completely fictional: Herbert prepared for this role by listening to tapes of a Yugoslav friend talking, applying the rhythms and intonations of that language to her nonsense dialogue.
We know her to be a Village agent, and that in some way she will betray Number Six, even as early as the fourth episode we have learned enough to expect that, but Herbert plays Number Fifty-Eight completely at odds to everyone else. In her maid’s outfit, complete with its little white cap, she is an overgrown child, operating in a world she is all but disconnected from, excited, happy, devoted to what she is doing. That she is capable of great, indeed exaggerated seriousness is demonstrated when Number Six works out how to say ‘Be Seeing You’ in her language, which she rapidly turns into a serious declaration, as if it is a patriotic oath.
Above all, it’s her lightness of touch, the constantly happy expression that makes her such an appealing character throughout the episode.
And which makes her transformation, at the end, into the English-speaking new Number Two all the more stunning and effective.
Firstly, in character as Number Fifty-Eight, she becomes serious. Her grin disappears, she is cold-eyed in looking at the conditioned Number Six, and there is genuine viciousness, and contempt, in the series of devastating slaps she delivers to Number Six’s face.
But this is mere foreshadowing of the chilling moment where she reappears on the dais, as Number Two. Everything of Number Fifty-Eight is gone: her face is serious, implacable and, without the maid’s cap, Herbert simply by her eyes, makes herself look as if she has aged ten years. Her accentless, unemotional English, containing at its best a contempt for the prisoner for even thinking of resisting, is a dreadful shock, and it is very much one of the worst defeats the Prisoner suffers in the whole series.
Rachel Herbert also has an historical place in the series as the first female Number Two. The series has often been criticised for an underlying misogynistic tone, and it’s true that, of the three, perhaps four women who occupy the dais, only Mary Morris in Dance of the Dead plays a substantive part AS Number Two. Given Herbert’s performance over the episode as a whole, an episode in which she and McGoohan were on opposite sides would have been absolutely fascinating but, as we will consider later, McGoohan’s discomfort at working with women would probably have ruined any such script.
And, in our underlying wish to discover which side actually runs the Village, let us not overlook Herbert’s remark about ‘Give my regards to the homeland’ which suggests that, whosever Village this is, it isn’t Britain’s – Civil Service transferees or not.
Returning to the story as a whole, its main problem is that, as I said earlier, it never fully integrates itself into the series. At its very end, the script tries to present itself as a complex plan aimed at breaking Number Six’s will, by demonstrating the sheer size of what he has to contend against. A later story uses an identical approach but in a way that is fully integrated into the world of the series. McGoohan’s enthusiasm for his satirical subject is too open and distracting: that’s obviously the reason for the story.
The fact is that the nominal aim of the plot, the suggestion held out to the Prisoner that he will meet his ultimate warder and be put into a position where he can exercise Village power directly against  Village interests, is so far-fetched as to be impossible to take seriously. Number Six even has to be drugged/brainwashed three times over to play his part.
What’s good is good, and of this Rachel Herbert is the best, but despite McGoohan’s contention that this is one of the episodes he would always stand behind – part of the original seven proposed – I find it lacks too much of structure to be one of the best episodes.

Beyond a Balcony


Horslips in their prime

You’d probably have to be of my generation, or a little bit older, to remember the Irish rock band Horslips, who were at their peak in the Seventies.
The band’s interest lay in infusing rock with traditional Irish music which, with differing degrees of success, they pursued throughout the decade, although in the Eighties, when they gave up the traditional side of things and opted for just generic rock, they rapidly lost their appeal and their audience.
I don’t remember how I first became aware of them, probably through their being written about in New Musical Express, though I did have a lot of time for their jaunty 1974 single, Dearg Doom, taken from their album The Tain, a concept set based on Irish traditional stories of a famous cattle-raid.
But I first became seriously interested in them in the early summer of 1976, when Piccadilly Radio began playing the single The Warm Sweet Breath of Love. A lovely, flowing song, underpinned by electric mandolin, the track came from Horslips’ most successful album, artisticly and commercially, The Book of Invasions.
Again, this was a concept album, based on traditional Irish legends, which were recorded as three semi-continuous ‘suites’, one occupying Side One of the album, the other two Side Two.
I bought the album and played it a lot, and whilst I moved it on many many years ago, I kept on tape (and later CD) half a dozen Horslips songs, most of them from this album.
But whilst I was at the height of my interest, the band were touring The Book of Invasions and I was able to get a ticket to see them live at Manchester’s Palace Theatre.
Now the Palace was never one of Manchester’s Premier Rock Venues. In the Seventies, the Free Trade Hall was still the boss venue for rock gigs in the City, with the ABC Cinema, Ardwick coming up on the rails and not far off renaming itself the Apollo, where its endearing scruffiness would make it the venue of choice for the next thirty-odd years.
The Palace, however, was what its name suggested: it was a Theatre. Horslips was the first time I ever went there, and, with the exception of the Flying Pickets, a completely different kettle of fish, I’ve only ever been back for plays and comedy sets from the likes of Dave Allen and Victoria Wood (not together, sadly – how cool would that have been?)
I don’t remember much of the gig, to be honest. Horslips were supported by the then-critically acclaimed London soul band, Moon, whilst their set was enjoyable, but was one of those sets you got in the Seventies when the band’s major concern seemed to be in reproducing as exactly as possible their studio sound, as opposed to putting any great passion into their playing.
They did play The Warm Sweet Breath of Love, of course, and if I remember correctly, they did it as the first part of the three-song suite it opened on the album, which was the best sequence of that record (but not the best track, which in my opinion was the gorgeous love song The Rocks Remain, whose closing verses still send a chill through me, thirty-seven years later).
In time, the gig came to its last song. The band retired, we sought encores in the usual manner and, after a decent delay, the band came back to pay another three tracks and then disappeared out the back again.
That, in normal circumstances, should have been that. But, for no apparent reason, the crowd were not satisfied, and demanded more. People drifted down to the front, in the stals, the circle and the balcony. It wasn’t the kind of frenzied rush that would characterise the kind of gigs I would be going to in the early Eighties, like the Undertones, but rather a middle class saunter down.
And we started shouting and chanting for ‘Moooore’, with that peculiarly bovine low that characterised the era. The management put the house lights on, and we kept on chanting. they lowered the safety curtain and we kept on chanting. It was all kind of fun, and a gentle test of wills, that we won after a quarter hour, when it became obvious that we just weren’t going to go without another track.
The curtain went up, the lights went down and the band came out, looking none too pleased about it, actually. They certainly hadn’t planned for any more as they didn’t have another song ready to play! Instead, they launched into this relatively nondescript Irish-rock instrumental, to which everyone happily danced.
I was down the front, to the (audience) right of the stage. People around me were turning round and looking up. Some were drawing their neighbours’ attention and pointing.
I was nosy, I admit it. I looked up myself, trying to work out what they were pointing at, but I couldn’t see anything that didn’t seem normal. Were they just pointing out people they recognised? I didn’t recognise anyone.
But they were still looking and pointing. I looked up again, wondering what I was missing. The whole balcony was down the front, dancing and swaying… Swaying.
At the front, in the middle, where the greatest concentration of people were crammed togeoether, the entire balcony was swaying up and down in rhythm. From side to side of the hall, up and down and up and down in time to the beat of the band. In the middle, the balcony base was rocking up and down by about a foot, or so I estimated.
It’s not the most unselfish thought I’ve ever had but my first reaction was, “Well, at least I’m far enough forward not to be under it if that comes down.” Charming, wasn’t I?
Needless to say, my attention to the ongoing encore was divided from that point, and I was forever turning back to marvel at the sight of this supposedly solid structure swaying up and down as if it were elastic. The band didn’t know, as the encore would have been cut short bloody quickly if they’d realised what was going on, but thankfully the instrumental ran out, and nobody started demanding any more, and we filed out politely and quietly. And safely.
That gig took place on a Sunday evening. In Monday night’s Manchester Evening News there was an announcement that the Palace Theatre balcony was closed until further notice for structural investigations.
Needless to say, that was a unique experience, and as I am no longer a somewhat naive 20 year old, if I were ever placed in that position again, I would not remain in that position any longer than it took me to calmly and sensibly get the hell out. Which I should have done that time that I was there.

JSA Legacies: No. 7 – The Sandman


The Sandman 1 – pulp version

The Sandman was yet another Gardner Fox creation, this time with artist Bert Christman, though the art was rapidly taken over by Craig Flessel, who is much more associated with the character’s early days. He debuted in Adventure 40 as financier and socialite Wesley Dodd (after four issues, Dodds) who, for no contemporaneously related reason, went out at night to fight crime.
To do so, Dodds adopted a heavily-pulp magazine aspect: dark green business suit, orange fedora, purple cape, blue and yellow gas mask: the man was clearly colourblind, but he was firmly in the pulp magazine tradition, down to his gas gun that put crooks to sleep.
The Sandman was chosen to represent Detective Comics in All-Star, as a founder member of the Justice Society, and appeared in issues 3-21, before being dropped to accommodate the shrinking page size. Like his fellow evictee, Doctor Fate, Sandman appeared only in the opening and closing chapters of All-Star 20, but was returned to action in issue 21, where his figure is clearly pasted in over the original star of his solo slot, presumably the Atom.
Dodds was initially assisted by his girlfriend, Dian Belmont, daughter of the DA and the only person who shared his secret identity. Despite his be-suited persona, the Sandman was all running, leaping, line-swinging and punch-throwing in proper superhero style, and within eighteen months his suit was replaced by a set of standard superhero skintights, in yellow with purple hood and eye-mask, trunks, gauntlets and boots. This redesign, which initially included a purple cape, is usually credited to the team of Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, but was actually done by Mort Weisinger and artist Paul Norris
Simon and Kirby took the series over three months later, on leaving Timely Comics in a dispute over royalties, and applied their brand of vivid action to The Sandman. Out went Dian Belmont, the purple cape and the gas gun, in came teenage sidekick Sandy, the Golden Boy (aka Dodds’ ward, Sandy Hawkins) and a sub-theme that the Sandman and Sandy gave crooks bad dreams. Needless to say, no contemporary explanation was given for these changes. The new costume and approach made its way into All-Star with issue 10.

Sandman’s solo series in Adventure which granted him cover status until the advet of Starman, continued until issue 102, when he was cancelled.
The Sandman did not reappear in the Silver Age until the fourth JLA/JSA team-up, in 1966. Like Doctor Fate, he returned in his original costume, with no contemporary explanation, although instead of carrying the gas-gun, he wielded a new Sand-Gun, and carried heaps of sand in his pockets. When necessary, he would scatter a handful of sand at the foe and use the strange energies of the Sand-Gun to convert them into unbreakable glass, or concrete, or… unbreakable glass, or concrete…
To a young reader who knew nothing of any prior versions of the Sandman this was exceedingly worrying  It was, however, the year of the Batman TV show…
The Sandman would make occasional appearances in team-ups – he was a favourite of Len Wein, who used him in all three of his team-ups – and played a part in All-Star Squadron, but the only stories of any real significance were those that centred upon filling the gaps already mentioned. These were carried out haphazardly, with no attention to their chronology
Dodds’ origin was told last, by Roy Thomas in Secret Origins 7: Dodds got wind of an attack to be made upon the King and Queen of England by the Crimson Avenger, a gas-gun wielding figure, on their visit to the New York World’s Fair. Dodds dressed up in his gas mask to pursue the Avenger, only to discover that the man was a) a hero not a villain b) his cousin, newspaper owner Lee Travis and c) pursuing the real villain, the Phantom of the Fair. Between them, Dodds and Travis brought the Phantom in, and the Avenger handed Dodds his gas gun as he was about to go into superhero tights himself without it.
Dodds’ original change of costume was related by Thomas, in All-Star Squadron 18, in which Thomas also accounted for the uncanny similarity between Sandman’s second costume and that of the Tarantula, an obscure superhero known only to a handful of fans, whose one claim to fame was that someone had called him Spider-Man twenty years before the Marvel character was created.
So: writer Jonathan Law, doing a book on costumed mystery men, interviews Dian Belmost, companion of the Sandman. She shows him a yellow and purple costume she’s trying to get Sandman to wear, and makes a present of it to Law, who uses it to become the Tarantula. Tarantula follows up a report of Nazi sabotage at the docks only to witness Sandman being shot down. However, this is Dian who, with Dodds out of town, had put on his costume in the hope that the mere sight of Sandman might scare the Nazis off. Dodds then arrives in Dian’s costume, wallops the tar out of the Nazis and decides to adopt the yellow-and-purple outfit in tribute to his dead girlfriend. Sandy Hawkins, we later learn, is Dian’s orphaned nephew.
Thomas was also responsible for attributing Sandman’s retirement from the JSA to an early heart attack which, in the Eighties, has him near incapacitated after a stroke.
But the earliest retcon was the last chronological missing link, and that was related by Len Wein as early as 1974, in the only one issue JLA/JSA team up. The two teams find themselves defending York City against a raging silicon-based monster, causing havoc, but, it appears, absorbing the vibrations preceding a massive earthquake: the monster is Sandy.
Dodds relates a guilty secret that he’s nursed for decades: he had developed a new crime-fighting weapon, the Silicoid Gun, which back-fired. The explosion changed Sandy into a silicon based monster with world-dominating intentions, but Dodds put Sandy to sleep and has kept him sedated ever since, trying secretly to restore him, too ashamed to seek help. The irony is that Sandy’s megalomania was only a temporary side-effect and he has been no danger – but has been too sedated to communicate this.
There was a follow-up story that had Sandy restored to human form, years later but that was it.
All of this has related to the Sandman 1, but a second, different Sandman was created, briefly, in the Seventies.

The Sandman 2

The Sandman 2 was the last, belated collaboration between Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, who had gone their separate ways in the Fifties, but who were both at National in 1974. Their idea was originally intended as a one-off, but was extended by other hands into a six issue series, cancelled with one issue unpublished. This Sandman was a colourful character, wearing a caped costume similar in design to that of Sandman 1, with red substituting for purple. He occupied the Dream Dome from where he issued to protect humanity from nightmares and unpleasant dreams. In this, he was assisted by the monstrous, and somewhat silly, Brute and Glob, and usually involved the young boy Jed Walker. He could venture into real life, but only for one hour every week. It was an amiable curiosity that, like so many series in that period of National’s history, went nowhere. In this instance, the main complaint was that the series was too juvenile.
Roy Thomas, needless to say, picked him up as an Earth-2 related character, including him in Wonder Woman 300 and defining him as Dr Garrett Sandford who, after saving an important but unnamed man’s life, had been projected into the Dream Dome. In direct contrast to the juvenile nature of Sandman 2’s series, this appearance had uncomfortably sexual undertones,with it being strongly implied that Sandford was trying to slip into Diana’s more intimate dreams.
This Sandman’s next appearance was in Thomas’s Infinity Inc 49, haunting Lyta (The Fury) Trevor. Lyta was then six months pregnant by Hector Hall, Hawkman’s son and a former hero under the name of The Silver Scarab. Hector had been revealed to be under a curse, to be used as a weapon against his parents, but had died resisting. Now, he had returned, as the Sandman 3.

Apparently, Sandford had cracked, due to loneliness and isolation, and killed himself. So Brute and Glob had seized Hall’s soul and melded it to Sandford’s body, to replace him. The outcome was that Lyta, overjoyed that Hector still lived, returned with him to live in the Dream Dome, reunited.
Such was the status at Crisis on Infinite Earths. Afterwards, Sandman 1, mystically rejuvenated, went to limbo with the Justice Society. He would return in the open-ended Justice Society of America series, although he was struck down by a stroke in the opening pages. Nevertheless, he was there for the JSA’s last battle, the defeat by Extant, where all that remained of his rejuvenations were stripped away.
I’ve leaped ahead somewhat, just to tie up this thread for the moment. But, post-Crisis, DC came up with its most famous Sandman of all, Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, technically Sandman 4 although, as we will now see, the thread of continuity between the various Sandman characters, stretched by Sandman 2/3, was cast entirely aside by the introduction of, not a new character, nor a new costume, but an entire mythology.
Gaiman’s Sandman series featured a character that never once called himself Sandman, nor was addressed as such. He was instead Dream, Morpheus, Oneiros, the Shaper: Dream of the Endless, of an order of seven siblings who were set to rule seven realms of experience that jointly comprised all that humanity existed within: Destiny, Death, Dream, Destruction, Desire, Despair and Delirium, who was once Delight and who may yet change again.

Dream, of the Endless – ‘Sandman 4’

Dream could not have been furthered removed from the spheres established about Sandman. The series was a mammoth success: by the time of its final issue, when the series ended because Gaiman had completed the story he’d begun in 1988, it was DC’s top seller. It’s a big enough subject that it would swamp everything else in this article.
Naturally, Gaiman was savvy enough to incorporate both the previous Sandman traditions within his narrative. Wesley Dodds’s fussy origin is swept smooth: Dream, imprisoned for most of the 20th Century, has a fragment of himself caught in Dodds, who is tormented by dreams until he starts going out at night with his gas mask. Brute and Glob become rebellious servants of Dream, who have created the Dream Dome out of the dreamscape of young Jed, intent on carving out a dream realm of their own. Dream sends Hall on to his long-overdue death (although his spirit is later reincarnated as Doctor Fate 5, as we’ve seen). Lyta, still six-months pregnant after two years, is told that her baby, gestated for so long in dreams, belongs to Dream.
The baby is named Daniel, and his kidnapping later by Puck and Loki initiates the course of events that lead ultimately to Dream’s ‘death’ and his reincarnation – Sandman 5? – is in a form built upon Daniel Hall.
Before that point, we had had the unique sight of the original spinning off in a spin-off series. Sandman was so popular that a proposal was accepted from writer/artist Matt Wagner to revive Wesley Dodds in a series called Sandman Mystery Theatre, published under DC’s mature readers brand, Vertigo.
As such, Mystery Theatre does not strictly exist in the continuity of the DC Universe,although its power and effect was such that all subsequent canon stories have been produced in its shadow.
Sandman Mystery Theatre performed four act (issue) stories, drawn by artists who specialised in a period feel, with Guy Davis drawing two such stories every year. Wagner, and his writing collaborator Steven T. Seigle, reset the original Sandman in the late Thirties, adopting a very realistic pulp noir stance to new and retold stories from Wesley Dodds’s history, as Dodds pursues crimes spurred on by his racking dreams.
Mystery Theatre, which would run for 70 issues, was a fascinating series, narrated in alternating arcs by Dodds and Dian Belmont. It tackled serious social subjects, like racism, oppression, child abuse and abortion.. Dodds, redrawn as short, slightly plump, wearing glasses, used a trench cot and a World War 1 gasmask rather than the flamboyant pulp costume of his comics past. It was a fascinating series, over half of which has so far been collected into Graphic Novels, but it died, deliberately in mid-story, on the eve of war, through lack of sales. Even Dodds’ change into yellow and purple skintights has been re-explained in the psychological terms of Mystery Theatre.

Sandman Mystery Theatre – Sandman 1 re-defined

The Daniel Hall/Sandman 5 has been little seen since the end of Gaiman’s series, and there was indeed a reluctance initially to use the name, DC having taken the unexpected step of ceding some degree of ownership to Gaiman. But you can’t keep Sandman out of the JSA.
James Robinson included an adventure between his new Starman and the aged but still mentally active Wesley Dodds, which prompted Dodds and his lifelong companion, Dian Belmont (who has no longer been shot in 1942) to retire to the far east of Dodds’ childhood. There, as told in JSA Secret Files 1, Dian died of natural causes and Dodds, who had learned of the impending birth of the new Doctor Fate via a prophetic dream, sent the news back to America but stayed to confront the Dark Lord and to go to his death willingly and peacefully. This sparked the JSA revival, but Dodds’ own mantle was passed to Sanderson (Sandy) Hawkins, who took it up as Sand, but was Sandman 6 by any count.

Sand (aka Sandman 6) – phase 1

Though Dodds’s prophetic dreams were supposed to be passed on to Sand, these were never explored, Instead, the focus was on Sand’s powers, as a silicon based creature despite his human appearance, to pass through glass and concrete, and sense and manipulate geological fault lines. Hawkins funded the new JSA at the outset and was its first Chairman, but after the first two years,  a clash over leadership with the resurrected Hawkman 1, resulted in an election that brought in the new Mister Terrific as Chair. Later, Hawkins disappeared, eventually turning up in Sandman 2/3’s costume in a new Dream Dome, manipulated by Brute and Glob: that phase lasted less than two issues.
Come the post Infinite Crisis Justice Society of America, Sand was once again Sandman, in an up-dated version of Dodds original business suit. This reclamation of the name was a result of former Publisher Paul Levitz stepping down to make way for a management that did not have the personal relationships he’d built up over many years with writers and artists who, at the time, DC had regarded as creative partners. Instead, Managing Editor Dan DiDio seized upon the chance to reinstate the heavily editorial driven approach that now dominates, which has seen many characters whose individual courses had taken them far afield being dragged back into the DC Universe.

Sandman (aka Sandman 6) phase 2

The prime example is the recent, highly controversial Before Watchmen series of comics, but the reinstatement of the Sandman name was one of the first steps, Not that DC ever got to any real grips with Sandy Hawkins as an updated original Sandman.
There is an anomaly to mention. In 2004, DC published a five issue Sandman Mystery Theatre mini-series, set in contemporary times, and featuring cameraman/journalist Kieron Marshall crossing Dodds’ tracks in the Middle East, and temporarily taking up his gas mask and gun, but this Sandman, which ought fairly to be recorded as Sandman 7, exists at a tangent to every other tradition, and may easily be ignored.
The New 52 removed all of this. Instead, we have Commander Wesley Dodds and his Sandmen paramilitary force, about which I wish to know nothing. Neil Gaiman has agreed to write the story that preceded his Sandman 1, which is eagerly awaited, and no-one gives a damn about where it fits in to any continuity except that of Gaiman’s series. We should all be so lucky.

How Not To…


I would make a crappy stalker.

In the last couple of months, a new team of part-timers have started work in my Centre. They do evening shifts, until 9.00pm, which is when I usually finish, and work in a different area of the business from me.

One of them is an attractive blonde, free from rings on the third finger of her left hand, who looks really good and, as far as you can judge these things from someone’s face, looks like someone it would be nice to know. She’s also not so young that it would be completely unbelievable that she’d talk to me.

So far, we haven’t spoken. Since she comes in so much later than my team, there’s no way I can arrange to be sat where she’s in my line of sight: most of the time, I could only see her by making it embarrassingly obvious that I’m making the effort to do so. The only time I’ve actually sat near her, she was directly behind me!

In the absence of even the smallest opportunity to bump into her and start a casual conversation, I’ve been wondering how to manufacture the opportunity. I am not good at these sort of things.

One thing I have considered is that, when we log in to a terminal at the start of our shifts, the screen automatically displays the ID of the last person to use that computer. If I were to start my shift at the terminal she was using the previous evening, I would – quite legitimately, and in no creepy way whatsoever – be able to learn her name at least. I thought of this last night.

This morning, I arrived early, picked a terminal on the row my team was occupying, switched on and logged on. After I had input my ID, and was waiting for the screen to apply my personal settings, I suddenly realised. THIS is where she was sat last night. And I typed over her log-in without a second thought.

I am SO shit at this stalking business.

The Prisoner: episode 4 – Free For All – synopsis


Thunder crashes. The credit sequence runs. Number 6 is just finishing dressing when the phone rings. He refuses to acknowledge his number, saying only that it is the number of the phone. It is a call from Number 2, but his voice comes from the TV set, not the phone.
The new Number Two is an older man, hair-thinning, adopting a charming manner. He asks if Number Six fancies a chat, but Number Six replies ‘The mountain can come to Mahomet’ and hangs up. Almost immediately, his door opens and Number Two enters, greeting him as ‘Mahomet?’ Number Six acknowledges the thrust.
Number Two has brought a cooked breakfast with him, laid out by Number Fifty-Eight, a pretty, dark-haired woman in a maid’s outfit. She is initially shy and silent, but when she speaks, it is in an obscure East European tongue that Number Six does not recognise. Number Two describes her as a new recruit, from Records, who is expected to go far.
Their breakfast chat starts with the usual sparring over what the Village want from Number Six. Number Two drops into the conversation that it is the start of their Election Campaign and asks Number Six if he’s going to run. He automatically responds, ‘Like blazes, the first chance I get’, but Number Two is not deflected. He suggests Number Six should run for Office: his.
Number Six clearly does not believe this. Their deliberations are interrupted by the boom of a bass drum, and the band, from outside. It is a carnival atmosphere, with placards saying ‘Vote for No. 2’
Number Six follows Number Two, full of curiosity. The campaign is like an American rally: he and Number Two are driven round to the Colonnade overlooking the stone pond, where Number Two addresses the crowd by megaphone. The crowd respond to cue cards turned over by the Butler.
Number Two bemoans the lack of opposition as unhealthy in a democracy and puts Number Six forward as a new resident with an individualist outlook. Number Six takes the megaphone. He is openly contemptuous of the crowd, all of whom were once like him but who, unlike him, have accepted their imprisonment and will die here like rotten cabbages. (“They’re lapping it up,” Number Two encourages him). He ends by announcing he is running.
Immediately the crowd cheer and produce placards of Number Six. He is hustled into his own election mini-moke, driven by Number Fifty-Eight, who is grinning and excited,like a happy child.
The following morning, Number Fifty-Eight is waiting outside Number Six’s house. Number Six doesn’t want her, especially as she doesn’t speak English. He tries to walk to the Council Chamber, where he is due to attend the meeting of the outgoing Council. She intercepts him by the Town Information Map, learning how to work it and drives him the rest of the way. Number Six clearly finds her disturbing.
As they drive away, two men leap onto the mini-moke. Number One Hundred and Thirteen writes for the local paper, the Tally Ho, and Number One Hundred and Thirteen b is his photographic colleague. The reporter asks a string of political questions, to each of which Number Six replies ‘No Comment’ and the reporter writes down a bland political answer, until he asks the P’s opinion on life and death. Number Six replies ‘Mind your own business’ and the reporter writes ‘No comment’.
They leap off the mini-moke and rush off. A young man, identical to Number One Hundred and Thirteen b is selling the Tally Ho: Number Six’s interview is already in print.
At the Council Hall, Number Six descends into a steel-lined, high-ceilinged circular room. Number Two sits at a high table before which is a dais which Number Six takes. The Council – twelve people, male and female, differing ages, stand at lecterns numbered 2A – 2L. They are silent and motionless throughout, even when Number Six questions them as to who elected them, who they represent etc.
He loses his temper and denounces the whole thing as a farce. His dais suddenly spins out of control, then takes him underground, releasing him into a red-lighted corridor. He stumbles along this, his equilibrium destroyed, and ends in another round chamber, in which an avuncular, immaculately dressed man is sat at a desk, and offers him tea.
This is the Labour Exchange Manager (another new arrival: came from the Civil Service and adapted immediately). He talks to Number Six is a cheerful, open-handed manner, before imprisoning him in his chair and conduct a test which involves reading Number Six’s thoughts about why he has entered the election – to take over and organise a break-out.
When Number Six is released, he has been brainwashed. He eagerly solicits the manager’s vote, and emerges from the Labour Exchange to throw himself whole-heartedly into campaigning, with Number Fifty-Eight at his side.
The campaign rapidly goes to his head and Number Six finds himself parroting messages about the Village and conformity that he violently opposes. Close to cracking, he tries to flee. Surrounded on all sides, he steals a boat from the jetty, though two mechanics jump on board to struggle with him. He heads into the bay, pursued by Number Two in the helicopter. Though he succeeds in throwing off the two men, he is halted by Rover and returned to the Village.
When he recovers, he once again resumes campaigning, attracting more followers than Number Two. Number Six gatecrashes the latter’s rally, trading exchanges by megaphone from opposite ends of the square, but his constant struggle against the brainwashing starts to surface that evening in the night club. In something of a trance, and acting as if already drunk, bNumber Six demands genuine spirits, not non-alcoholic substitutes and starts to get aggressive. An alarmed Number Fifty-Eight drives him to a deserted area and directs him to a cave mouth.
Inside, Number Six finds an illicit still and a drunken Number Two escaping the pressures of his office, and making his own negative comments about the Village. The brewer is a brilliant scientist who the Village leave alone to pursue his passion and write equations, which they photograph weekly. Number Six accepts a drink, but collapses as soon as he finishes it. Number Two immediately throws off the pretence of being drunk: the drink has been calculated to last until the Election is over.
Election Day is a clear win for Number Six. His box overflows with black rosettes and theer are no white rosettes for Number Two, who concedes defeat and casts his vote for his opponent. Number Six appears to be in shock. Number Two announces him as the winner, but the crowd stand in silence, and disperse when Number Two and Number Fifty-Eight take Number Six to the Green Dome.
In the ante-room, Number Two hands things over and leaves. Number Fifty-Eight leads Number Six into the deserted Control Room. She runs around excitedly, pushing buttons to see what happens, even leading a still-stunned Number Six into the doing the same.
Suddenly, she turns serious. She leads Number Six to look at the whirling pattern of lights on the screen, then, as he stands, hypnotised, slaps him viciously across the face several times.
Number Six comes out of his brainwashing to find himself in control. Ironically, he loses control, pushing buttons frantically, screaming over loudspeakers that everyone is free to go. The Villagers ignore him completely.
A stretcher is rolled into the control room and two men rise through the floor to drag Number Six away. He breaks away, through the door from where the stretcher has come. He finds himself in a cave passage, where four men, in boilersuits and dark glasses are sat in a semi-circle around a Rover. They turn to watch as the two men catch up with Number Six, subdue him and start to beat him severely.
Number Six is dragged back into the control room, semi-conscious. Number Fifty-Eight has taken the dais, wearing Number Two’s rosette. In accentless English she asks if he will never learn, that this is only the beginning. There are many methods they can use but they do not wish to damage him permanently: is he ready to talk? Number Six’s only remaining defiance is to lapse into unconsciousness.
The new Number Two talks to the old Number Two in the helicopter. She asks him to give her regards to the Homeland. Number Six is taken back to his cottage.

Secrets


Got a secret,
Can you keep it?
Swear this one you’ll save
Gonna lock it
In your pocket
Taking this one to the grave
If I show you
Then I know you
Won’t tell what I’ve said
Cos two can keep a secret
If one of them is dead
((c) The Pierces – ‘Secret’, from ‘Thirteen Tales of Love and Revenge’)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o5p-uspcgRY

There was an interesting piece in The Guardian on Tuesday, by Mark Lawson (http://www.guardian.co.uk/tv-and-radio/2013/apr/23/keeping-secrets-became-cool?INTCMP=SRCH) about the final episode of ITV’s crime drama Broadchurch on Monday, and in particular that the heart of the story, the whodunnit, was not given away in advance of its revelation in the final episode.
I wasn’t watching Broadchurch (I don’t have a TV and haven’t had for over three years, so my viewing nowadays is exclusively through i-Player, downloading, streaming or DVDs), so it didn’t make any difference to me, but  it was still a welcome reversal of the trend that, for years, has seen the world and its dog eager to scream out what’s on the last page before you’ve even opened the cover of the book.
The increasing tendency of everything to be telegraphed in advance has always mystified and baffled me. I don’t want to be warned of a shock, surprise ending, I want to be shocked and surprised by the ending. I mean, that’s how the writer, and the producer and the director, and the actors have designed it to be, and it does a disservice to their work if the twist ending is spelt out in detail in some tatty TV Celeb mag the week before broadcast: oh yeah, this is the bit where he shoots her, I read about this.
Of course, there were an array of knobhead comments from punters anxious to display their ignorance, mostly along the lines that there was no mystery to spoil, that the programme was such a piece of crap that everyone knew who the killer was in advance. No doubt they’d have been saying exactly the same thing about The Killing first series.
It got me thinking, though, about secrets, and keeping them. And of the easiest way of keeping a secret. Which is not to let anyone know that you have a secret that you are keeping.
I’ve had just that kind of secret for a number of years now. I did something that none of my friends or family knows about – nothing illegal, nothing that hurt anyone in any way, before anyone assumes. I’ve kept that secret absolute, by not letting any of them know I have a secret in the first place.
It’s not something completely unknown. People know that I did it, there are records of it, evidence could be found by those who know where to look, and what to look for. But the people who know I did it don’t know of me.
Could my friends or family find out about it? It’s perfectly possible. The evidence is there, it could be stumbled upon by chance, but the chances are infinitesimal. Should one of them read this, it would be the first time they knew I had anything hidden. And they’ve no idea where to begin looking. And, to the best of my knowledge of them, they would not be looking in the right place for their purposes.
Somewhere in my laptop, a trail points the way. Somewhere in my flat is something that would give them a clue (I say somewhere, because I’ve forgotten where I put it now).
It’s a secret. The easiest secret of all, because only I know I’m holding it.
And now I’ve gone and told it to the world. It’s still a secret, though. I’m not backing the world to find out either. Though you could impress me, one of these days.

JSA Legacies: No. 6 – The Spectre


 

SpectreAs I said in the introduction to this series, The Spectre was the last of the original Justice Society of America to have his role taken up by another, in 1999, in Day of Judgement. As we shall see, neither of the subsequent Spectres ripped up any trees, so that any review of his career will be, almost exclusively, of Jim Corrigan, the first, the classic Spectre.
Back in my fanzine days, I wrote an article on this subject, for Arkensword, in which I satirised the disparate phases of the Spectre’s career as being impossible to turn into a consistent, logical continuity, only to have a flash of insight a few years later that would have tied everything up into a continuing story. Sadly, not only had fanzines more or less disappeared by then, but Crisis on Infinite Earths had taken place, wiping out the very events that I was suddenly able to link.
The old stories still exist, and in that respect, The Spectre’s story is still one of conflicting decisions as to directions, status and power, with only the single common factor of Jim Corrigan to connect them.
The character was created by writer Jerry Siegel and artist Bernard Bailey for More Fun Comics 52, though some sources credit Siegel only. Yes, that Jerry Siegel, writer and co-creator of Superman. It’s hard to believe that someone who could conceive of Superman should not have had other, lasting creations, but only the notorious, and short-lived Funnyman would come after the Spectre, who would be even more powerful than the seminal Man of Steel.
Jim Corrigan was a hard-boiled New York Police Detective who’d just brought down half of ‘Gats’ Benson’s mob, and who had heiress Clarice Winston agreeing to marry him, though Corrigan made it clear that he would be boss. But the couple were kidnapped on Benson’s orders. Corrigan was dumped in a barrel of wet cement and thrown into the river, where he died. Clarice was shot.
Corrigan’s ghost left his body, ascended towards Heaven, but was sent back by a Voice that told him his work on Earth was not done, and that he must return and combat Evil. The Spectre returned to Earth and quickly defeated the mob. Benson died by looking into the Spectre’s eyes. The Spectre then restored Clarice’s soul to her body before, as Corrigan, breaking off their engagement brutally, without telling her he was now a ghost.
Corrigan returned to the Police, changing into the Spectre when he was needed. At first sight, his costume appeared to be in colours of dark green and white: dark green cape and hood, pulled up and shadowing his eyes, gloves, trunks and moccasins. But the white wasn’t costume, it was his bone-white ‘body’.

The Golden Age

The Spectre was initially very popular, appearing in the first two issues of All-Star as well as becoming a Justice Society founder-member in issue 3. He appeared in issues 3-23, although only in cameo roles in issues 11 and 21. In the former, the JSA disbanded to join the Armed Services, a course denied to the Spectre because, as a ghost, he’d never pass the physical! In the latter, he simply sat out the action whilst Doctor Fate and Sandman were shoe-horned back in for final appearances.
At first, the Spectre was a figure of great horror and menace, feeding into little boy’s imaginations by sending crooks to grisly and imaginative deaths. Just as Doctor Fate had been softened, this aspect was soon eradicated, and the Spectre fought all sorts of supernatural menaces, where he could cut loose in a fair fight.
Unlike with other members, changes in the Spectre’s series were not taken up in All-Star. The first of these came when the Voice authorised The Spectre to restore Jim Corrigan’s body to life. Corrigan now acted as a host from whom the Spectre would emerge to fight evil. This new status was quickly superseded when Corrigan joined the Army and went to fight overseas, leaving the Spectre behind, but as a ghost that was invisible and intangible.
This was where the series hit the skids, as the Spectre now played straight man to Percival Popp, the Super-Cop, a bumbler who improbably solved cases, thanks to the Spectre doing all the work for him.
Yet in All-Star The Spectre remained as he had been all along, a ghost playing on level terms with the other super-heroes, none of whose powers – among those who had them – were a thousandth as strong as his.
It was an awkward mix all along, achieved by conspicuously ignoring the total discrepancy, and pretending desperately that it all worked. The classic example of stretching disbelief beyond all plausibility came in All-Star 13, when a gang of Nazis incapacitate the entire JSA by sucking the air out of their meeting rooms. Even the Spectre – a dead man who doesn’t breathe – was knocked out because he hadn’t been given time to prepare his lungs for no air.
(It’s been argued that this story was planned to feature Doctor Fate – who dropped out to allow Wonder Woman a crack at the action – who was vulnerable to an attack on his lungs but that editor Mayer insisted on the Spectre because he preferred him. Or maybe because the Spectre had already stood down for Wonder Woman two issues earlier, and it was someone else’s turn).
The Spectre’s JSA membership ended after issue 23, when he and Starman were dropped as legally unavailable, a consequence of the All-American/Detective rift, but his final More Fun appearance in issue 101 came almost immediately. He was not seen again for twenty years.
The Golden Age revival was in full swing at National by 1966, with the Justice Society already settled into annual team-ups with the Justice League, and Julius Schwartz having already tried pairing JSA members – seemingly at random – in issues of Showcase and Brave & Bold. That randomness applied to the notion of featuring The Spectre with Doctor Mid-Nite: indeed, if the eventual portrayal of the Spectre was planned at that stage, the notion he needed to work with a man who could see in the dark becomes positively bizarre. Instead, the Spectre featured alone, in issues 60 and 61 of Showcase, once again by Fox and Anderson.

After twenty years…

The Avenging Ghost’s return after two decades was grand and grandiose. It was also National’s first-ever retcon, explaining what had taken the Spectre off the scene and kept him confined for so long. Jim Corrigan is now a Captain of Detectives in Gateway City, unchanged but for a streak of white in his otherwise red hair. He is guarding a young heiress whose fortune is missing, and reminiscing that the Spectre could have found it easily enough when, during a séance, he feels the Spectre emerge from his body, as he used to so long ago.
The ghost’s freedom is short-lived and he is soon forced back into Corrigan, but not before sending him to find a man named Paul Nevers, a bank-robber who has suddenly developed superpowers. Corrigan found himself fighting the urge to shoot Nevers, which he thankfully resisted. This enabled the Spectre to confront the evil Asmodus, his counterpart, who had ascended to Earth to roam and spread evil. But the powers of Asmodus and the Spectre were too balanced, and ended up cancelling each other out, imprisoning them in their respective hosts until Asmodus’s host died, thus releasing the Spectre. If Corrigan had shot Nevers, it would have sealed the Spectre in himself and leave Asmodus free.
Naturally, the Spectre defeated Asmodus and, next issue, his master Shathan (no prizes for guessing…). But, contrary to Schwartz’s expectations, the Spectre did not sell. Indeed, reaction to him was decidedly mixed. Schwartz tried again, dropping the Spectre into the 1966 JLA/JSA team-up,  and throwing him into Showcase 64 as well.
The team-up, the first to see the two teams mixed, was a weird story. People – heroes, villains, ordinary people – were being switched at random between Earths 1 and 2, and two ad hoc teams battled powerful, brutish behemoths that had traded places. Meanwhile, in space, the Spectre encountered a traveller from the Anti-Matter Universe, before observing Earths 1 and 2 on a collision course in warp-space. He places himself between them, hands on one Earth, feet on the other, outdoing Atlas and holding them apart… for a time.
In part 2, the mystery of the switching people is resolved by Ray (The Atom) Palmer turning off a machine on page 2. The heroes gather for a crazy battle against the Anti-Matter Man (if I tell you that this is appearing in the year when the Batman TV series was at its peak, can I get away with not explaining any more?) and the Atom 2 resolves everything by shrinking the Spectre down to an inch and restoring him to full size, which naturally causes a cosmic explosion that blows both Earths back into their rightful places (without so much as mussing anyone’s hair) and scattering the Spectre all over said cosmos. However, he draws all his molecules back and reforms himself. Mark that point.
It was the same old problem, but exacerbated by Schwartz and Fox’s decision to increase the Spectre’s powers to near-Messianic levels. The character could not be a superhero: by default he became an embodiment of good, to be pitted against embodiments of evil. Some fans identified the unsustainability of this concept immediately. At least one perceptive fan decried the absence of the underlying horror that would justify this approach. Indeed, Fox sought to place the Spectre’s magic on some kind of pseudo-scientific basis: the worst of both worlds.
Nevertheless, after a year’s delay, the Spectre was launched in his own series, with an opening issue by Fox and Anderson, but only one. This suggests to me that the story was an inventory issue, done for another Showcase try-out if needed.
The rest of the series was produced by diverse hands, including issues drawn and written by the newly popular Neal Adams. There were few good stories. New writer Steve Skeates did address the Spectre’s massive levels of power, unwittingly foreshadowing the next version in issue 9, when the Spectre casually killed two crooks and Corrigan blew up at him that it was completely unnecessary, given the extent of the Spectre’s power.
The Voice agreed, setting the Spectre to learn by reading cases from the Book of Judgement. In short, the Spectre was reduced to being host in his own series. Not that it lasted long: the book was cancelled after issue 10.
This was where things started to get complicated.
The Spectre received a farewell run-out in the 1970 team up, Justice League of America 82 and 83, during which the two teams never met, but tackled the same problem from opposite ends. There was a glaring error in the first part, when the Spectre sat in on a JSA meeting: presumably artist Dick Dillin had been given a list of this year’s featured JSAers, but no hints as to the second part.
Because the climax of the story involved Doctor Fate holding a séance to summon the Spectre from the crypt in which he is magically imprisoned. Once free, the Spectre interposes himself between Earths 1 and 2, again on a collision course, and saves the day by bouncing them both off his body (hello? Gravity? Momentum? The population?). This time, the competing gravitational stresses tear the Spectre apart, killing him. Notwithstanding that he was already dead, that being the whole point of him.
This time, the Spectre was gone for four years. He would return in very different form in a series running in Adventure 431-440.
After being the long-term home of Supergirl, Adventure was floundering around looking for a new vehicle. Then editor Joe Orlando was mugged at knife-point, in front of his wife, by two street thugs. Orlando seethed with impotent fury and decided to let it out with a hero that went further into violent retribution than usual. Novice writer Michael Fleisher was peddling a revival of the Spectre that took the character back to its earliest roots, and Orlando signed him up, with Jim Aparo on art.
Jim Corrigan was once again a ghost. An avenging ghost, drawn to crimes committed by irredeemably nasty criminals and avenging them by, in turn, slaughtering the slaughterers, in bizarre, horrific and terrifying fashion. A man turned into a candle and melted. Another turned to sand. A woman turned into crystal, tipped over and shattered. An evil hairdressers cut in two by his own scissors, grown to monstrous size. A man turned into wood, fed through a band-saw, and stacked.
It was an immediate success. It was gruesome and I admit that I was fascinated by it, but within a few issues it was stale. The stories were formulaic: bad guys kill, in nasty fashion, Spectre investigates and kills in even nastier fashion. The only ‘imagination’ on show was the latest graphic retribution.
The series was controversial from the off. Fans raged against it at Conventions and in fanzines. Fleisher, disingenuously, defended himself by pointing out that all these methods were drawn from the Spectre’s original stories, as if that somehow legitimized them, or as if Bernard Bailey was ever remotely as graphically detailed and gruesomely realistic as Aparo.
The run was cancelled after issue 440, swiftly enough that three bought and paid for scripts were left undrawn. Orlando sought to claim that it was nothing more than the usual commercial decision, but many years later, in a libel trial brought by Fleisher, it would be demonstrated that, though the book had suffered its first dip in circulation, it was still selling well above the level for cancellation. It’s generally accepted that the dip was just the first available excuse to end a series that was causing National a lot of grief.
I’ve listed several killings performed by the Spectre, but to me, this is the most significant example. Fleisher, in his first issue, had introduced another heiress, Gwen Sterling, who was attracted to Corrigan but, this time round, was allowed to learn that he was a ghost. That did not dampen her enthusiasm for him. Then, in Adventure 434, the villain captures her and sends a mannequin-Gwen to kill Detective Corrigan. When she tries to bury a hatchet in his head, Corrigan turns into the Spectre, animates the hatchet and chops the mannequin into seven separate body-parts in a single panel.
Only after doing so does he discover that this is not the real Gwen.

How NOT to treat your girlfriend

The cancellation did allow the run to end on a kind of ‘high’. In issue 339, Corrigan pleaded with the Voice to be allowed to relinquish this life, and the Voice reluctantly agreed to restore him to life. He just didn’t tell Corrigan, who only discovered he was human again when he got shot leading a raid. In this series, even God was a miserable bastard. It didn’t keep Corrigan from turning up at Gwen’s with his arm in a sling and greeting her with a passionate kiss (we are left to assume that he spent the night shagging her brains out, though to be fair it was thirty-five years since he last had any).
The next issue, Corrigan was murdered by gangsters, and the Voice resurrected him as the Spectre again. Like I said, miserable bastard.
Not only was the Adventure run so completely inconsistent with the Spectre’s previous run, but it displayed a total disdain for everything that had gone on before. Why was Corrigan a ghost again? How had the Spectre survived the two Earths? What about that crypt?
Orlando was dismissive: Denny O’Neill got him into that crypt, Denny O’Neill can get him out again: these are the adventures of the hitherto unsuspected Earth-1 Spectre. So was this The Spectre 2, twenty-five years early? We only had Joe Orlando to tell us that, and he also approved Fleisher writing an exchange in which a reporter is sarcastically called Clark Kent, and a naïve cop asks if he’s really Superman. On Earth-1?
No, if this Spectre was the Earth-1 Spectre, then it was a designation of temporary convenience, a substitute for thinking. What followed was erratic. On Earth-2, an invisible, intangible, Messianic Spectre interceded with the Voice to restore to life six JSAers killed in the 1975 team-up. The raging ghost Spectre clashed with Doctor Thirteen, the Ghost Breaker, an Earth-1 character. Jim Corrigan appeared in a single panel of All-Star 70. Then the Messianic version encountered Superman, the Earth-1 version in DC Comics Presents and Roy Thomas would explicitly state, but not convince anyone, that there was only one Spectre, and he’d moved to Earth-1.
It was not until Alan Moore brought the Spectre into his ongoing Saga of the Swamp Thing that the ghost finally was assigned a role that befitted his stature, though, sensibly, Moore didn’t try to explain past history beyond a cheerfully cynical John Constantine comment that the Spectre had been “up and down the occult league table more often than a whore’s knickers.”
This occurred in Saga of the Swamp Thing Annual 2, in part a codification of DC’s dead and their hierarchy. The Spectre was found guarding the road to Hell, charged with not letting the dead return. Since Swampy’s mission is to rescue Abigail Arcane’s soul, this threatened a confrontation: even the unjustly condemned must remain where they are put, insists the Spectre. But what of Jim Corrigan asks Swampy’s companion, the Phantom Stranger? The Spectre laughs, applauds the Stranger’s impudence, and allows them onwards.

“He’s opening his eyes”

Moore would use the Spectre again in the conclusion of his ‘American Gothic’ storyline in Swamp Thing, which would overlap with Crisis on Infinite Earths.
It’s very difficult to distinguish which comes first. The Spectre’s intervention in Crisis 10 is the actual end of the Multiverse: he confronts the Anti-Monitor at the Dawn of Time and their struggle shatters the Multiverse from its outset. It not merely ceases to exist, it has never existed. A timeless moment later, reality restarts, this time as a Universe, and the Spectre winds up in a psychic coma until it’s all over, so that he doesn’t overshadow everybody else.
It’s different in Swamp Thing. Swampy has failed to prevent the Brujeria from sending the bird to the chaoplasm beyond Hell, where it will summon the Ultimate Darkness, excluded from Heaven’s light since the very beginning. Instead of stopping the bird, the Spectre lets it pass, hubristicly relishing the opportunity to further the glory of God by confronting and defeating what is summoned.
But no-one understands the immensity of what is coming: the Spectre is flicked away like an annoyance: beaten, unhooded, crying for forgiveness, broken.
This leads directly into the truly awful Last Days of the Justice Society Special, the JSA’s intended last ride, that leaves them magically rejuvenated and eternally fighting Götterdämmerung in limbo, but the story is set up by the Spectre. Eager to redeem himself, he follows a source of magic that threatens to undo the entire Universe: it is Hitler in 1944, wielding the Spear of Destiny (a mystic talisman, supposedly the spear used to pierce the flank of Christ on the Cross).
Unfortunately, when Hitler hits him with the Spear, the Spectre starts to shrivel backwards out of existence. In desperation, he brings a message to the JSA (in 1985, when they are somewhat older and weaker) and sends them into battle to preserve the effects of the Crisis whilst he blinks out of existence.
So ended the Spectre, and with him all the confused, irrational choices of the preceding thirty-five years.
You’d think that we’d now get The Spectre 2, wouldn’t you? It’s the perfect moment. But instead it’s a new series, written by Doug Moench, and it was the same old story: Jim Corrigan – check: murdered by gangsters – check: returns as ghost – check. It’s The Spectre 1, this time from the ‘beginning’. His powers have been diminished, so much so that even transforming from Corrigan to Spectre was painful. And Corrigan was now a private eye, running a kind of occult detective agency in collusion with DC’s premiere fortune-teller, Madame Xanadu.
The series lasted 31 issues, plus a final appearance for this manifestation in Neil Gaiman’s The Books of Magic, a four issue Prestige format series that was, in part, a codification of DC’s magical characters and hierarchy. The series introduced Timothy Hunter, a fourteen year old who has the potential to become the greatest wizard in the world: many people believe him to be the source for Harry Potter, though Gaiman pooh-poohs the idea.
At long last though, in 1992, a new and more faithful series of The Spectre began, written by former theology student John Ostrander and drawn, bar a few fill-ins, by Tom Mandrake. It was the most thoughtful, complex, intelligent and interesting treatment the Spectre had ever received. It stayed true to the basic shibboleths of the character and his history, but broadened and deepened them immensely.
Corrigan was redefined in himself as a harsh, brutal, Thirties cop, son of a Hellfire preacher. He is sent back because he doesn’t trust God’s judgement, only his own. He is charged with not merely combating evil but with understanding it, though his own wilfulness blinds him to this latter command. The Spectre is also re-defined as an entity in itself, an Angel who rebelled alongside Lucifer but repented, and was set to be the manifestation of God’s wrath.
Alone, the Spectre lacks compassion: he must be bound to a human to gain understanding. And Corrigan, faced with nuanced moral issues, must slowly learn to forgive himself, and to come to trust God and desire peace.
The series went into heavy territory. The Spectre still drew Clarice Winston back from the dead but this time we see the dreadful damage done to a soul passing towards peace and then forced back against the strongest tide into its body. Azmodus returned as a prior host to the Spectre, who became corrupted by the power.
Most daringly, the Spectre, who is the Spirit of Vengeance, responding to blood that has been spilt unwarrantedly, pronounced on a fictional evil nation, Vlatava, killing everybody in it, bar two.
The Spectre (volume 3) ran for 62 issues and, though selling healthily, was cancelled for the sole reason that, as with Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, the creators had completed their story. Corrigan came to terms with himself at long last and sought lasting peace. He was allowed to lay down his burden, his old bones were buried, and he went to his reward in Heaven.
Clearly DC had not intended to dispense with the Spectre, but in a period when individual creative forces were being allowed their head, Ostrander and Mandrake had ended their story both logically and satisfyingly. And the company was now free to exploit the gap with the long-delayed The Spectre 2.
This was the subject of 1999’s crossover series, Day of Judgement, in which Etrigan the Demon has the hostless Spectre bound to the demon Asmodel (not Asmodus, this time), who uses his powers to unleash the demons and the dead on Earth. The only way to fight this is for a host to take the Spectre. Corrigan refuses, having found peace, but another volunteer, in Purgatory, was found to assume the Spectre’s mantle and wrest his powers from Asmodel.
The identity of The Spectre 2? Improbably, in fact, unbelievably, it was Hal Jordan. Hal Jordan, the former Green Lantern 2, Jordan who had turned renegade as Parallax and who had sacrificed his life to save Earth, and who now wanted to redeem himself of his sins. Psychologically and spiritually an ideal candidate, except that, well, this is Hal Jordan, Green Lantern. A science fiction character of forty years standing, a hero who uses technology, a servant of an alien race of judges, a spacefarer, a man with exclusively science-based foes. In short, as completely removed from the supernatural, the mystic, the ethereal as it is possible to be. He’s the new Spectre?
But he is. And he’s going to wear his Green Lantern costume under the Spectre’s hood and cape. A demonstration of commitment to his new role, yes indeedy.

The Spectre 2 – never forget your roots

The Spectre (volume 4) was written by J M De Matteis, and was concerned with spirituality. Jordan’s intent was to change the nature of the Spectre, to remake him from an agent of Revenge into an agent of Redemption. It did not work. It might have worked once, in an earlier time, but comics were still sliding towards ever more acceptable death, destruction, violence and graphic depiction, and this Spectre was swimming against a powerful tide.
The series was cancelled after 27 issues, but its true end was in JSA 60-62.  Jordan’s insistence on being the Spirit of Redemption weakens the hold the Spectre has on all the evil souls banished to Hell. Led by the Spirit King (for more details of whom, see the forthcoming Mr Terrific essay), they return to Earth, and can only be sent back by Jordan abandoning Redemption for Vengeance.
All this was a prelude to the Green Lantern: Rebirth series that restored Hal Jordan, but it also dovetailed into DC’s plans to have the Spectre cut loose: raw magical power, without a host.
This was the subject of the Days of Vengeance mini-series, one of several preludes to Infinite Crisis. Vulnerable without a host, the Spectre was seduced by the Jean Loring Eclipso (be fair: he hadn’t had any since that one night with Gwen Sterling, thirty years before) into seeing magic itself as the cause of Evil.
The Spectre set out to eradicate all magic, all its practitioners and, when this had been achieved, himself. In the end, he was challenged by Nabu, the last of the Great Ones of the Ninth Age of Magic. It was a sacrifice for Nabu: his death finally drew the attention of the Voice to its errant angel and the Spectre was bound, once again, to a human host.
This too was an existing character, Gotham City Police Detective Crispus Allen. Allen had been introduced in the police procedural series Gotham Central, focussing on the policing of a violent city like Gotham with a quasi-legal vigilante continually interfering. A long running sub-plot had entangled Allen with a crooked CSI named Jim Corrigan (no relation) but before Allen could get proof, he was shot in the back and killed by Corrigan. The protesting Spectre was forced into Allen’s body in the morgue, and he became The Spectre 3.
As the Spectre, Allen reverted to the classic costume, the only difference being that the Spectre now bore Allen’s moustache and goatee beard. His period saw a return to the character’s roots in vengeance for blood taken unwarrantedly. Allen did not, at first, want to be the Spectre, and was granted a year to think about it (corresponding with 52) and only reluctantly, and with no seeming control over the Spectre’s taking of blood, accepted the job, even though it required him to execute his own son.

The Spectre 3 – the price of power

It was in many ways a resurrection of the Fleisher/Aparo series, with less structure and a deeper but more perfunctory depiction of evil and decadence. It ended in Justice League of America, in James Robinson’s ‘Rise of Eclipso’ storyline: The Spectre’s old enemy lures him into a trap, cleaves him in two with a sword and takes the Spectre’s powers.
It’s an ignoble end, the more so because the new 52 intervened to wipe away all that has gone before. You will be little surprised to learn that already a Police Detective named Jim Corrigan has been lured to his death, and returned as The Spectre. The wheel turns on.

The Ball of the Century


I hardly need set the scene for this recollection, do I? The title identifies the time, the place, the people, the moment. It brings up the picture in all cricket fans’ minds, that twenty years after, still has the power to awe us.
But this blog is for more than just the already aware, so let me describe what I’m talking about.
It was 4 June 1993, after lunch, on the Second Day of the First Test between England and Australia, at Old Trafford, a somewhat dark, overcast day, with the threat of rain at several points. I was, as usual, holidaying from work, taking the full five days of the Test, and sat in the Pavilion. Australia had won the toss and elected to bat, and had scored 289 all out. England began their reply comfortably enough, scoring 71 for the first wicket, which had brought former captain Mike Gatting to the wicket.
I confess to not liking Gatting, especially as an England captain. Everybody spoke of his qualities as a leader, that the players would follow him anywhere, without ever conceding that he had no idea where to lead his team. He’d played under Mike Brearley and hadn’t even absorbed Brearley’s simplest maxim – if it isn’t working, try something else. Nor could I admire his habit of deliberately misunderstanding the question whenever he was called upon to defend himself over the way he had thrown away his wicket, and England’s chances of success, in the 1989 World Cup Final against Australia.
Personally, I didn’t believe he deserved his place, but I wasn’t a Selector, and have never suffered from the apparent belief of Selectors everywhere that past success demands a player be selected forever. That he was to be at the wicket added a personal pinch of spice for me.
Australia had brought over a bowler, a leg-spinner, who was being boosted as the next greatest thing. And a leggy as well: that art had been virtually dead until Abdul Qadir opened the tomb and started entertaining everyone. His name was Shane Warne, and he looked like a bleached beach-bum and surfer, and in his only Tour Match to date, against Worcestershire, Graeme Hick had taken him apart quite thoroughly. So, another Aussie wonderboy who would prove to be unable to make an impression outside his native land, then. They got us with that one, and good.
Border decided that it was time to bring Warne into the attack, his first Test over in English conditions. They placed the field, somewhat conventionally. Gatting, the master of spin, the aggressor and smiter of the twirly men. Except in one mean and malicious heart, sat before the Pavilion, everyone was mentally settling in for some lusty blows from Fatty Gatting.
So Warne started ambling in for his first ball. Just an aimless few paces, wandering forward, before springing into his delivery stride: pretty much what I did when I bowled, in fact! Gatting clearly decided it should be left alone and didn’t play at the ball.
But wait! The Aussie slip cordon and the keeper were roaring, and sprinting forward, waving their arms! Warne was celebrating. Gatting was standing there, looking the picture of What The Hell. Was he out? He was out? How the Hell…?
Those people who were sat in Old Trafford with something like a straight on view of the wicket already knew what Warne had done: the rest of us, including the whole Pavilion, were left to look at the big digital screen for a replay of what we had witnessed but been unable to interpret. Even Gatting, heading back to the Pavilion, stopped to look at just what had been done to him.
These early big screens were far from HD, and often the ball was visible only as a dark blur, or smear, if it could be seen at all. It took two replays to comprehend it. One to simply stare in disbelief, the other to begin to look, with cold calculation, at what it was we were seeing.
Warne brought his arm over, released the ball. It was the prototypical loosener, pitched on leg stump and then drifting further out in its trajectory to pitch well wide of leg: imagine into existence a second set of stumps, continuing the line, and this would have pitched middle stump on set 2. And then it leapt, yes, leapt, spun viciously back on itself, spat past the precautionary edge of Gatting’s bat and hit off stump on the corporeal set.
Could a ball do that? I mean, it had, but it had never done that before, not in my life or my experience. In the moment of that first replay, there was a strange sound from the crowd, myself included. It was shock, awe, appreciation, all mixed into the sound of a moment of passage from past into future,
It was just a ball, just a bloody good leg-spinner, but in that moment, Shane Warne won not merely the First Test but the entire series, and he shifted Cricket itself into a future where, having shown what could be done, he had initiated a furious race to do it again. We have lived in Shane Warne’s world since then, and cricket has been immeasurably better for it.
And it was his first bloody ball too! What would he do when he’d warmed up?
The first thing he went on to show was that that was not a fluke, as if, in some corners of desperate English minds there was the faintest of hopes that it might have been some sort of freak ball, something that could never happen again. But later in that innings, he bowled one to Alec Stewart that pitched on leg stump of the imaginary set and came back so far it passed outside off stump of the real set.
The two sides were playing in different dimensions from that point on. The crowd was intent upon Warne’s every delivery, none of this relax and wait for him to come in and bowl, every delivery could be something unforgettable and no-one wanted to miss any of it. From the Pavilion, we were all helplessly reliant on the big screen to show us what we were watching. I remember laughing my head off, unable to control myself, when Warne induced Gooch to throw his wicket away with a hasty swipe to mid on: it wasn’t that ball that got Gooch out but the half dozen before it, the balls that Warne were making boom every which way, and Gooch unable to pick anything, until the sloppy full toss came straight at him and his desperate resistance broke in the chance of a hittable ball, an actual hittable ball, and he bagged it straight to the fielder.
Oddly, the same game offered another I was There moment on the final day. England were batting for the draw, hoping to hold out, and generally managing with relative comfort, thanks to the captain’s innings by Graham Gooch, which had already reached 133 runs. And in comes the gloriously moustached Merv Hughes, with his mincing, almost tiptoe run and his upper body bulk, and unleashing a delivery. Gooch tries to cut but it’s too close to his body. He chops the ball down into the ground behind him: it bounces to waist height and drops back. It’s going to hit the stumps, but Gooch sweeps his right arm at him, knocks it away off his forearm, and I’m going ‘oh shit’ and that’s before the Aussies go up.
He’s out. I’ve never seen it happened, but I know the Laws, he’s handled the ball. He could have knocked it away with his bat, and it would have been Hit Twice but he’d have been ok because of In Defence of Wicket. He’d have been safe with the back of his hand, as long as it held the bat. But his arm was free and he’s used his forearm and he’s Out. Only the sixth English player in Test History to be out Handled the Ball.
Dickie Bird knows it’s out, the Aussies know it’s out, but he tries to give them the chance to withdraw it, to not do this, for some, unbelievable reason to not claim the wicket of a top rank opponent holding out against victory, for a perfectly legitimate, merely rare dismissal. Are you sure you want to do this? he asks out there, as the crowd waits in suspense for a decision. But he’s out, clear as day, and why should Australia withdraw? So Goochie has to walk, and with him goes the faint hope of denying the Aussies victory.
Two incidents in one memorable Test. The Ball of the Century and a Handled the Ball, in one game. Almost an embarrassment of riches. You don’t expect such things to come to you in clusters, but they did, and I was there.

The Prisoner: In the Village


Where am I?
In the Village.
But what is the Village?
“The Village is a place where people turn up. People who have resigned from a certain sort of job, have defected, or been extracted. The specialised knowledge in their heads is of value to one side or the other.” (Number Six to Colonel J. in The Chimes of Big Ben).
The central image of the Village is of the chocolate-box, folly Italianate exterior, populated by people dressed in striped and piped holiday clothing, in perpetual sunshine, doing aimless things with a contented air, all of which disguises a modernistic interior: large, circular rooms, steel-lined corridors, laboratories full of massive computer banks with whirring tapes (the one area in which the series, most obviously, does not anticipate the future). Inside, the hidden controllers, outside, the controlled.
The dichotomy is the heartspring of the series, the future against which McGoohan wanted to warn, and did so in vain.
If we look a little closer at the actual dynamics of the Village, other than as they relate to the fixation with Number Six, we quickly realise that the title of ‘The Village’ is misleading. A Village is where people live, work, play, a place where generations mingle, or else form strata, side-by-side. Immediately, there is a problem. The Village has its share of old residents – the Admiral with his chess-set, Number Eighty-Six with her tapestry – but the other end of the scale is conspicuous by its absence.
There’s a brief reference to the ‘Village Children’ in the weakest of the ‘filler’ episodes (which we’ll come to), but nowhere else are they referred to. Indeed, looking at the series as a whole, there are very few actors or actresses who appear to be under the age of thirty, and only two of them – Alison in The Schizoid Man and the Watchmaker’s Daughter in It’s Your Funeral – in major roles.
Even though the Watchmaker’s Daughter refers to a group of younger inhabitants who call themselves ‘Jammers’, she is the only one to appear.
This microcosmic society is something of an unbalanced one.
Nor is it a working society. There are those who undertake jobs: gardeners, waitresses, maids and cleaners, electronics repairers, staff at the hospital, at least one shopkeeper (who probably has a monopoly, adding a layer of irony to his cheerful hope in Arrival that he’ll “have the pleasure of (Number Six’s) custom.” But the vast majority of the Villagers do no such things. They sit at the beach. They listen to the band concerts. They march in the band. They walk or cycle around the stone pond in the Village centre endlessly. They perambulate with no direction. They work not, nor do they toil.
The holiday camp appearance of the Village is more than just an image.
Who are the Villagers? We know that they are Prisoners and Warders, and that it is not possible to tell which is which (Number Six is given a clue as to a reliable method of doing so, in Checkmate, only for it to blow up in his face). Nor is it simply that those who work in the Village work for it.
Are all of them former spies, that is, people of an unusual talent for dissemblance, a high degree of intelligence, logical thinkers and planners, possessed of specialised knowledge that prevents them from being allowed to go free? That is what we are initially led to think, though The Rook in Checkmate is explained as a scientist. The sheep-like nature of the Village’s inhabitants is more plausible if the make-up is not exclusively former agents.
And, as we will see in Checkmate, Number Six is able to put together a small team of people wishing to escape.
And is Number Six the only problem case the Village has to handle? That it seems so is the nature of the thriller series format: McGoohan is the hero and, in keeping with the assumptions of the time – both creators and audience – all things must focus upon and be filtered through him. Cobb, in Arrival, initially appears to be in the same boat as Number Six, and a lot further along in the programme, but (though Number Six remains unaware of this, he is a defector. On the other hand, Number Six meets a second former colleague, Roland Walter Dutton, who is undergoing extraction of his secrets in Dance of the Dead, and his plight is horribly real.
Add to this Number Two’s insinuations in The Chimes of Big Ben that the previous Number Eight has tried to escape, with disastrous consequences, and we are reminded that the Village is not quite as harmonious as it is so frequently represented. Whilst we focus on Number Six, who is the Village’s top priority, we should accept that, elsewhere, other plots of Escape, Resistance and Revolt are in play, for all we know.
It’s a shame that this could not have been addressed more directly in the series, as would have been possible nowadays. An escape attempt wholly independent of Number Six, one that he sought to contribute to but was refused because the other prisoner did not trust him; or that he was invited to join but did not, assuming it was entrapment when all along it was real. In a series where one of the underlying themes was paranoia, these are strong subjects, and would have contributed to the Village’s overall menace by showing it as directed against someone other than their principal Prisoner.
There is some of that to Checkmate, but perhaps it might have diffused rather than broadened the series? The point of Number Six’s paranoia was that it was always justified.
One final point: given the isolation in which the Village exists, what of the logistics of it? The Village is home to some 250 people at least, people who eat, drink, wear clothes, pursue hobbies. We rarely, if at all, see books, which may be banned, though the materials for writing exist, but the resources to entertain and occupy so many people must exist – where do all the materials come from that go to create the Art exhibition?
Yet the only contact with the outside world is a single helicopter, once a day.
How do they do it? It’s a mundane question and we can all devise mundane, off-stage answers. Yet the absence of such answers on screen, the shying away from even thinking of the question, helps to support the essence of the Village as a bubble: a Brigadoon, a fairy-world that has no need for the real world and is, in fact, magically independent of everything.
In the end, the Village remains what it is, an artificial environment, a surreal place of detainment that is Holiday Camp and Prison in both of its respects, where the smile of the captors presides over the jollity and everybody does what they want and what they are told because the two have become the faces of the same coin. McGoohan/Number Six protests loudly, but the noise of the laughter of the happy campers rises everywhere and overwhelms all warnings.
We all live in the Village now.

JSA Legacies: No. 5 – Doctor Fate


Doctor Fate 1, by Alex Ross

In contrast to the previous subjects in this series, Doctor Fate’s history is much more simple. Even though DC’s Master of Magics is, courtesy of the New 52, into his seventh incarnation, more than even Green Lantern, those characters have progressed linearly, with only the briefest of overlap as the Helm of Nabu is passed on to its next wearer.
Doctor Fate was created by Gardner Fox and artist Howard Sherman for More Fun Comics 55, published, in contrast to the other heroes so far, by Detective Comics. He was not the first magician in comics, but instead of lounge suits, or turbans to indicate his mystic character, Fate wore a full-face golden helm, with gold cloak, epaulettes, high-waisted trunks and boots, over an azure long-sleeved top and leggings.
The good Doctor was not, at first, given a secret identity. He was Doctor Fate and that is what he was: a mysterious figure composed of magics, gothic and Lovecraftian in adventure and voice – the latter emphasised by Sherman’s eccentric lettering – until Detective abruptly had him take off his helmet at the end of More Fun 66, revealing to his companion, red-haired debutate Inza Cramer, that he is a man named Kent Nelson.
Nelson’s origin proved to be somewhat disturbing. Aged 12, Kent had accompanied his father Sven Nelson on an archaeological dig that uncovered a lost pyramid in Egypt. After their superstitious bearers had fled, the Nelsons entered the pyramid alone. Kent opened a sarcophagus, releasing a poison gas that killed his father. The sarcophagus contained a mummy, which gave its name as Nabu, from the planet Cilia, who had come to Earth in ancient times. Nabu placed Kent in suspended animation, raised him to adulthood, taught him great magical powers and sent him out into the world to fight evil as Doctor Fate. Creepy or what?
And it was not long before DC further softened Fate’s spooky series. For no given reason – save that Detective Comics, having a former peddler of soft porn and an associate of several mobsters for an owner, wanted to avoid any attention from the bodies already accusing comics of being unsuitable for children – Fate abruptly put aside his helm for a half-face version exposing his nose and mouth, dropped the magic except for flight and invulnerability, and starting talking like a good ol’ red-blooded American boy instead.
Doctor Fate, though owned by Detective Comics, was a founder member of the Justice Society, published in All-American’s All-Star. He appeared in issues 3-12 and 14-21 before being dropped from the line-up with no ‘onstage’ explanation. The Doctor lost his place as a consequence of war-time paper rationing, forcing All-Star to cut its page-length and the JSA line-up. Doctor Fate, and his fellow victim, Sandman, were supposed to bow out in issue 20, in which they only appeared in the opening and closing chapters, but they were inexplicably revived the following issue, to the extent that they appear to have been inserted into a story already drawn.
All this did was to postpone the inevitable three months, and to make Fate’s final All-Star appearance almost simultaneous with his last appearance in More Fun 98. Only three other JSA members in the Forties would make fewer appearances.

The half-helm Doctor Fate

It was almost twenty years before Nelson returned. Doctor Fate did not appear in either of the Justice Society cameos in The Flash 129 and 137, these being based on later All-Star issues, so his return came in Justice League of America 21 where, for no apparent reason, he chairs the first new Justice Society meeting, even though once-permanent Chairman Hawkman is present.
Unlike Hawkman or Atom, Schwartz and Fox brought Doctor Fate back in his original helm and with his magics intact, although he spoke the same bland dialogue as everyone else. If anyone was concerned at all these seemingly random changes, they would have to wait twenty years for the explanations.
As we’ve seen already, Doctor Fate was a minor character in the Forties. But, from his return in 1963, the Master Mage grew in strength, becoming one of the more popular JSA members when it came to the annual team-ups and in years to come, when DC made their first attempt to remove the JSA from the Universe, the only Forties member to be retained.
This came about somewhat slowly at first. After the new Atom, Schwartz had announced an end to the creation of new adaptations. Instead, he started on a short-lived programme of reviving the original Golden Age heroes themselves, testing for a market for old glories. The first beneficiary of this was Doctor Fate, teamed with Hourman for two memorable, if commercially unavailing, issues of Showcase, drawn by Murphy Anderson. The pairing was eccentric – a man of magic and a man of science – but the stories were fun, and the second unveiled the new Psycho-Pirate, who now literally manipulated emotions.
Apart from that, Fate would appear in the annual team-ups. After Fox left Justice League of America, writers such as Denny O’Neill and Len Wein would start to develop Fate’s speech towards the mystic and melodramatic again. But it would not be until 1975, in First Issue Special 9, written by Martin Pasko, and drawn by Walt Simonson, that Fate would be simply, yet radically redefined. It is probably the most significant story in the Doctor’s whole career.
It was Fate’s first ever full-length story and whilst Simonson brought his signature visual flair to the issue, marrying Fate’s exercise of his powers to the Egyptian Ankh, a link that would remain forever, Pasko deftly reconstructed the Doctor as two separate entities: Doctor Fate as the intangible entity within the Helm (later specified as Nabu himself) and Kent Nelson as his frequently unknowing human host. All portrayals of Doctor Fate since have derived from this story.
Pasko also introduced another element that would be of growing significance, and that was Inza Nelson’s discomfort with the life forced on her: decades spent alone, friendless, in a windowless magical tower in Salem, kept young by Fate’s magic but, by that very token, unable to come to terms with the continual disappearance of her husband and the abiding fear that he may never return.
For the moment, the redefined Doctor Fate continued in the revived All-Star, and in the subsequent JSA Origin, coming almost forty years after their début. Fate was a prominent part of this series.
After the JSA’s continuation run in Adventure was cancelled, the emphasis in All-Star Squadron took matters back to the early Forties. Roy Thomas used this period to cram in as many retcons as he possibly could, as we saw with The Atom 1, and this extended to Doctor Fate. The good Doctor was, in 1942, confirmed in his half-helm phase (which Thomas preferred), but a later story provided a simple explanation which made good use of Pasko’s story: Nelson simply put the Helm of Nabu aside the first time he found something in the Helm trying to take him over.
Thomas couldn’t resist returning to this theme later, when Nelson was forced to return to his old helm, and the powers it represented, to battle the sorceror Kulak: during the battle, the helm was wrenched from his head and donned by Kulak, only for the latter’s third eye to reflect upon himself and send him tumbling through an infinity of dimensions.
A footnote promised a story that would detail how Nelson recovered the Helm of Nabu just before Justice League of America 21: no such story ever appeared.
Finally, in America vs. the Justice Society, Thomas also explained away Doctor Fate’s resignation from the JSA as being a consequence of Nelson’s growing conviction that he could do more for the War Effort by (magically) retraining in medicine and becoming a military doctor.
By this time, Crisis on Infinite Earths was in preparation for its 1985 publication. Before that, there was one final, and significant, Doctor Fate series to contemplate. This appeared as a back-up in The Flash 305-312, two four part stories, one written by Pasko, the other by Steve Gerber, both drawn by Keith Giffen in the ultra-polished style that had made his name on Legion of Superheroes.
Both returned to the theme of Inza’s inability to accept the life she led. She found herself the object of fascination of a certain Museum Director, to the extent that, at the very point Fate was battling for his life and desperate for the anchor and escape that Inza provided his host, she was enthusiastically kissing the guy. Fate’s enemy sought to have Nelson doubt his love, and refuse Doctor Fate, a plan that came close to fruition, and to causing Inza’s death. But a furious Nelson saved Inza’s life by drawing her into the transformation into Fate with him, giving her for the first time insight into what it meant to be Fate. It seemed strange that this moment should be left dangling, but it was not forgotten. The mysterious Museum Director, on the other hand, was.
As I’ve already indicated, after the Crisis the Justice Society were shoveled into a limbo they were not supposed to return from, saving only two of its junior, 1970’s members (which, sadly, did not include the original Huntress, but the Crisis had painted DC into too many corners there). Doctor Fate too was preserved.
At first, it seemed that Doctor Fate would simply be folded into the new DC Universe. His first appearance, unlikely as it seemed, was in Super-Friends 2, a limited series focused on selling toys, which may or may not have been in continuity, and whose major distinction was art by Jack Kirby. Indeed, the series was partly created to enable Kirby to redesign all his Fourth World characters of the early Seventies – Darkseid et al – and thus qualify him to receive royalties on all their future appearances, a generous gesture by DC in a different age from now.
And, in the pages of Legends, Doctor Fate would help found the newest Justice League, and feature prominently in its first half-dozen issues. All these appearances, it should be noted, were of Doctor Fate, and not Kent Nelson. And, after forty-eight years, they were a farewell to Fate’s oldest and longest identity.
It was not the first time it had been done since the heyday of Julius Schwartz: in the run-up to Crisis, Roy Thomas alone had three times come up with new figures to take old names, as we will see. Now it was the turn of writer J M DeMatteis with Keith Giffen (using his drastically different angular new style) to introduce the new and unexpected Doctor Fate in a four-issue mini-series.
It fed from that last back-up story in The Flash. When Kent and Inza had merged, they had become aware that they had always, from the very beginning, been intended to form Doctor Fate together, but that Nabu had excluded Inza so that he could control Fate’s powers. Distraught at the waste of forty years of her life, Inza committed suicide. Kent, devastated, rejected all of Nabu’s spells, growing old overnight. He had agreed to assist Nabu in finding the new Doctor Fate, after which he would be released to die and join Inza.
We were then introduced to an extremely odd couple, Eric and Linda Strauss, related by marriage. Eric was the 10-year old son of a prominent mobster, and Linda was the guy’s 29-year old second wife and Eric’s stepmother. The two had a strange affinity, that rather disturbed Linda (as it should!), but the upshot was that these two were to be the new Fate. Eric was accelerated into manhood, his father died and the two were free to freely (and creepily) associate, both in real life and as Doctor Fate 2.
The mini-series was followed by an ongoing series, written by De Matteis but drawn in a very bucolic fashion by Shawn MacManus. In keeping with the times, dominated by the interpretation of the JLI as a situation comedy, much of the new Doctor Fate was played for laughs, in among the superheroics, with the Strauss’s stumbling in their new role(s). Kent had died, but his aged body lived on, occupied by Nabu as the pair’s advisor, whilst a dog-like demon from Hell named Petey became the pair’s ‘pet’ and their gangling, clumsy lawyer neighbour Jack C. Small got very curious about them.

Doctor Fate 2 – the Linda Strauss half

But De Matteis had a serious story in mind, which played out over the first 24 issues of the series. As early as issue 5, Eric fell ill (with a cold) and was unable to merge, leaving Linda to become a decidedly female Doctor Fate alone. This was featured in Fate’s second and final Justice League adventure, to much confusion and sly glances from the increasingly juvenile male members (sic). But the situation suddenly developed tragic dimensions: Linda-Fate was drawn to Darkseid’s realm of Apokalips, the still sickly Eric transformed into a male Doctor Fate to come to her assistance but, in getting Linda-Fate away, Eric-Fate was killed.
And without Eric, Linda could not handle the full energies of Fate alone. It became a race against time to find a new Doctor Fate, before his uncontrolled energies were unloosed. In the meantime, De Matteis – who was always prone to the glutinously spiritual – had introduced a treacly sweet little girl with cuddly parents who were going to die early, but she’s going to become a new messiah and need parents to guide her until then: to round his story off, Eric and Linda were reincarnated into those parents to protect the horribly smiley little creature, and Petey and Jack ventured into Fate’s Amulet of Anubis, where they found the spirits of… Kent and Inza Nelson, and son.
The Nelsons had not died after all. Nabu had housed their spirits in the amulet where they could enjoy a full, normal life, including children, the life that Fate had denied them, but which they were now being called upon to leave. Though Inza in particular fought against acceptance, at last the Nelsons agreed to return, and become Doctor Fate once more.
Bill Messner-Loebs took over Doctor Fate with issue 25 and immediately threw a new spanner in the works. Rehoused in rejuvenated bodies, and merging the Salem tower into a New York brownstone in a run-down area, the Nelsons set out to resume as Doctor Fate 1. Unfortunately, Kent didn’t make it through the transformation, leaving Inza to perform alone as Doctor Fate 3.

Doctor Fate 3 – Inza Nelson

Loebs’s series reflected his socialist leanings, a background that encouraged Inza to explore her own, female instincts towards the use of power, which was more proactive, more devoted to improving people’s lives and much less directed at thumping people magically.
Kent, at first happy to cede a role he’d never really enjoyed, grew concerned about Inza’s handling of the role, which in turn led to words and a temporary separation. As things grew more complicated, Kent constructed a version of his second period costume: half helm, blue and gold top and jeans, with minor magics to assist him, to aid Inza and to draw out the Chaos Lord who had created this situation by blocking Kent from the merger and feeding Inza Chaos-derived magics. In keeping with Chaos’s lack of rationality, this had all been done out of nothing but fun and malice.
Loebs’s run lasted a further 16 issues, including a couple of fill-ins. When he moved on, there was no-one with any clear vision of what they wanted to do with Fate and so, though the series was still selling above the cancellation level, DC decided to end it rather than start a half-hearted new phase that would quickly decline.
The Justice Society were back by this time, though their short-lived series had come and gone without the Doctor. It was rumoured that it had been cancelled politically, as bad for DC’s image. Whether this was true or not, the JSA’s next appearance was in Zero Hour where their ranks were decimated and the team finally disbanded. Doctor Fate was at that fateful fight, in male form at the last, but The Extant used his powers to split Fate into Kent and Inza, and age them to a point where they were too frail to undertake the transformation.
The next Doctor Fate did not actually use the title, simply calling himself Fate (The Doctor is Out). Jared Stevens was a smuggler and mercenary hired by the Nelsons to retrieve Doctor Fate’s accoutrements – the helm, cloak and amulet – from Egypt. When he delivered them, the Nelsons were attacked and killed by demons. Stevens tried to defend himself with the amulet, which exploded, scarring his right side: he wound up with a red ankh tattoo over his eye, the rags of the cloak wrapped around his arm, and with a dagger and ankh-shaped throwing knives instead of the helm.

(Doctor) Fate 4 – Jared Stevens

It was all part of DC’s new ‘Dark Side’ strand, part of the ongoing, increasing trend (I cannot say progress) towards ever more adult situations and stories, adult here being taken in its limited definition as more bloody and violent. As (Doctor) Fate 4, Stevens was now an Agent of Balance, not of Order, but basically he was a demon-hunter with the kind of knife that featured in the Hollywood film Jagged Edge, which was what counted. He lasted five years and two series: 22 issues of Fate and 12 issues of The Book of Fate for which he was retconned into a grave-robber who had the powers of Fate forced onto him by an incredibly aged and all-but-mad Kent and Inza, looking to dump their lifelong burden onto someone else’s shoulders. Neither series was particularly likeable and by the end of The Book of Fate, Stevens was formally abandoned by every occult force that mattered. It was an ideal set-up for the next stage.
James Robinson’s extremely successful Starman series, which had also come out of Zero Hour, had fueled demand for the return of the JSA, and this time DC were willing to accede. Robinson’s concept for the new JSA series involved a considerable modification of the team. It would still include the few surviving originals, but it would develop into a family, with first, second and third generations of heroes, welcoming, assisting and training new legacies.
Robinson and his writing partner David Goyer built the JSA’s return about the funeral of the original Sandman, and the off-stage and off-handed murder of Jared Stevens by The Dark Lord, a figure who was disposing of magically powered characters, intent on seizing those of Doctor Fate, who was due to be reborn. The ad hoc JSA protected the newly-borns who, it was prophesied, included the next Fate and succeeded in enabling the chosen one to be immediately accelerated to manhood and to take on Fate’s role: Doctor Fate 5.

Doctor Fate 5 – Hector Hall

When the new Doctor Fate removed his helm, he was immediately recognised as the former Infinity Inc. member the Silver Scarab, aka Hector Hall, son of the Golden Age Hawkman and Hawkgirl. Doctor Fate 5 was actually Hector’s third identity, having spent some time as Sandman 3 (as we will see). His costume revived the azure and gold look, with the resolutely Egyptian addition of a ceremonial gold collar.
Doctor Fate 5 did have his own five issue mini-series at one point, but the Hall version spent most of his time in and with the JSA. This version of Fate was racked by Hall’s insecurity and doubts. He obsessively searched for his lost wife, Hyppolita (The Fury) Trevor, which blinded him to an assault by the Dark Lord, who had been revealed as Mordru, the Legion’s sorcerous foe a thousand years hence. This led to him being put through an Intervention inside his amulet, by Nabu and all the previous Fates: the Nelsons, the Strausses and Stevens, plus Kid Eternity, who was thrown in for reasons too complex to go into now.
It was only a temporary success, and Nabu once more took control of Doctor Fate before Hall, again, fought his way back, collecting Lyta en route, but completely ignoring her story as played out over many issues of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman.
This on-going emphasis on Hall’s inadequacies did nothing to establish him or Doctor Fate as a vivid character again, and it came as no surprise that Hector Hall was, in the end, swept away very easily. In Day of Vengeance, one of the forerunners to Infinite Crisis, The Spectre (as we will see) went wild and tried to destroy all magics. Hall and Lyta were imprisoned in a dimension inside the helm of Nabu, where they froze to death in snowy mountains, their spirits at the last being taken by the new Dream (of the Sandman mythos), who was based upon their son Daniel Hall (later, again, later).
For the remainder of the struggle against the Spectre, Nabu himself incarnated the Helm, cloak and amulet, until, by cornering the Spectre into killing him, he forced a resolution to the crisis in magic.
But the helm needed a new master, to enable a Doctor Fate 6. After passing through various hands, it came to its new host, homeless and severely depressed psychologist, Dr Kent V. Nelson, a distant grandnephew of Kent Nelson himself. The younger Nelson was introduced in a mini-series written by Steve Gerber, but sadly Gerber died before completing its final instalment. Four other writers wrote separate four page endings, and the younger Nelson, in the traditional costume, but without the gold trunks, went on to join the latest incarnation of the JSA.

Doctor Fate 6 – Kent V. Nelson

How this latest Fate would have developed remains unknown, as the New 52 threw out all this old continuity, none of which has now ever happened. A brand new Doctor Fate is in the process of emerging, in Earth-2: Doctor Fate 7 is Egyptian and so far is only known as Khalid. All I can say is that that seems to be a very unsatisfactory end to a long career.