Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Comic Book Ghosts

It's Halloween, a date associated with ghosts. Here's a quick survey of ghosts in comic books.

The most prominent comic book ghost is Casper the Friendly Ghost. He started out in film shorts but I know him best from Harvey Comics, the same people who published Richie Rich.

Casper was portrayed as an oddity among ghosts. Most ghosts want to scare people but Casper wants to be friends. Of course, people are inevitably scared when they realize that he is a ghost. While the movie explained that he was, indeed, a dead boy, the comics skirted this issue. Ghosts seemed to be just another class of supernatural creature.

Casper had a large supporting cast who often stared in solo stories. These included the Ghostly Trio - three older, larger ghosts who loved to scare people, Spooky the Tough Little Ghost who wore a derby and had a Jersey accent, Nightmare the Ghost Horse and Wendy the Good Little Witch who had her own version of the Ghostly Trio.

There have been a few ghosts in super hero comics. The most important of these is DC's Specter. There have been numerous versions of the Specter. In the Golden age he was a powerful super hero. He returned in the Silver Age and seemed to be able to pull powers out of the proverbial hat. In these versions he was the ghost of detective Jim Corrigan but he had used his powers to revive Corrigan so the two were separate beings. The Specter needed to rest in Corrigan's body but otherwise they went their separate ways.

In the 1970s the Specter was recreated. In this version he and Corrigan were the same being. Corrigan would investigate murders. When the murderer was found, he would become the Specter and take horrific vengeance in the name of the murdered.

In the 1980s the Specter became the embodiment of good (or something like that), and nearly all-powerful. After Green Lantern Hall Jordan went crazy and tried to destroy the universe, he spent a while doing penance as the new Specter.

DC's other ghost couldn't be more different from the Specter. This was Dead Man, an assassinated trapeze artist who came back as a ghost to find his killer. Dead Man was invisible and immaterial. He could only interact with the physical world by possessing people. Dead Man stories were hard-edged and realistic. Ironically, Neal Adams drew both the Specter and Dead Man at the same time.

DC also had a villain called the Gentleman Ghost who was a real ghost.

As far as I can remember Marvel has had very few ghosts. Many characters have returned from the dead but most return to life instead of becoming ghosts. Marvel is full of supernatural characters like the Ghost Rider who is not a ghost.

I can think of a couple of exceptions, both one-shots. Mephisto, the embodiment of evil, wanted a surrogate against the Silver Surfer and used the Flying Dutchman.

The World War I aviator, the Phantom Eagle, was killed and came back as a ghost complete with a ghost biplane.

Other comic book companies have used ghosts as heroes. Independent publisher Black Horse had a character named "Ghost" who was a detective who returned from the dead. She wore tight, white pants and a top that was cut low to show lots of cleavage. She had a long headpiece like a veil that suggested a ghost's sheet. She carried a pair of black pistols in a white holster. Her stories tended to be very adult.

A more traditional ghost superhero was Nemesis who appeared in the Silver Age. He was a detective who was killed by a gangster. The person currently serving as the Grim Reaper (the guy who sends you onto Heaven) had been killed by the same gangster and sent the detective back as a superhero. Nemesis wore a red top with an hour glass on it, striped trunks, gloves and boots, a short hood and a domino mask. He only lasted a few issues.

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