Here's another couple of super-heroes from the geriatric contingent - The Flash and The Spectre. Or, given that Alex 'Kingdom Come' Ross drew ol' Spec without his jammies on (the Spectre, not Alex), maybe that should read 'The Flash of the Spectre.'
By the way, the Spectre has the distinction of being the first super-hero to gain his powers after he died, hence the 'ghost' pun above. More on this after I poke fun at the Flash.
This is the original Flash, created by Gardner Fox and Harry Lampert back in 1940. Like his latter-day counterpart, he was into jogging way before Forrest Gump O.D.'d on Dr. Pepper. He received his super-speed during his university days by accidentally inhaling the fumes of a sample of 'hard water'. Talk about your youthful indiscretions and experimentation….
In this case, it must have been writer Fox who inhaled, because 'hard water' doesn't have fumes. Sorry, Gardner - back to Science Camp for you. Meaningless technobabble always undermines the suspension of disbelief. Are you listening, oh mighty Star Trek franchise?
Back to the dead guy.
Jerry Siegel and Bernard Baily created the Spectre in 1940 on the heels of Jerry's success with Superman two years earlier. His alter ego was a policeman who died in the line of duty, and was returned to earth to fight evil. Like Superman, the Spectre could do pretty much anything he wanted, but his powers were supernatural rather than physical. I've always liked Neil Gaiman's assessment of the character (paraphrased from "The Books of Magic"):
"...sometimes it's practically the most powerful thing in the universe. Sometimes it's little more than a bloke in white tights and a green hood...it's been up and down the occult league tables faster than a whore's drawers..."
This is a polite way of saying that editorial controls were kind of lacking over the years.
I can't let this one go by without mentioning the Mike Fleisher/Jim Aparo run from Adventure Comics back in the early mid-seventies. The stories had a marvelously grotesque twist to them, each ending with the Spectre doing something creatively deadly to the villain of the piece. In a relatively short run of stories, the Spectre transformed them into glass, stone, wax, sand, wood, mannequins, etc. Each transformation was typically followed by something permanently destructive, such as giving a 'glassified' killer a gentle push, or giving a 'wooden' murderer a buzz cut like you wouldn't believe. The kind of stuff that made Harlan Ellison jump up and down in glee....which, as it turned out, wasn't exactly the kind of character reference Fleisher was looking for. Right, Harlan? Gary?
Weird thing is, these gruesome stories came from the same guy who lived in DC's library for seven years researching the proposed eight-volume series, "The Encylopedia of Comic Book Heroes". Out of the original eight, only the Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman volumes ever saw print, each done in the typical Encylopaedia Britannica style. The other five? Researched but never published.
Seven years, during which time he came up with these...ahem...colorful stories.
I wonder if there's a connection....