“The Spectre!” (MORE FUN COMICS #52, 1940)
In the Spectre’s very first appearance, he is seen as a “mystery man” style hero, appearing as an angry, pale ghost clad in a green cloak. His first comic book appearance tells his origin story, how police detective Jim Corrigan ran afoul of the local mobster named Gat Benson, who ended up murdering him in a grisly fashion. As Corrigan cried for vengeance from beyond the grave, the mysterious “Voice” – now believed to be the Presence - bonded him to the Spectre. Jim Corrigan’s undead form was now home to a powerful entity, and the Spectre became one of Earth’s first Super Heroes, becoming a founding member of the Justice Society of America.
“The War That Shook The Universe” (SHOWCASE #60, 1966)
After serving with the Justice Society of America in the Second World War, the Spectre seemingly vanished, although the undead Jim Corrigan remained “alive” and continued to work as a New York City detective. Twenty years later, in the pages of SHOWCASE #60 in 1966, The Spectre returned, bonding once again with Corrigan. In this new incarnation, the Spectre was far more powerful, bordering on omnipotence. After several more appearances throughout the next few years, The Spectre finally received his own ongoing series, which lasted for ten issues. He then receded into the background of the DC Universe once again. But you can’t keep a good ghost down.
The Wrath of the Spectre” (ADVENTURE COMICS #432, 1974)
During the gritty 1970s, the Spectre returned again, this time in the pages of the long-running series Adventure Comics. In this latest incarnation of the character, the vengeance he took out on criminals was much more grotesque and harsh than it had ever been in the past, disturbing many longtime readers. Many of those stories were then shelved until the 1980s, when they were finished and released as THE WRATH OF THE SPECTRE limited series.
“Crimes of Violence” (THE SPECTRE #1, 1992)
The Spectre, who by this point was nearly a God himself, was crucial in defeating the Anti-Monitor during the Crisis on Infinite Earths, by going back to the very dawn of time and preventing the creation of the Multiverse. After the Crisis, he received his longest running solo series starting in 1992, which ran for five years and 62 issues. In these new series of adventures, the Spectre’s role as the embodiment of the Wrath of God was more fully explored, as was the Spectre’s history going back to pre-Biblical times. We learn in this series that the Spectre was not the first embodiment of God’s anger, but the classic DC villain Eclipso was.
“All Ye Who Enter Here” (THE SPECTRE #1, 2001)
Eventually, Jim Corrigan grew tired of his extended life span on this plane, and decided to shuffle off this mortal coil and go to the afterlife. This caused his bond with the Spectre to be severed, and the Spirit of Vengeance to exist without a human host. At the same time, during the so-called Day of Judgment, the fallen Angel named Asmodel sought to add to his power by bonding with the Spectre. A group of magic users tried to persuade Jim Corrigan to return from the afterlife and become one with the Spectre again, but he refused, content with eternity.
This is when the soul of the recently departed former Green Lantern Hal Jordan, who sacrificed his life to save the Earth during the Final Night crisis, chose to bond with the Spectre. Hal now saw his role differently than previous hosts – he saw himself as a Spirit of Redemption, not Vengeance. After a brief time as the Spectre’s host, the spirit’s true purpose for bonding with Jordan become clear: he was to purge the last vestiges of the evil Parallax entity from his soul, allowing Jordan to return to life and to his role as the Green Lantern. But once again, the Spectre was left without a human host.
A Ghostly Rampage (DAY OF VENGEANCE #1-6, DAY OF VENGEANCE: INFINITE CRISIS SPECIAL, 2005)
Without a human host once again, the Spectre becomes unhinged. He not only kills murderers, but he begins to kill people for much less serious crimes like stealing. Without a human host, he simply has no context for what punishment is fit for which crime. It is then that his old nemesis Eclipso seduces him into destroying all magic, as magic defies the laws of physics, which are God’s laws. Convinced of this course of action, the Spectre begins killing magic users of all kinds, coming into conflict with the community of mystical heroes on Earth.
When he kills the ancient Lord of Order named Nabu, the Presence intervenes, and once again bonds the Spectre to a human host, that of recently slain Gotham City police officer Crispus Allen. With his new host, the Spectre’s crusade against magic comes to an end, and the world has a new hero. The spirit of Crispus Allen remains as the host to the Spectre until the events of the Multiverse shattering Flashpoint event.
“A Stranger Among Us” (THE PHANTOM STRANGER #0, 2012)
After the events of 2011's FLASHPOINT, the history of the DC Universe was reimagined, and it seems that the previous versions of the Spectre were erased from history. In what is known as the New 52 timeline, Jim Corrigan is now a modern day Gotham City Police Detective whose girlfriend is kidnapped. Corrigan is then guided by the ancient entity known as the Phantom Stranger on the instructions of “The Voice” to the abandoned warehouse where Jim's girlfriend is being kept. Sadly, this turns out to be a trap. Both Corrigan and his girlfriend are murdered by the kidnappers, and just as in previous realities, Corrigan’s cries for vengeance draw the attention of the Spectre.
Accusing the Phantom Stranger of betraying him, the Spectre is about to attack him, but the Presence intervenes, and sends the Spectre off to serve justice on those whom God thinks are more deserving of his swift and terrible vengeance. Jim Corrigan is forced to oblige. Corrigan eventually joins Gotham City’s task force on crimes with a supernatural bent to them. No one at the GCPD suspects that Jim Corrigan isn’t exactly alive anymore.