by Dave Barnowski
Detectives Jim Corrigan and April Catrella were just returning to the 78th Precinct after a day of court testimony for an arson case they solved months ago, when a call came over the car radio: “All units, all units, Billie Joe Haskins seen on the corner of Englehart and Kane. Repeat, Billie Joe Haskins seen on the corner of Englehart and Kane.”
“Jim, that’s three blocks from here.”
“I’m on it,” Corrigan said as he switched on the siren and turned on to Kane.
Billie Joe Haskins was a serial killer who killed for sheer pleasure. It did not matter to him what the gender or age of his victims were. He just liked to kill. It did not matter to him if he did it slowly or he did it quickly, just so long as he did it as often as he could.
As the detectives drove down Kane Street, April Catrella spotted the large, musclebound killer, who was being pursued by two uniformed police officers. “Stop the car, Jim!” she screamed. “There he is!”
They got out of their car and drew their guns as they went to cut off Haskins’ route of escape. Seeing this, Haskins looked for a building to run into with hostages to take and kill. A smile came to his lips when he saw the Thomas P. Wayne Public Elementary School.
Haskins ran into the ancient school building and looked for a full classroom. He preferred one with little kids, as they would be the easiest to kill. He found what he was looking for and tried to open up the door but found that the knob would not turn.
Dumbfounded, he stared at the knob for a moment, then attempted to kick the door in. When he kicked the door, he found that it was like kicking rubber, and he was off balance and on the floor.
“What’s going on here?” he asked as he picked himself up. “I’ll just have to find me some other hostages.”
“You will have no hostages this day, Billie Joe Haskins,” said an eerie voice.
Haskins looked everywhere and saw no one. “You come out here now,” he said as he drew out a gun. “You come out, or I’ll start shooting through these here walls. And sure as $@#!, I’ll hit something. With luck, I’ll kill ’em!”
Suddenly, a pale white figure, cowled and draped in a dark green cloak, stood before him with his armed crossed. “Your days of murder are over, Billie Joe Haskins. You have a chance for repentance.”
The hall became Hell. Billie Joe Haskins looked around as he suffered the agonies of the damned.
“You still have a chance to repent and change your ways, Billie Joe Haskins,” said the Spectre as the hallway reappeared and Haskins fell to the floor.
Haskins looked at the Spectre and laughed as he said, “Why? I’ve always known I’m going to Hell.”
The police came in then with guns drawn. Haskins went to shoot with his but found that his gun was not in his hand.
The Spectre had immediately disappeared when police arrived. Haskins was arrested, placed in handcuffs, and led away with no school children ever in danger.
As they left the school, Haskins laughed. “This don’t change nothin’, spook. I’m still gonna kill. If they put me in prison, I’ll kill guards and cons, and if the booby hatch, I’ll do the same thing.”
Coincidentally, Corrigan had the next two days off. As it was the middle of the week, his wife was still working. For her part, Andrea noticed that her husband had been deeply affected by the last case he had before his days off. When she came home on the second day, she decided to talk to her husband after she had the children go outside and play.
She knew what Haskins had said and exactly what was bothering Jim. The key was getting him to see that he needed to go and talk to someone else in the super-heroic community.
“Jim, you can’t be the only one who’s ever faced a lunatic like this Haskins fellow. Why don’t you talk to one of them?”
“Oh, yeah, sure! I can see myself going to the precinct tomorrow and going, ‘Guess what, fellows? I’m the Spectre, and I have a problem with this Haskins creep.'”
“I didn’t mean your fellow cops, and you know it!”
“Yeah, I know, but I haven’t had any substantial contact with any of the masks in twenty years, Andrea.”
“What about Doctor Fate? He saved your life last year. (*) You could talk to him.”
[(*) Editor’s note: See The Spectre: Chance of a Ghost.]
Jim thought about it for a moment and then said, “No, Doctor Fate doesn’t deal with common criminals. He/she deals with Lords of Chaos and demon spawn, both of which he kills without question, or at least he did when he was Nabu. No, he wouldn’t understand my dilemma.”
“Well, then, maybe you should go to the first one of you super-heroes.”
“Who? No! I haven’t talked to the man as Jim Corrigan in decades, and you want me to go and have a heart-to-heart conversation with him? Are you crazy?”
Andrea looked at Jim with her arms crossed as he ranted. “You’ve always said he was not only was the first, but the best.”
“That’s true. Doctor Occult was technically the first, but Superman was the greatest of us all.”
“Then go to him. He’s never killed anyone.”
With that statement, Jim had a funny knowing look about his face, the look of someone who knew something others did not. Andrea sat in stunned disbelief and asked when Superman ever killed anyone.
“Early in his career, back in the ’30s when he was first starting out,” Jim replied. “He was quite… reckless in his early days, and he was known to kill his foes on occasion.”
“Well, he doesn’t now, and he hasn’t for a long time. Jim, you’re trying to teach the Spectre about justice and being a hero. You’re trying to learn how to be one yourself. Go and talk to the one man who is the living embodiment of the word.”
Jim Corrigan looked into his wife’s pleading eyes and said, “All right.” With that, he turned invisible and flew toward Smallville.
Unknown to the Spectre, a pair of eyes watched him leave. It was a pair of eyes that had been following him for months, waiting for the opportunity to strike at his family. The Spectre left magical glyphs and alarms around his home and each member of his family, and any attempt to break into his home or attack his family while he was away would instantly summon him back.
The sorcerer who watched did not worry about a confrontation with the Spectre. He was certain that he could best the Spectre now that the Spectre was for some reason not as powerful as he was before. No, what this sorcerer wanted was for the Spectre to be fooled into killing his own family.
Jim Corrigan might both be alive and be the Spectre, but the being who once fancied himself the Anti-Spectre would make the Spectre wish he were truly dead. All he had to do was get by the Spectre’s alarms without tripping them.
He would have done this long ago, but the Spectre didn’t leave the city. Proximity was also part of the problem; the closer the Spectre was to the alarm, the stronger it was. Now the Spectre was in Smallville, and his family was in Gotham City. The sorcerer was gleeful in anticipation of his plans finally coming to fruition.
It took several hours, but the sorcerer broke through the house’s alarms, and at the same time he broke the personal alarms of the house’s occupants. He entered the house as the family was watching television.
In a flash he appeared before them in a cloud of brimstone. He waved his left hand, and they froze in place, full of fear and unable to scream or otherwise express it.
“Good evening. I am Zor, and from this moment onward, I am also your master. You will obey me in all things. I’ll let you keep your conscious fear because it amuses me. But come, ladies, we have an appointment with the man of the house.”
Jim Corrigan was nervous standing invisibly outside the Kent farm. He would rather march into hell than go talk to Superman about his problem. But Andrea was right in that there was no better person to talk with concerning his feelings about Billie Joe Haskins than the Man of Steel.
At the Kent farmstead, the family had just finished supper. Young C.J., the adopted Superboy from Earth-Prime, was helping his mother Lois with the dishes as Clark dealt with the fussing infant, Mary. Lois Lane Kent sighed; while it was truly a blessing to have a child of their own, Mary’s growing super-strength often made it impossible for her to care for Mary like a mother should. This was an unspoken heartache for Lois.
Clark Kent, of course, knew of Lois’ sorrow, but there was nothing the couple could do. The Kents, who had raised Clark, also suffered a similar dilemma, but Clark was a full-blooded Kryptonian and was gifted with a higher intelligence and quicker emotional development than human children. Mary was half-human and half-Kryptonian, and while she was much smarter than a human infant and was developing faster, too, there were problems. The holes in the walls of her room were ample evidence. Clark had to bring things from his Fortress of Solitude in order to create things sturdy enough for Mary to use.
There was a knock on the front door, and Clark went to see who it was. Jim Corrigan was truly the last person he expected to see. After being assured that it wasn’t an emergency, Clark introduced Jim to his family. There was an exchange of pleasantries and some small talk before Jim could get up enough nerve to talk to Clark in private. They went out onto the porch and sat down to have a heart-to-heart talk.
“Thanks for seeing me, Clark. I know we’ve never been close. But I don’t know who else to talk to.”
“Not a problem, Jim. What’s wrong?”
With that, Corrigan proceeded to tell Clark about the serial killer Billie Joe Haskins and how he had captured him, and more importantly how Haskins had turned his back on any chance of redemption when he told the Spectre that he was going to kill again.
Clark looked at Corrigan intently. “The Spectre I remember wouldn’t have any problem with this. Mr. Haskins would be dead now,” Clark said at last.
“I don’t kill anymore. Jim Corrigan doesn’t kill.”
“You remember the day the JSA was formed? Silly question; we all do. You weren’t there, Clark, but you heard about when the German invasion fleet just off England that I sank. I killed every single solitary one of those men. Their cause was evil, no doubt about it, but they weren’t all evil individuals. I could’ve done it differently — sunk the ships but left the men unarmed, ready for the British to take as prisoners. But no, I killed each and every one of them.” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Untold Origin of the Justice Society,” DC Special #29 (August-September, 1977).]
“Jim, we were at war. Nobody blames you.”
“Clark, I killed thousands that night. I think the spirit of the Spectre influenced me. But it was still me who did the deed, back when there was virtually no division between me and the Spectre. I was a cold fish back then — a ghost of a murdered cop. I killed a lot of crooks, maybe some who deserved it. But that awful night I killed a lot of men who didn’t deserve it and didn’t stand a chance.”
“Jim you singlehandedly saved England from invasion and probably kept the Axis from winning World War II that night!”
“I know. I also know that I didn’t have to kill those men that night. Twenty-five years later, when I was given back the power of the Spectre after a twenty-year gap, I swore to myself that there would be no more killing. My God, he’s done enough.”
“So why are you here now?”
“God help me, but I want to kill Billie Joe Haskins.”
Clark smiled a grim smile. “That’s what I thought. I remember the early days, too, back before there was a JSA or even any other mystery-men, just myself. I thought I could change the world. I threatened a governor, razed a whole slum to the ground, kidnapped a munitions industrialist, and even let a few men die.”
“I remember. There were national APBs out on you at the time.”
“Two men changed how I was going about my business as Superman forever. The first was my old editor at the Daily Star, George Taylor, who wanted me to do a piece on several of the henchmen of a gang that Superman had just broken up. He wanted to know why men would join a crackpot who used electricity to threaten Metropolis. He wanted to do a human-interest story for the Sunday edition. I didn’t want to do it. If you’re responsible for someone’s death, even if indirectly, you surely don’t want to know about them.”
Clark paused and then continued, “Turns out one of the men I let die had a wife and young son. He worked for the evil scientist because the son was sick, and he needed the money to pay for the hospital treatments. That really changed my view of the world. I had a crisis of conscience, but there was no one I could talk to. So I came back home to Smallville, and I went and talked to Reverend Sutter — he was an old friend of the family — and bared my soul. He suggested that I work inside the system, not outside it, and that I try to save every life, for every life is precious.”
“So that’s why you changed the way you did business. I always wondered.”
“Also, Jim, it’s perfectly natural to want to kill a crook. Just last year an old enemy of mine named Colonel Future murdered a good friend named Kil-Lor. (*) Believe me, there was a part of me that wanted to kill Future. I wouldn’t be human if I didn’t; instead, I brought the SOB to justice. (*) Now, I know he’s immortal thanks to magic, and C.J. will have to deal with him when his sentence is up, or he may escape in the future, and I’ll have to deal with him again, but that’s all part of the super-hero business. It comes with the territory.”
Whatever Jim was gong to say was lost to posterity, because just as Clark finished speaking, Zor appeared with three giant hell-hounds, each as big as the Kent house.