The Spectre: Chance of a Ghost, Chapter 1: Humbled Spirit

by Libbylawrence

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The scene of battle was an epic one as familiar costumed forms charged valiantly toward their malevolent foes. The mocking laughter of the Shade echoed as the gaunt man in black led his peers into combat. He turned toward one such ally. The handsome features of Superman were contorted in an evil grin, as the transplanted brain of the Ultra-Humanite controlled the fallen hero’s powerful body. On the other side of the Shade, the Thinker rode a genetically altered steed with raking claws and flowing wings. He adjusted the wiring that fed directly from his old thinking helmet into his brain. As he did so, a legion of cyber-warriors continued their relentless assault on the crumbling brownstone that had served for decades as the headquarters of the legendary Justice Society of America.

The Shade rubbed his hands together delicately. “I always thought that building was a blemish on the otherwise smooth complexion of this fair lady of a city!”

Ultra said, “So allow me to lance it!” He streaked off and smashed directly through the JSA Headquarters like a human rocket.

“My, my, that was faster than a speeding bullet, if you’ll pardon the cliché,” drawled the Shade as the historic headquarters reeled from the superhuman attack.

A blonde girl struggled helplessly as his magical darkness engulfed her. “Can’t see! Can’t hear! His magic cloud is blocking all my super-senses!” gasped Power Girl. She slammed both of her high-heeled boots down on the pavement, and the sheer shock waves of the movement sent the earth trembling apart in a gaping maw that swept some of the cyber-warriors to their doom. The Thinker routinely summoned more of them, and the battle raged onward.

Vandal Savage savored the moment as one certain movement sent his blade through Hawkman’s broad chest. “You were a worthy foe, if a bit inexperienced,” said the immortal villain as he stepped over the body of the winged wonder to pull the hero’s frightened wife, Shiera Hall, into his arms. “You’ll make a fine concubine after a few lifetimes of training,” he laughed as she meekly fell into his caress.

The explosion of green fire that drove them all back came from Green Lantern. He stood next to a weary Flash and declared, “This ends here! In the memory of Hourman, Doctor Fate and the others, I won’t allow this to continue!” The angry blond man flew closer and scattered the group by sheer will power until a wooden spear slammed into his back and a sneering Tigress looked down triumphantly from above.

“I’m winning. I’ve killed two of them, while all you’ve done is beat Doctor Mid-Nite to a pulp!” she laughed as her husband the Sportsmaster grimaced beneath his mask.

“I also crippled the Huntress who took your old name — that earns me a few points,” he said.

The Flash raced forward, only to be struck down by something even he could not outrace — a bolt of deadly mental force. The Brain Wave shimmered into view as he discarded the illusory form of Wildcat. “That enabled me to get close enough to catch even Garrick by surprise,” said Henry King.

And thus it continued as Starman burned to a crisp falling from orbit and Solomon Grundy met a final end, content with taking the life of one of his old foes.

Suddenly a loud cry rang out, and a gigantic form loomed above the evil men and women below. The ghastly pale form of the Spectre appeared, and his cold stare of baleful power brought the villains and their celebration to a stunning, heart-sickening end. “Abominations! Soulless scavengers! You shall not enjoy this mockery of a victory even a second more! I end this charade now!” he said. In one blinding flash of light, it was over.

He stood in a black void beside a cowering figure. Gone were all the other signs of battle, the combatants themselves, and even the dimension in which their war had been waged. The gigantic figure of the Spectre swelled up over the rugged, red-headed otherdimensional warrior called Maaldor the Darklord. Maaldor now groaned as huge hands closed around his struggling form and eyes with no pupils except for gleaming skulls blazed into his dark soul.

“You managed to survive the Crisis only through the tenuous link you shared with your dark dimension. But you failed to take this second chance at life and use it for good. Instead, like all your kind, you reshaped the dimension in your own putrid image in which good always loses. You robbed it of heroes and tried to suppress those noble men and women who rose against you when inspired by Starman’s example after his recent visit to your realm. (*) Now, I tire of your petty malice and end it thusly.” As he spoke, the voice of the Spectre was like the grave itself.

[(*) Editor’s note: See Starman: Brave New World.]

Maaldor gasped helplessly as he lost all connection to his dimension. It was gone, and he was now just a man. He lived, but he felt nothing beyond what any human would feel via the normal senses granted at birth. To one so used to controlling the destinies of billions upon billions of lives, it was a crippling loss.

The Spectre left him staring vacantly into the void and said, “It is done! Maaldor and the dimension he created are now at an end.”

Before the ghostly guardian could return to his astral patrol, he felt the warmth and majesty of the Voice. He had given the Spectre the chance to walk the earth anew after the untimely murder of Jim Corrigan, a detective who had lost his life to vicious men. The slumber of the grave had been denied to the lawman, since his desire for justice had been so compelling that, as a greater good, the Voice had offered Corrigan the chance to return to earth and fight for justice once more. He had used this new power to fight against evil in all its forms as the grim and ghostly Spectre. He had shared this crusade with other noble men and women in the JSA, and he had walked alone as well. For several years the Spectre had even been severed from Corrigan, who had been fully restored to life. It was only then that the determined Jim Corrigan and the Spectre had realized they had separate identities independent of one another. The Spectre was not truly Jim Corrigan’s ghost as they’d first assumed.

“YOU DISPLEASE ME BY YOUR ACTIONS. YOU DEFEATED MAALDOR BUT ALSO DESTROYED THE DIMENSION HE HAD CREATED, ALONG WITH ALL WITHIN ITS BORDERS. THOSE BEINGS LOST ANY CHANCE FOR A NEW LIFE FREE FROM HIS MAD CONTROL!” echoed the resonant Voice.

The Spectre said, “They were merely puppets or automatons based upon those who still live elsewhere. Without their dark ruler, they would have faded away in time.”

The Voice said, “THAT JUDGMENT WAS NEVER YOURS TO MAKE. YOU MUST REGAIN THE HUMANITY JIM CORRIGAN GAVE YOU. YOU MUST LEARN TO SERVE ME AS YOU INITIALLY DID WHEN HIS PERSONA WAS IN CONTROL OF YOUR MIGHT. I HEREBY LESSEN THAT MIGHT AND COMMAND YOU TO SUBMIT TO HIM ANEW. IN THIS MANNER, BOTH THE GREATER GOOD AND YOUR OWN SOUL SHALL BE BETTER SERVED.”

***

Meanwhile, a police detective frowned as he glanced toward his partner. They were parked outside an old building in a bad neighborhood. They craned their necks and gazed skyward as shadows played on broken and dusty windows high above. “It’s no use. Those punks are holed up tight. They can’t get out, but we can’t get in either without risking the folks trapped inside,” he said.

His younger blonde partner frowned as she watched the scene. “They used that old tenement as their drug-dealing base, but now they’ve got hostages who were squatting there, too.”

The older cop shook his head wearily. “Homeless folks who’ve suffered enough don’t deserve to be victims in the only shelter they can find. Too bad we didn’t get to them in time. The Wayne Foundation would have given them housing and training, too.”

Stacy Sheridan gasped and pointed upward. “Look — across the street at the building next to the one in question! That’s a man climbing down the fire escape!”

Her partner blinked in surprise, then whistled softly. “Corrigan — that’s Jim Corrigan! He’s going to jump from that rat trap to the building! He’s a crazy man. He’ll kill himself!”

Indeed, Detective Corrigan had silently slipped into the other building and had made his way to the roof. From there, the brave cop had crawled down the almost-decayed fire escape and now was hanging on precariously with one hand as he tried to position himself to jump to the next building. Hang on, Jim, he thought as he recalled one of his daughters and fought to balance himself. Tonight is Libby’s ballet performance at the school. Got to make it there in one piece!

He swung outward and crashed through the window as he hoped. He covered his face and rolled across the room with a minimum of pain. Still, he ached as he staggered to his feet and burst into the next room. “Freeze! Let them go!” he ordered as the startled drug dealers gasped in amazement.

“Butch, how’d he get in? I was watching the rear!” whined a punk.

“Shut up, Woim. He’s in, and he means business,” barked the bigger thug.

A dirty woman in jeans cried, “Butch! I need the stuff!”

“Too bad, Darla. He’s more important than the coke,” snapped her man.

Corrigan nodded as he directed the homeless family to exit while he trained his weapon on the trio. “You folks get out!” he said.

“Thanks, officer!” cried the father as he rushed his wife and child to safety.

Butch dropped his gun as Corrigan brought his own gun down in a swift movement. “Don’t try it, punk,” he said.

Woim lurched forward and jabbed a needle in Corrigan’s arm. He whirled and slapped the gaunt punk to the floor, then waved them out with his drawn gun. Corrigan led them out and received the cheers of his fellow cops.

“Man, Jimbo, you are a regular one-man Starksy and Hutch,” said one.

“Feel more like Kojak. I’m getting thin on top,” joked the hero, whose face suddenly turned serious. “They stuck me with something. I have the needle.”

“Get him to the hospital! This stuff is a designer drug of some kind. It’s not one I can ID!” cried Stacy.

They led Corrigan to a waiting car, and the siren’s wail was the last thing he heard before reality faded before his eyes.

***

Later, Dr. Henry Galt turned to another physician and shook his head. “Dr. Nelson, it was a huge stroke of luck that Mrs. Corrigan was able to find you and Mrs. Nelson while you were visiting our city,” said Galt. “Why, otherwise even flying in would have taken much longer than I fear her husband has left.”

Dr. Kent Nelson nodded. “Indeed. I concur that Jim’s body is in total system shock. His heart is racing, and I can only speculate what this new drug is doing to his mind. He and I worked together professionally in the past, and I wish I could help him.”

“I’d better break the news to Mrs. Corrigan,” said Dr. Galt. “She is worried sick. Those poor little girls are in for sorrow.”

Dr. Nelson said, “Let me stay here while you do so.”

As soon as Galt had vanished, Dr. Nelson and his comely wife Inza combined into the form of Doctor Fate. The mystical hero opened his golden amulet and bathed its powerful light over Corrigan’s pale and anguished features. “Praise Ra that we may still manifest as Fate, and that he alone may save Corrigan,” he intoned.

That part of the composite being which was Inza said, “Surely this drug is nothing we can’t eliminate from his system.”

“I fear that the damage is done,” replied Kent. “His mind may be beyond our reach.” The light illuminated Corrigan’s eyes and, in a moment, Doctor Fate walked within the mindscape of his stricken ally. “We merely envision what dwells within his fevered mind. In truth, we have not left the bedside of his room,” explained Kent.

They saw a harsh vista with violent men and flashing guns. They saw death and pain and loss. They saw the twisted images of the drug users and their victims. Finally, they saw more moving faces. The concerned images of Mrs. Corrigan, Diana, Libby, and even Corrigan’s former partner Percival Popp all appeared in his mind as well. “His loved ones may combat the fever and restore his mind. Perhaps that is all it will take,” said Doctor Fate.

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