DC Comics pitch: The Spectre

This is the second (and last) pitch I made to DC Comics, after their “New 52″ relaunch. The first was for a more ethnically diverse take on Blue Devil, which you can see here. Several factors led me to abandon any further attempts at pitching other ideas, including a lack of response on their behalf, my time being spent on my various creator owned projects (chief amongst them being Persia Blues), and frankly, the fact that the publishers isn’t exactly open to new writers right now.

Ironically, this pitch was for a character I wrote in my one and only gig at DC to date, The Spectre. That was back in 2010 for the DC Universe Holiday Special 2010.

Now, I won’t claim to be the world’s biggest Spectre fan, and I haven’t read all of his various comics series, but I do like the concept a lot and see enormous storytelling potential in it. Also, the various Spectre series have had some fantastic covers, as you may have noticed if you follow my “7 Covers” feature on my other blog.

The character was created by Jerry Siegel and Bernard Baily way back in 1940…

…and like most other venerable comic book characters, has undergone numerous changes to its status quo. There have been 4 ongoing Spectre series over the decades, plus a handful of minis. In 2001, recently “deceased” Green Lantern Hal Jordan joined with The Spectre and became its host, transforming the former “spirit of vengeance” into a “spirit of redemption.”

And most recently, prior to the reboot, murdered Gotham City homicide detective Crispus Allen is forced to become the new human host for The Spectre.

I liked this latter iteration of the character. Writer Will Pfeifer wrote a fantastic and highly underrated 3-issue mini-series (with the unwieldy title of Infinite Crisis Aftermath: The Spectre) which explored the moral ambiguity of The Spectre’s motivations in a story that was at once metaphysical and grounded in reality. It was this Crispus Allen version of the character that I wrote in the Holiday Special, and it was this same one that I used as the foundation of my pitch:

The Spectre

A “DC New 52” Treatment by Dara Naraghi

(The Spectre © DC Comics)

Logline

A supernatural police thriller on the gritty streets of Gotham City, featuring homicide detective Crispus Allen, who after a near death experience finds himself bonded to a delusional spirit of vengeance.

Tags

Crime, Horror, Mystery, Occult, Religion, Psychological, Mystical

At a Glance

GCPD homicide detective Crispus Allen is many things – a loving family man, a stoic citizen, an atheist – but above all he is an honest cop in a dirty city. One night, while investigating police corruption and its ties to a street gang dealing in venom, he is gunned down from behind by dirty cop Antoine Frey.

Critically wounded but still alive, Allen undergoes a surreal out of body experience wherein he is confronted by mystical entities beyond comprehension, and an angry spirit known as The Spectre. The spirit offers the detective a bargain: his life will be spared if he agrees to bond with it and carry on its mission as “The Wrath of God.” Desperate to be reunited with his wife and sons, Allen agrees.

Waking up in an intensive care unit, Allen finds his wife praying by his bedside. Elated at his recovery, she relates how his wounded body was found by a homeless man, Jim Corrigan, who called for help. Allen undergoes many months of physical therapy, determined to return to the force and continue his investigation of Frey.

But what Allen believed to be hallucinations during his near death experience become all too real when The Spectre materializes during one of his investigations. Now, torn between his oath to serve and protect, and The Spectre’s gruesome form of justice, Allen struggles to make sense of his new situation while trying to protect his family, career, and above all, his sanity. Meanwhile, Antoine Frey bids his time, with order to take out Allen for good.

And to what lengths will Jim Corrigan, Allen’s savior and new street informant, go to protect his own secret? The former human host of The Spectre, his mind succumbed to insanity after decades of witnessing the spirit’s extreme brand of justice. Upon discovering Allen’s wounded body, he saw his chance to rid himself of his personal demon by offering a more suitable host, a deal The Spectre could not refuse. When Allen eventually discovers the truth, will he still see Corrigan as the man who saved his life, or instead condemned it to a new kind of hell?

Tone/Themes

At its heart, the series will be about the study of opposites: Allen’s methodical, logical mind and science-based forensics vs. The Spectre’s unpredictable nature and inexplicable magic. The “lone wolf” Jim Corrigan’s inability to retain his sanity as former host for The Spectre vs. Allen’s success due to his grounded personality and family support structure. And finally, free will vs. predetermination.

Crispus Allen is a heroic, complex, strong African American character, and I feel it would be a disservice to relegate him to the role of a disembodied spirit, unable to interact with others around him. There is a wealth of story possibilities to explore with him front-and-center: as a police detective in a morally grey environment, a husband grappling with issues of faith and spirituality, and a father trying to raise his sons well. I want to portray a strong family unit as a positive light in Allen’s life. Other topics explored will be religion, duty, obligation, sanity, and the vagaries of the criminal justice system.

Finally, a dark conspiracy of money and greed will provide the backbone of the street level crimes investigated by Allen, one which will lead him to Gotham’s elite politicians and captains of industry.

Powers

The Spectre is incorporeal and unseen by everyone (including Allen) until he wishes otherwise. Able to instantaneously travel to any spot in the world, he will often take Allen with him to mete out “god’s wrath.” And much to Allen’s frustration, he is able to render Allen intangible at will, taking his human host “out of the equation” when it comes to delivering justice.

The Spectre is able to prey upon the fear and guilt of criminals in such a manner that they believe he is physically punishing them in gruesome ways, such as an arsonist finding himself lit on fire. But in fact everything is happening only in their minds. The subconscious acknowledgement of their own guilt fuels The Spectre’s powers, and the depth of their guilt determines how real the physical effects of their punishment become. Of course the delusional Spectre is unaware of the true nature of his power, believing himself to be an emissary of god. Seeds of doubt will be sown when he notices that the truly delusional criminals or those lacking a conscience are essentially immune to his wrath.

Characters

Crispus Allen – A man of upstanding moral character, and a deep sense of duty to his family and friends. Unfortunately, the world he lives in is one of moral ambiguity, deception, violence, and fear. Allen’s daily struggles against his environment, as well as his own personal demon The Spectre, will provide the moments of adversity, drama, and triumph of will that define a good heroic story.

The Spectre – The self-proclaimed “spirit of god’s wrath,” it is actually a delusional soul unaware of its role as a pawn in the grand cosmic game of control waged by the Lords of Order and Chaos. Coveted by both, yet controlled by neither, The Spectre is at once a source of law and order, and calamity and madness. If a deeper tie to the New DC universe is desired, it can eventually be revealed that The Spectre was originally a religious zealot who lived during DC’s “dark ages,” as depicted in the Demon Knights series. Perhaps a gruesome death at the hands of The Demon led to its current state.

Antoine Frey – A dirty cop deeply entrenched in a vast conspiracy of vice, money, and the depraved fantasies of the rich and famous. He does the dirty work necessary, and in turn is handsomely rewarded and protected by his benefactors. The lynchpin of Allen’s investigation, he will be a recurring foil.

Dore, Jake, and Mal Allen – Crispus’ wife and two sons, and a source of moral and emotional support for the detective during his darkest hours. His moral compass remains true due to the love of his family.

Jim Corrigan – A homeless man who saves Allen’s life, and later becomes his informant and friend. Unbeknownst to everyone, Jim was the former human host for The Spectre, but as a loner “tough cop” he did not have the support structure to help him deal with the horrors he witnessed. His eventual nervous breakdown led to the loss of his job and home. He feels a deep sense of guilt for having burdened Allen with The Spectre.

As with my Blue Devil pitch, I didn’t go off in a “radical new direction,” although I suspect that’s probably what DC was more interested in. And frankly, I liked having a strong and noble minority character as one half of the The Spectre equation. I kept some familiar callbacks to the character’s previous incarnations, most notable in the reuse of the “Jim Corrigan” name, but tried to spin the series off in a different direction. But alas, the pitch went nowhere.

I’d be curious to see what form The Spectre will take when they eventually introduce him (her? it?) to the “New D52″ DC universe. Until then, I’m happily plugging away at my creator owned properties.

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    5 thoughts on “DC Comics pitch: The Spectre

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    3. Quite interesting.

      I suggest you reconfigure a few items and launch it as a creator-owned title.

      Use the book to raise a lot of questions, about faith, vengeance, justice, the Spectre’s origin… Who are the previous hosts? Are there other spirits like the Spectre? Perhaps a confederation of spirits, each with an individual goal, mission, delusion. And what of the afterlife? Is there a God? Or is that just part of the Spectre’s delusion? (That’s the elephant in the corner for the DC Universe: science = magic (Clarke’s Third Law), and religion (Superman = Moses).)

    4. Thanks for the kind words, Rob.

      And Torsten, I appreciate the suggestion. But I have way too many other ideas I’d like to do as creator owned projects, and not nearly enough time for even a tenth of them. And Frankly, part of the fun of doing a pitch for an existing Marvel?DC character is the idea of “playing” in that larger shared universe, and drawing upon the rich history of those characters, and their interactions with the other characters and concepts of their setting. For me, at least, that doesn’t translate too well to an independent setting.

      Now, if I had a real killer idea at the center of it all, then yeah, I’d definitely work on it as a creator owned project.

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