How Editorial Interference at DC Diminished One of the Finest Pages of Comic Book Art Upon Publishing

Just like with movies or songs, certain images can strike people in a certain way that makes them step back and say “Wow!” The following is the odd history of how a page of comic book art that made me say “Wow!” was diminished due to editorial interference. We’ll discuss the genesis of the art, the alterations that were made, and the final product. 

First, we need a bit of background to set the stage.

Two characters with a long, rich history in the DC Universe are Hal Jordan (Green Lantern) and The Spectre. They entertained generations of readers with their heroic exploits, and in the 1990s, both of those characters would be permanently altered. 

Cover to The Spectre #20 – cover artwork by P. Craig Russell

Hal Jordan was not the first Green Lantern, but he’s the one that most comic book readers would call “the” Green Lantern. He held the mantle for years, and even when other Lanterns joined the Corps, it was Hal who was considered the best of them. A drawn out and brutal storyline saw years of reputation flushed away when Hal Jordan became the villainous Parallax in Emerald Twilight. A few years later in Final Night, a moment of redemption allowed him to sacrifice himself as the hero he should have always been, and with that, Hal Jordan was gone.

The Spectre was the spirit of Jim Corrigan, a police office who was murdered and brought back to Earth to seek out villains and dispense his wrath upon them, becoming the ultimate divine “spirit of vengeance.” After years of stories, the Spectre was finally able to capture mainstream success with his finest ever series in the 1990s. Here we saw writer John Ostrander and artist Tom Mandrake team up for an epic 63 issue run, which saw the exploration, evolution and final, heavenly assent of the Jim Corrigan character. It was a beautiful series that still holds up today. 

With both Hal Jordan and Jim Corrigan gone from the DC Universe at roughly the same time, what was DC to do?  Although Jim Corrigan had moved to a higher plain, the Spectre still existed, albeit without a human host to guide him.  Hal Jordan redeemed himself with his final act before perishing, but had done so much damage in his final days that fans were left unsatisfied and disgruntled. Enter the Day of Judgment, a mini-series from 1999 that introduced Hal Jordan as the newest incarnation of the Spectre.

Hal Jordan’s Spectre had fans clamoring for more. A four-issue story arc in the series Legends of the DC Universe ultimately led to his own titular series. Premiering in 2001, The Spectre series focused on Hal Jordan’s return to Earth, but instead of being the spirit of vengeance, he was now the spirit of redemption. It was both the redemption of Earthly and cosmic souls as well as his own. It was a beautiful series that explored the ideas of the soul, faith, and grace. It only lasted 27 issues, but in that time, it became one of the most impactful series I was ever to read. 

With the exception of one issue, the entirety of the series was written by J.M. DeMatteis. Art duties were predominately held by Ryan Sook through the first 14 issues (with inks and fill-in issues by several other artists), but from issue #15 on, the bulk of the pencilling was done by Norm Breyfogle; it was here that we saw the series evolve.     

Breyfogle was always the master of facial expressions. You knew what a character was feeling just by looking at the page. I can’t help but think that J.M. DeMatteis was aware of Breyfogle’s strengths and began exploring more emotional themes in those later stories to take advantage of Breyfogle’s talents.

Some of the many facial expressions Norm Breyfogle used to convey the emotions his character was feeling.

Remember, in this new series, the Spectre is now the spirit of “redemption.” We see the themes of salvation discussed and the concept of “is anyone beyond redemption” explored to its limits. Villainous characters such as Two-Face, Darkseid and Parallax all make appearances. However, with issue #20, we are introduced to an all-new character. 

In a story titled My Perfect Life written by J.M. DeMatteis and illustrated by both Norm Breyfogle and Dennis Janke, we are introduced to Robert Carol. Robert seemingly has it all, a loving wife, a healthy son, two doting parents, and a fulfilling job. Yet for some reason, the Spectre is haunting his existence. He keeps showing up throughout his days, and even in his dreams (which turn to nightmares). Robert keeps seeing flashes of moments that conflict with his idyllic surroundings.

Robert Carol’s life is seemingly perfect in issue #20 of The Spectre.

As the reader, we are thoroughly confused. Why is the Spectre haunting this man? Has he made a grave mistake, or is there something more that we don’t understand? This issue is beautifully drawn, with each sequential panel placed absolutely perfectly. 

It is ultimately revealed that Robert was caught in a world of his own making, and had been trapped there for years. The Spectre had to take the drastic steps of shocking him out of it in order to wake Robert Carol from this dreamscape he’d been in for 15 years. As devastating as this may be to the reader, it doesn’t end there. You see, the Spectre is the spirit of redemption, after all. In the Spectre’s final act to Robert Carol, he personally escorts him to the gates of Heaven where (as the Spectre states so eloquently) “There’s nothing waiting for you… but joy.” 

As Robert Carol’s soul enters the gates of Heaven, he’s both elated and confused. He turns to the Spectre expecting him to be following him through into Heaven and says, “…aren’t you coming too?” To which the Spectre replies on page 20, “My work is on Earth.” As we turn the page, we discover to the big reveal of a splash page that was intended to end this brilliant issue, with the Spectre stating “I’ll find my heaven here.”  Yet, the page that was published was not the originally intended piece. 

Page #20 of The Spectre #20 – the setup to the final page of this beautiful story

The Spectre’s response is both profound and poetic. He’s telling us all that his Heaven, his glory, is in his work at redeeming the souls of those lost on Earth and throughout the universe. As we’ve learned throughout the series, no one is beyond redemption. It’s the Spectre’s work of redeeming those labeled beyond redemption that is in effect redeeming his own soul. “I’ll find my heaven here” is a powerful statement that requires a powerful image. 

Original thumbnail designs Norm Breyfogle used when laying out his original completed page #21

What was planned was a full-page splash of an elated and contented Spectre floating above a cityscape, with an entire universe behind him, signifying the immense realm in which he works. What we got was a skyline of a generic city and an empty sky. Why was that?  Well, it was due to editorial interference.

Originally intended final art for The Spectre #20 Page #21 by Norm Breyfogle and Dennis Janke, including halftone photo used for cityscape.

As the original artist Norm Breyfogle stated in a letter to me back in 2004:

“This version of the final page (page 21) of art from Spectre #20 was rejected for publication and had to be re-done. 

“It’s the same page layout; the difference is that the cityscape in the last panel is a halftone photo instead of half-drawn. Very nice effect, but [DC editorial] was afraid of copyright violations if DC printed it, since the photo was a section of one taken from a published book of photos of New York city (I contended that there’d be no difficulty – since it was differently cropped and in halftone – but [they] wouldn’t listen to this pro artist’s opinion and made me change it anyway).

“Only the cityscape was redone; the rest of the original page was used as is.

“An unfortunate secondary result: in the original version, the underside of the Spectre’s cape was to be visible (at the right side of the Spectre’s figure), blocking out the cosmic effects background at the top of the page behind him, but when I redrew and pasted up the 2nd version I forgot to outline the obscuring cape’s edge, thus eliminating the reason for the lack of cosmic effects on the page’s right side.”

Redrawn “paste-up” art page with hand-drawn city scape. Notice under the left arm of the Spectre, the artist neglected to outline the cape’s edge, thus causing an odd visual effect.

Without the outline of the cape, there was no visual break on the page, and thus the cosmic effects on the left were rendered out of place and had to be removed. What was originally a beautiful image of the Spectre descending from Heaven to the Earth with a cosmic background turned into one of him flying over a city with a blank background. 

The final printed page to The Spectre #20 Page #21 – without the cosmic background.

The intention of this piece isn’t anything more than to preserve the artwork as it was intended. I want to share with fans of the Spectre, of Norm Breyfogle, or of art in general what was meant to be shown to the reader. This is a beautiful image and the culmination of an incredible story. It’s my goal to preserve this piece of art and allow everyone to enjoy it as the creators originally intended. 

I’d like to thank The Splintering founder Blake Worrell for the opportunity to write this piece, as well as each and every reader who took a moment to click on this page and help keep this art alive. I thank you all sincerely.

Thanks for reading!

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