A man considers the final moments of his life.
Despite all he’s accomplished in the worlds of business and sport, he is bereft without his anchor, his soulmate, his beautiful wife, taken from him through an act of capricious fate.
Michael Holt stands above an abyss, ready to step into the void.
He is interrupted by a group of thugs, who demand his money – or his life.
And what if he values neither?
Just when it appears as if this suicide attempt will turn into a murder, the hand of God – in the form of the spirit of vengeance himself, the Spectre – intervenes.
The felons flee in terror.
The Spectre assumes the form of Det. Jim Corrigan and tells Holt that his despair drew him.
Before Holt ends his life, Corrigan wants him to consider the life and death of Terry Sloane, the original Mr. Terrific.
And in this story, “The Spectre” No. 54, “The Haunting of Jim Corrigan Part 3: Atonement,” cover date June 1997, writer John Ostrander and artist Tom Mandrake clear up an 18-year-old murder mystery, settle one of the most nagging questions in the DC Universe, redeem a Golden Age great and launch the career of one of the best Justice Society members of the Modern Era.
Not bad for 22 pages.
The original Mr. Terrific was murdered by the Spirit King during the annual JLA-JSA team-up in “Justice League of America” Nos. 171-172 in 1979.
Writer Gerry Conway fashioned an impressive change-of-pace story, but as I noted here, he ended that tale a mite too soon: The story ended with the Spirit King escaping in the body of Jay Garrick, the first and best Flash.
Fans had to wait 18 years for some satisfaction, and Ostrander reveals in flashback, killing Mr. Terrific was just the first step in Spirit King’s vile plan to conquer the Spectre himself.
Using the Flash as bait, the Spirit King lures Spectre to Dr. Fate’s tower, where he has possessed Dr. Fate and holds his fellow JSA members – Power Girl, Green Lantern and Hawkman – hostage.
While Spectre battles Spirit King, Flash faces off against the rotting corpse of Terry Sloane.
Like a heaven-sent miracle, Mr. Terrific transcends the barrier between the spirit world and ours and turns the tide of the battle.
In death, Terry Sloane settles the doubts that nagged him in life. He realizes that he was a full-fledged member of the Justice Society, that he belonged as much as anyone, and he is at peace.
This issue gave the Golden Age Mr. Terrific the send-off he deserved and also marked a swerve in the way DC handled the character.
After years of neglect and disrespect, Terry Sloane would be recognized as a champion of justice in his own right, here, and in later appearances in the pivotal Modern Age miniseries “The Justice Society Returns” and “JSA.”
The Spectre tells Holt that the original Terrific’s death has left a void – that he can and must fill.
“Mr. Terrific served a purpose, and that purpose isn’t filled by Superman or Batman or even the Spectre. He worked at the street level. He reached kids who might otherwise have gone bad. He replaced “gangsta” role models with one that stressed “fair play.”
Cut to a rundown basketball court.
Thugs threaten three kids. And who shows up, cool as a cat?
Holt, now as Mr. Terrific, wearing jeans, a blue visor, a jacket with the words “Fair Play.” The hoodlums attack, but the novice hero easily puts them down with some martial arts, impressing the kids.
Spectre claims the souls of the gangbangers, but before he can send them to hell (or worse), Terrific jumps in, demanding they have as much chance for redemption as anyone.
“I will put my soul on the line! If there’s a chance of turning any of these kids back, then I claim that right!
“‘Fair play,’ man!”
And the Spectre backs down and drifts away.
Mr. Terrific has scored his first victory – albeit, with some unexpected help from the ghostly guardian, who reflects, “They needed to see their hero strong enough to seemingly face down even the Spectre. It will build your reputation and burnish a legend.”
But in his first appearance, let’s be honest, the new Mr. Terrific isn’t all that impressive, not unless you’re wowed by a guy who can shoot hoops. Michael Holt needed time – and other creators, most notably Geoff Johns – to fulfill the legacy of Mr. Terrific. The T-spheres, the signature look and the inspiring mix of brain and brawn all came later.
That’s important to remember as CW’s “Arrow” prepares to introduce a Mr. Terrific – a character named Curtis Holt, played by Echo Kellum. As “Arrow” looks for a lighter tone in its fourth season, this Mr. Terrific looks to be the show’s answer to “The Flash’s” Cisco, only gay. I expressed my concerns over this twist to Terrific earlier this summer.
It doesn’t sound inspiring or interesting, and maybe we’ll get lucky and he’ll have a brother named Michael ready to step in to take over the heroics.
Or maybe he really will turn out to be a “man of 1,000 talents” and surprise us all.