Comics / DC Comics History

DC Comics History: The Gay Ghost


By Deejay Dayton
Jul 15, 2015 - 8:21



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The Gay Ghost, created by Gardner Fox and Howard Purcell, has probably the worst super-hero name ever.  Let's just get that out of the way.  Even ignoring the sexual orientation meaning, the intended implication of the word is that he is the Happy Ghost.  Is that likely to strike terror into the hearts of criminals?

But aside from his name, the character is actually fairly interesting.  While his powers and origin resemble, to some degree, the Spectre, this character is much more in the bright, clean mode, and his early tales are played more for comedy.  The Gay Ghost got more serious as the series moved into World War 2 stories, but in the beginning, this strip seems to be following the trend of making the heroes more friendly, less threatening.  Even the awful name evokes that.

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He debuts in Sensation 1, with a longer than usual origin story.  We are introduced to Keith Everett, the Earl of Strathmere, in the year 1700.  While riding out to meet Deborah Wallace, and propose marriage to her, he gets set upon and killed by highwaymen.

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A ghost, Keith gets to meet his ancestors, who have some sympathy for him, and teach him their secrets.  He will be able to return to Earth, but not until he meets Deborah Wallace again.

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It's a long wait, all the way until the 1940s when a same-named ancestor of Deborah heads to Ireland with her wastrel fiancee Charles Collins.  Charles gets attacked and killed by German spies, but Keith is able to step into his body.  With Deborah around, he is now able to use his powers, which include flight, invisibility, and intangibility.  The basic ghostly skills.  As the series progresses, we see more of his abilities.

 
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Deborah Wallace has no idea that Charles has been killed, as he is clearly up walking around and talking, but she does notice a huge change in his demeanour now that he has been possessed by the Earl of Strathmere, and finds him more appealing than she had previously.

One of the more charming elements of the series has Keith/Charles out of place in the modern world, so when Deborah suggests they head back to America, he thinks it is a land of nothing but natives.  They bring with them the portrait of the Earl of Strathmere, which one feels ought to have more of a connection to the story than it does.

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The second issue relates their journey back to the United States, and has a fair amount of humour as well.  The Gay Ghost shows himself frighteningly unable to drive a car, and thinks nothing of stealing the tickets for their cruise.  To be fair, he does solve a crime on the passage over.

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Whenever the Ghost leaves Charles' body, the man collapses, and has no pulse or heartbeat.  For the first few issues, everyone thinks he is dead, and are surprised at his revival when the drama is over.  This gets played down as the series progresses.

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They are back in the US in Sensation 3, and have to deal with some criminals who are impersonating the ghost.  Never a wise move when a real ghost is involved, as they soon find out.

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In the same he first demonstrates the ability to posses and bring to life inanimate objects - in this case, a floor.

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He takes this to an interesting level in Sensation 15, animating a human skeleton, which is scary even with the relatively uninspired art.

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And in issue 17, the Gay Ghost summons up the spirits of dead warriors from the distant past to help fight off the Nazi invasion.

 
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With Sensation 4, the series takes a major turn, which ironically moves the action back across the ocean.  The Gay Ghost is summoned by his council of ancestors, who tell him that the Nazi threat is the greatest danger the world has seen, and give him a mission to stop them.  Now the strip becomes much darker, a supernatural war series.

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Charles promptly joins the airforce, and winds up in England, flying missions against the Nazis, while also attacking them in his ghostly form.

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It does spark the series up a bit, as it was descending into some silly comedics with the last issue.

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The biggest problem the Ghost has to face continues to be his apparently dead body, every time he goes into action.

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Sensation 8 sees an old friend of Charles show up, and having no idea who the man is, Keith is friendly towards him, too late finding out that he has joined up with other criminal fliers to form the Vultures.  Charles tries to stand up to the man, but gets shot.  Which isn't really much of an issue, and allows him to leave his body.


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Deborah gets captured, and the Gay Ghost comes to her rescue.  Although still engaged to Charles, Deborah begins to become interested in the Ghost with this story.

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The romantic attraction continues to build, and the two share a kiss in Sensation 19.

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The series really seemed to find its footing with these war-based stories.  Sensation 11 has an evil German hypnotist causing the pilots to have terrifying hallucinations while in the air, but the Ghost is immune to the effect, and able to scare the hypnotist in return.

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Comic Cavalcade 4, the only issue of that book to contain a Gay Ghost story, has one of his more powerful tales.  The story is narrated by the father of a German who struggles between his moral beliefs and his love of country, ultimately dying to halt the Nazis plans.

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With issue 12, Deborah becomes a nurse, the usual role for the romantic interests at this time.

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One of the more interesting stories occurs in Sensation 21, as Charles is sent to Mexico after reports come in about ghosts disrupting the mining operations.  Deep inside a copper mine, the Gay Ghost finds an immortal, and a pool of water that bestows this gift.  But there are also Nazi saboteurs around, attempting to disrupt the production.  The Gay Ghost gets rid of the Nazis, and seals off the sacred pool.

But this is also a big turning point for the strip.  Deborah Wallace vanishes, and the war all but does as well.  Once again, the series becomes lighter.

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Along those lines, Sensation 26 deals with some accidental inventions, a tv that can see the future, and a perpetual motion machine.  There are ordinary thieves involved in this story, set in the US, and the war is not even mentioned.  The remarkable television gets "fixed" at the end of the story, to the dismay of those trying to profit off of it.

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By issue 27, the series has changed further, and the Gay Ghost is the narrator, more than the star.

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The tale itself is not bad, set in Rio de Janiero, about a gang boss getting his comeuppance.  The Ghost does take some action, but it's back to the humourous style of the first few issues.

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Except for the comedic elements, this story follows the pattern that the Phantom Stranger stories would take.

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Sensation 30 does bring the Nazis back into the story, with the Gay Ghost fighting against them, but the story is told as ancient history from a schoolteacher in the future.

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The humourous crime story style would dominate the end of the run.  Sensation 32 lets the bad guy narrate the tale, for a change, which helps to bring out the ironic aspects.

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It's kind of a shame that it's not until this period that they give the Gay Ghost a supernatural enemy.  Sensation 33 pits him against a vengeful mummy, but once again, the story is largely played for laughs.

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By Sensation 38 the final story of the Gay Ghost, which could be a serious tale, about vandals desecrating churches, the Charles Collins side of him is able to function perfectly when the Ghost is separated from him, and the Ghost is able to endow a living person with invisibility and intangibility.  There are even tiny magical "nixies" that he calls upon to help him take down the bad guys.

The Gay Ghost only makes rare cameos after the end of his run, next appearing in Grant Morrison's Animal Man.  His series does go over the end point I set for the Early Golden Age, but only by a few tales.

The Gay Ghost:  Sensation Comics 1 - 13 (Jan 42 - Jan 43), 14 - 33 (March 43 - Sept 44), 38 (Feb 45)

 Comic Cavalcade 4 (Fall 43)


Last Updated: May 15, 2017 - 12:13

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