Note: After putting a new spin on one of DC’s biggest characters, P:R now turns its attention to a forgotten hero from the public domain. In this installment of RetroFix, Mike Walton takes on the Fox Features Syndicates’ Wraith character. – Chris Arrant
Who (or What) was Wraith?
The good ol’ Public Domain Super Heroes Wikia describes Wraith’s origin, which, like most great superhero origins includes a traumatic event. But unlike most superhero origins, it also includes the death of the superhero, right off the bat. The Wikia says, “Gary Kennedy and his brother were shot down by criminals. He vowed to return from the dead to avenge his brother’s death— and he did, becoming a ghost with the ability to be super strong when solid and fly or possess people as a ghost. He used his new ghostly powers to fight crime.”
I need to also point out that his ghostly powers also include invisibility and the ability to phase through solid objects. And at the last stroke of midnight, the Wraith rises from his grave to fight injustice until dawn, when he’s compelled to return to his “resting place.”
The character has a lot of potential. His design and the back-story remind me of some of my favorite DC Comics’ characters, The Spectre and Deadman. There’s always been a special place in my heart for comic book characters with leanings toward horror and the occult. Also, his story, at its core, is a tale of vengeance— always something I can sink my teeth into.
His costume is flawed but inspiring: his hair and flesh are green with sometimes visible muscle fibers and he wears a white cape with matching booties and a loincloth/man-sized diaper.
In reading over his few appearances in Mystery Men Comics, I decided the biggest opportunity in dealing with the character would be exploring his need to return to his grave from dawn until midnight. What happens when he returns to the grave? Does he crack open some Lovecraft stories in his casket? Can he find a way to avoid returning to his grave all day?
I’ve come up with an elaborate story arc, but I’ll spare you the details and just serve up the broad strokes.
I want to keep Wraith’s original origin, but expound upon it and inject more fantasy:
With his dying breath, Gary Kennedy vowed to avenge the murder of himself and his brother, Silky. Gary rose up after death in the form of the Wraith. After using the newfound powers his spectral form afforded to bring his murderers to justice, Wraith pledged to continue rising from the grave each night to fight injustice.
From dawn until midnight, Gary’s soul loses his Wraith powers and returns to the Netherworld, the land of the dead where he searches for the lost soul of his brother. The Netherworld is a surreal land divided into territories claimed by ancient warring deities (Niflheim , Diyu , Mictlan, Hadēs , Niflheim , etc.), populated by mythological creatures and all the lost souls claimed by greedy gods.
One night, Wraith rose from his grave to find a Witch (Maybe Lady Satan http://pdsh.wikia.com/wiki/Lady_Satan) waiting for him at his graveside. The Witch sought Wraith out to help her find and free the soul of her husband in the Netherworld. In exchange for his help, she agreed to help Wraith find and resurrect his brother. The witch cast elaborate incantations to help Wraith better control and expand his powers. She taught Gary how to maintain his Wraith form and powers in the Netherworld and how to inhabit a living host from dawn to midnight, avoiding the need to return to his grave and the Netherworld.
I wanted to maintain the spirit (no pun intended) of Wraith’s original design while coming up with something a bit more modern. My version of the Wraith story involves the Witch casting spells to enhance his powers. Maybe her incantations involved runes that left their permanent marks on Wraith’s from.
I like this character, and I think I’ve come up with some cool concepts. If I ever find the time, maybe I’ll get around to actually reviving this obscure public domain character to tell these stories.