RetroFix: Mike Walton’s Wraith!

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.”


Why Wraith?

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?

The RetroFix

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 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.

Initial Sketches

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.

Final Version

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.


15 comments to “RetroFix: Mike Walton’s Wraith!”
  1. This is one of the best RetroFixes yet! I could really see this as a modern day book, especially with the changes to the back story. Good work! :)

  2. White jeans? You make a point of insulting the previous design’s loincloth and then put him in white jeans?

    There are a couple of interesting ideas in the concept (or at least one: having him questing in the real world for half of the story and the netherworld for the rest), but I wish you could have made him more visually compelling. Right now he just looks like an anemic Hulk.

    If he’s been subject to dark rituals and you’re going for a horror-tinged superhero comic, you could have him sporting scars and mutilations, instead of or in addition to the tattoos. It also might be interesting if he maintained a more idealized form while in the Netherworld.

  3. Maybe it’s just me, but I think the character should look more corpse-ish. I know in real life, the growing-nails-and-hair-after-death is just an old urban legend, but it’s imprinted in our collective psyche nonetheless, and would suit the character IMHO. Also, all those haircuts, specially the one chosen for the final design, look too clean and trendy. And what about the bullet holes? Wasn’t he gunned down? Bullet holes all over the characters’ torso would look MUCH better than tattoos -I’m sorry, but I’m so sick of tattoos, both in fiction and real life. Specially in fiction, nowadays they are the equivalent of the 90’s jackets. Done to death, pun intended. And I agree with Jim, the white jeans don’t work for me neither.

    I’m sorry, I know I’m sounding negative as hell, but I mean well. It’s just that I also love this kind of supernatural-occult characters, and nothing in this design suggests ‘revenant’, for me, as it should. If anything, I would think it was an alien or a mutant. I blame it on the original design, tho, as it’s just a swapped palette version of the Spectre.

    Your story ideas sound cool and interesting, however. If it was the advance blurb for a new book, I’d give it a try, and probably I’d stay if the script was good… while bitching about the character’s looks and begging for a new redesign, probably. Sorry again.

  4. Really like what you have done here, and the story has shades of Spawn and The Crow so it could certainly work for a modern audience. I liked where you were going with the runes idea but didn’t know why it wasn’t implemented in the final design. Maybe just a line of glowing runes running down the center of his torso, or down his arm, to show that his power is supernatural in origin. Also I think that the final design is a little to corporal. I mean, if he is a ghost I would like to see parts of him a little transparent signaling that he is phased out of reality. Well that’s my two cents, Great Job on the RetroFix!

  5. “With his dying breath, Gary Kennedy vowed to avenge the murder of himself and his brother, Silky.”

    Silky is not the name of the brother. Silky Weaver is the name of the murderer.

  6. I too would have liked a slightly more ghosty/horror-y type of look for this character: that said, the artwork is amazing and the overall result looks striking.
    I’d just like to add that I’m really excited about the recent increase in retro-fixes! Redesigning PDSHs isn’t just a load of fun, but also a refreshing from the usual Marvel and DC fare.

  7. The thought in my mind would be “revenant”-a corporeal undead bent on completing a specific mission of avenging his brother’s murder; with that in mind I’d drop the short white cape entirely, substituting a dark colored cloak and hood (deep red, black, or even dark gray) which he drapes over himself when walking the mortal world in the nighttime hours. I think the green skin is fine, so long as the paper-thin quality of his flesh is played up by the artist, giving him a muscular-yet-emaciated look, with striated muscles standing out almost visibly from underneath withered flesh.

    The previous suggestion about the Wraith bearing the wounds of his death is a good one, perhaps with arcane/occult tattoos partially covering them (real life victims of burns and skin diseases have sometimes concealed scars with body art). Dark jeans/pants would be better, though I’d include a belt of some sort (again maybe bearing an occult symbol).

    I’d keep the barefoot look, with an added touch-he is tied to the grave, but the mystic symbol on his belt (a “gift” from a modern day Lady Satan would be a nice tie-in) allows him to wander the Earth, “taking the grave with him” rather than being tied to his actual burial site. However, wherever he walks, the Wraith leaves footprints of grave dirt, from the mass burial site for “John Does” where his murderer dumped his mortal body.

    The jeans would stay-his killers stripped his body of everything except the ragged pants before putting the corpse into a shallow hole-but I’d again make them dark blue, black, or gray.

    As far as an origin story/background-my idea is both the Wraith (then still living and mortal) and his brother are murdered by a super-villain of sorts-maybe an evil occultist, demigod, or dark sorcerer, meaning that avenging his brother will be no easy feat even for a supernaturally empowered wight.

    Maybe his brother was not a policeman (or not only a policeman), but a bonafide superhero, save one who sold his soul to acquire powers, pledging service to a supernatural entity in order to oppose the mystic super-villain who was overlord of the city.

    Sunlight would be anathema, as it turns his undead skin into brittle, crumbling stone, so the Wraith must seek cover between dawn and dusk, slumbering in a half-dead state. When “asleep”, his astral self can enter the Netherworld, trying to find and free his brother’s soul from service or imprisonment in a hellish realm ruled over by a forgotten godling.

    I hope perhaps the author does indeed develop the Wraith a bit more and decide to tell the character’s long-deterred tale of vengeance.

  8. I dunno. He’s a ghost, not a corpse. The idea that he looks okay except for the green skin is perfectly natural. If he avenged his murder, then most decidedly he should be “healed” in a sort. I am against him gaining the ability to avoid going back to his grave in the daytime. Too many of these heroes can conveniently function during the daylight hours. Him having a limit is really nice and can make for a lot of drama, like going completely incorporeal in the middle of a fight that’s gone on too long. I also feel like making the afterlife some crazy quest thing might muddle with whatever story flow is going on.

    I say take this back to basics. He’s out to stop evil at night, but he’s doing it pretty much kind of a private detective. Dead souls come up to him looking for help avenging their deaths.

    I’d even love to see his brother come back as some kind of semi-antagonist; not like a demon because that’s been done to death, more like an angel or something that helps souls move on or give up their evil ways. He’s always trying to get the hero to move on with him, but there is still evil to fight so the Wraith can’t move on, and the brothers are again drawn into conflict. I love it when the hero is not 100% right

  9. Edwin has some good thoughts, that are appropriate to this design. The others…well, they can do their own retrofixes, if they don’t like this one.

    I love this idea, and i love the design concepts. i even like the hulkish green on white jeans and ‘cloak’. I don’t think its out of the question to suggest you combine elements of the four design concepts. i love the ‘dirty’ hands and feet, and pant cuffs, as if he has been rooting around in the criminal underworld/netherworld/clawing his way out of his own grave. i love the ‘trendy’ haircut — he’s a ghost, so it stands to reason he’d come back with an appearance that at least somewhat echoed his living body, haircut and all. i love the runes written on the body, but maybe not as permanent ‘tattoos’….perhaps only when he transitions from one state to the next, or activates some specific aspect of his supernatural powers? i think it would be cool if they were only visible in darkness, say, in the shade of his tattered cape or in the shadows of an alley, but that concept may be a little difficult to get across in a comic book medium.

    i also love the idea of the daylight limitations, although some of these thoughts about how to beat that limitation would be interesting as a story element for maybe an arc or two (but not as a permanent addition to the character). I am all about the fact that he has a netherworld quest as well as an earthly one. it’ll work, if you handle it right — and gives you opportunities for mirroring netherworld and earthly stories with eachother, or against each other or whatever. I like the idea that maybe the pieces of some mystery are scattered across both worlds, and that he MUST transition in order to find them.

    this is a really cool concept, i would definitely check this out.

  10. Phil: I am all about the fact that he has a netherworld quest as well as an earthly’ll work, if you handle it right — and gives you opportunities for mirroring netherworld and earthly stories with each other, or against each other or whatever.I like the idea that maybe the pieces of some mystery are scattered across both worlds, and that he MUST transition in order to find them.this is a really cool concept, i would definitely check this out.

    I tend to be a bit more cynical about this sort of thing. I feel like adding two competing stories in different genres into one character’s book right from the start could make it into a muddled, over-complicated mess. Stuff like quests in the underworld need to form organically.

  11. Edwin — why do they need to be competing stories? what about genre mash up? The Maltese Falcon is both noir pulp and classic quest story. You’d be right if two competing stories bore no relationship to each other, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be handled that way. It would take some deftness a lot of writers lack, sure, but bringing sub- or side-plots around to bear on primary plots is something that happens all the time in fiction, serial fiction, and especially the crime fiction genre. It sounds different because of the supernatural element, but it isn’t, really.

    I’m not entirely sure what you mean by the statement “quests in the underworld need to form organically,” but dying seems to lend itself pretty naturally to a quest in the next life.

    i am still thinking about all of the interesting possibilities this character has, I’d love to read — hell, i love to write — this book.

  12. Phil: .I’m not entirely sure what you mean by the statement “quests in the underworld need to form organically,” but dying seems to lend itself pretty naturally to a quest in the next life.i am still thinking about all of the interesting possibilities this character has, I’d love to read — hell, i love to write — this book.

    From what I saw of the premise, it sounds like most of the story takes place in a pretty normal, city setting with him solving crimes as a ghost. Cue sunrise and he enters a fantasy underworld where he’s engaged in a quest? I dunno, I feel like having something that ambitious right off the bat would hurt readers. Keep it simple at first, let it just be about him solving crimes and learning his powers, then bring in the underworld elements. I’ve seen a lot of comics fail because they were overambitious with their premise

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