The Gay Ghost

Created by Gardner Fox and Howard Purcell

Keith Everet, the Earl of Strethmere, aka Charles Collins, aka the Grim Ghost (post-Crisis)



Sensation Comics #1 (Jan. 1942)

"The Gay Ghost" was a peculiar feature that debuted alongside Wonder Woman and Wildcat in the pages of Sensation Comics. These features were awarded roomy slots, the Ghost taking up 13 wordy pages per issue. When DC dropped its page counts from 60 to 52 in 1944, this feature was consigned to DC Limbo. The entire run was drawn by Howard Purcell, who drew many DC series through the early 1970s.

The character's name probably made him untouchable. When the Gay Ghost was commemorated in 1985's Who's Who, the editors renamed him "The Grim Ghost" instead. God forbid.


Keith Everet was the Earl of Strethmere and lived in 18th century Ireland. He died in 1700, on the day that he rode to propose marriage to the lovely lady Deborah Wallace. Near her ancient castle of Connaught in Ulster, he was beset by rogues who shot him with a pistol and fled from the nobles. Deborah consoled him during his last breaths, but after his body expired, the Earl's ghost lingered with Deborah; she felt him with her like a wind.

As his killers were hung, Keith was drawn away by the spirits of his ancestors. They charged him with returning to Earth to conquer the evils of men — but he was ordered to wait for Deborah. When he returned to Ireland, 80 years had passed and Deborah was dead and buried! He haunted the castle and the locals occasionally recognized his ghost, so steered clear of the castle. Centuries passed until in 1941, when a young, American Deborah Wallace came to Connaught. She was the descendant of the Earl's love and was escorted by Charles Collins.

The Gay Ghost and his alter ego, the multi-talented Charles Collins. From Sensation Comics #13 (1943); art by Howard Purcell.
Post-Crisis: The origin of the Grim Ghost. From Secret Origins #42 (1989); art by Michael Bair.
A brief retelling of the Ghost's origin, from Sensation Comics #8 (1942); art by Howard Purcell.
One of the Gay Ghost's few exotic adversaries, the Flaming Hand. From Sensation Comics #5 (1942); art by Howard Purcell.
The Ghost inhabits unconscious bodies and can make himself solid at will. From Sensation Comics #13 (1943); art by Howard Purcell.

Collins was in love with Deborah but she didn't return his affections. That night history repeated itself as spies sought refuge in the castle and killed Charles. As he died, the ghost's mission was sealed. He was able to enter and reanimate Collins's body, and Deborah was none the wiser. She was quick to note the queer changes in his manner, and the Earl was intent on making Deborah love him. To finish the spies, created an ectoplasmic construction of his former self and appeared to the men as the Gay Ghost. The Ghost could pass through walls and fly, but could also solidify himself to affect the material world. "Charles" and Deborah returned to America, brining the Earl's portrait along with them. (Sensation Comics #1)

The Earl had trouble adjusting to modern life. He made a frightening attempt to drive an automobile, which upset Deborah. Thieves often targeted Deborah for her riches. To fight them, the Ghost left Charles's body, which became limp and had no pulse. He realized that a comatose body lying around was disconcerting to others and drew unwanted attention, so he began hiding the body out of sight. (#2)

Sometimes the Gay Ghost obeyed to the call of his "ancestral council," who give him special missions. They bid him to help England in the war effort, so Charles (a pilot) became approved by the U.S. Army to take a bomber to Britain. He volunteered for a rescue mission to northern France and as the Gay Ghost he single-handedly took down a Nazi supply unit. Word spread via Baron Von Molte back to Adolf Hitler himself. (#4)

Charles remained in Europe for a short time, provoking Nazi General Von Schlitzer to shave his head, don a mask and prosthetic arm that shot flames and become the Flaming Hand. (#5)

After returning to America, Charles became a test pilot (#7) and had many adventures in the air. He and Deborah shut down Blackie Stover, a drunk who made himself captain of a band of masked, black market fliers called the Vultures. (#8)

Debbie's affections for Charles apparently grew along with the danger. He joined the Army Air Corps and after a harrowing Japanese attack in the Midwest, she kisses him. (#9) Debbie's brother, George, also became a pilot and was possessed by a magician. (#11) Deborah also enlisted in a medical unit. Her ship was attacked by Germans but the Ghost caught their bombs midair and redirected them back on them. (#12)

He frequently engaged with Nazis both at home and abroad. When troops could not be mobilized to defend Greece, he entreated his elders to use their collective willpower to fight evil on Earth. The ghost army descended upon German air fleet, ripping through them in air and land. (#17)

Other adventures included Japanese spies (#18, 23), and Axis forces in pursuit of wild weapons. (#19, 24)

He met another real ghost in Mexico: the spirit of El Espada, who guarded magical waters of eternal life. The Gay Ghost helped him protect the place when men came to mine for copper. (#21)

Holding on to Life

An odd feature got odder when artist Purcell began taking inspiration from Jack Cole's Plastic Man, in the Ghost's later adventures. From Sensation Comics #32 (1944); art by Howard Purcell.
The Gay Ghost and other lesser-known heroes of the Golden Age help the Justice Society. From Starman #62 (2000); art by Peter Snejberg.
Animal Man meets the lost characters of the universe in Limbo, including the Gay Ghost and the Inferior Five. From Animal Man #25 (1990); art by Chas Truog and Mark Farmer.

In 1944, the series' concept began to wear and it exhibited several changes. It's unclear whether this was the result of writers because the strip rarely bore a writer's byline. The Gay Ghost's identity as the Earl of Strethmere was forgotten and he was introduced only as Charles Collins. Deborah disappeared and Collins hopped on to the FBI. His cases were frequently set in Gotham City, and the latter ones used the Gay Ghost as a mere of backdrop to intriguing tales. Howard Purcell's art and lettering became noticeably influenced by Jack Cole's "Plastic Man," with exaggerated type and more deliberate page compositions.

Charles Collins was summoned to Gotham City (with no more reason than his "fine record") and helped police solve tough cases involving gangsters. (#25-27)

The Gay Ghost's legend grew... Two thousand years into the future, students were given ancient comic books and learned about Superman Batman, Wonder Woman — and greatest of all, the Gay Ghost. The Ghost was still around at that time. (#30)

And in a tale set 13 years earlier, the Gay Ghost was depicted active as Charles Collins, involved with a young attorney who would become the governor. (This was a clear departure from previous "continuity.") (#31)

The ancient Egyptian "Curse of Hathoreb" inspired a tomb raider to mimic a ghostly mummy and raid an exhibit in Gotham. Collins found that the man dead of unknown causes —  the ghost of Hathoreb himself? (#33)

The last Gay Ghost story was delayed five issues, as Sensation Comics shifted features, perhaps testing the best mix. Collins was back into the war effort, inspiring young boys to oppose Fifth Column organizers who vandalized churches with swastikas. (#38)


Contemporary writers have found no decent use for the Gay Ghost. When the character was featured in DC's encyclopedic celebration, Who's Who #9 (Nov. 1985) he was renamed the "Grim" Ghost, and appeared under that name in Secret Origins #42 (July 1989). Writer Grant Morrison ignored that when depicting the Gay Ghost in his reality-warping Animal Man #25 (July 1990). And James Robinson alluded to an untold adventure of the Justice Society, in which the the Gay Ghost might have participated. (Starman vol. 2 #62)


When the Gay Ghost left the body of Charles Collins, Collins would appear dead. His ghostly form could inhabit other unconscious people, remain immaterial and invisible, pass through walls, or become solid and affect the material world. When solid, the Gay Ghost demonstrated super-strength; he was known to change the course of missiles. He also grew to giant size and carried a plane into landing. As a ghost, he is immortal to some extent, and he can summon aid from his ghostly ancestors.

Appearances + References


  • Comic Cavalcade #4
  • Who's Who: The Definitive Directory of the DC Universe #9


  • Secret Origins vol. 2 #42
  • Animal Man #25
  • Starman vol. 2 #62


  • Sensation Comics #1–13, 15–33, 38 (Jan. 1942–Feb. 1945)