JUSTICE SOCIETY OF AMERICA
The Spear of Destiny in the DC Universe
Written by Aaron Severson
Now it was the day of Preparation, and the next day was to be a special Sabbath. Because the Jews did not want the bodies left on the crosses during the Sabbath, they asked Pilate to have the legs broken and the bodies taken down.
The soldiers therefore came and broke the legs of the first man who had been crucified with Jesus, and then those of the other.
But when they came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs.
Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus's side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water.
The man who saw it has given testimony, and his testimony is true. He knows that he tells the truth, and he testifies so that you also may believe.
These things happened so that the scripture would be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken,”
and, as another scripture says, “They will look on the one they have pierced.”
– John 19:31-37
The Spear of Destiny
The Spear of Destiny, a legendary artifact associated — like the Holy Grail, the Crown of Thorns, and the Shroud of Turin — with the final moments of Jesus Christ, has played a significant role in the history of the DC Universe. But what is the Spear? What is the basis of the legend and its historical significance in the real world? And what does it do? This page traces the history of the Spear in legend, in fact, and in the pages of DC Comics.
The Legend of the Spear
The Spear of Destiny, also known as the Spear of Longinus and the Heilige Lance — Holy Lance — is one of the most important Christian relics of the Passion of Jesus Christ. As first described in John 19:31-37, the Spear was used by a Roman soldier (identified in later accounts as Gaius Cassius, later called Longinus) to pierce the side of Christ on the cross. The Spear, bathed in the blood of the Lamb and playing a significant role in the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy, is said to have acquired tremendous mystical power. The first sign of that power was the purported healing of Gaius Cassius's failing eyesight by blood from the wound. The centurion later become an early convert to Christianity.
According to legend, the Spear subsequently passed through a multitude of hands, coming into the possession of many of Europe's most important political and military leaders, including Constantine I, Alaric (the Visigoth king who sacked Rome in the year 410), Frankish general Charles Martel, Charlemagne, Frederick of Barbarossa, and Frederick II. A leader who possessed the Spear was said to be invincible; Charlemagne and Frederick of Barbarossa were undefeated in battle until they let the Spear fall from their hands.
As a young man, Adolf Hitler was allegedly fascinated with the Spear of Destiny, which he first saw displayed in the Hofsburg museum in Vienna, Austria, in 1909. Hitler was familiar with the legend of the Holy Lance and his interest in the relic was further amplified by its role in the 1882 opera Parsifal (by Hitler's favorite composer, Richard Wagner) which concerned a group of ninth-century knights and their quest for the Holy Grail. Author Trevor Ravenscroft claims that Hitler's fascination with the Spear sparked Hitler's interest in the occult, which gave birth to his ideas on the origins and purpose of the Germanic race and contributed to his belief in his own destiny as a world conqueror.
On October 12, 1938, not long after the German annexation of Austria, Hitler ordered the S.S. to seize the Spear and other artifacts from Vienna. They were taken by train to Nuremberg, where they were stored in St. Katherine's Church. The Spear remained in St. Katherine's until 1944, when it was moved to a specially constructed vault beneath the church, built in secret and at great expense to protect the stolen relics from Allied bombs. Nuremberg was captured by Allied troops in April of the following year and the vault was subsequently discovered by American Army officers. The Spear was confiscated by American forces on the afternoon of April 30, 1945 — according to some stories, less than two hours before Hitler's suicide in his underground bunker in Berlin. Like the Spear's previous owners, Hitler perished after the relic was taken from him.
Was It Real?
Like most holy relics, the history of the Spear of Destiny is complex and full of conflicting and hard-to-authenticate accounts. The earliest reports of the Spear were circa 570 A.D., when it was said to have been on display in the basilica of Mount Sion in Jerusalem, alongside the Crown of Thorns. The point of the spear's blade was supposedly broken off following the Persian conquest of Jerusalem in 615 A.D. and set into an icon. In that form, it supposed found its way to the church of Saint Sophia in Constantinople and later to France, remaining in the Sainte Chapelle until the 18th century. It was briefly moved to the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris during the French Revolution, but subsequently disappeared. Meanwhile, the rest of the spearhead was supposedly transferred from Jerusalem to Constantinople sometime in the eighth century. It was taken by the Turks in the 14th century and sent by Sultan Bajazet as a gift to Pope Innocent VIII in 1492. Innocent ordered the relic placed in Saint Peter's in Rome, where it remains today. Although Pope Benedict XIV believed the spear tip in the Sainte Chapelle was part of the same spearhead, the Church has never made any official statement regarding the authenticiy of either relic.
There are several other competing relics in different locations. One such "Holy Lance" was allegedly unearthed by Crusader Peter Bartholomew in Antioch in 1098. That Lance is now at Etschmiadzin in Armenia. Scholars believe that that spearhead is not actually a Roman lance, but the head of a standard, although it may have an interesting history of its own, separate from the legend of the Lance. Another claimant has rested in Krakow for about 800 years.
Hitler's lance was the fourth Spear, alternatively called the Lance of St. Maurice and the Holy Lance of Hapsburg, which is part of the Imperial Regalia of the house of Hapsburg. This spearhead is bound with gold, copper, and silver threads to a nail, which is purported to be one of the nails of the Crucifixion. The earliest verifiable account of this Spear was its use in a coronation ceremony in 1273. It rested in Nuremberg during the Middle Ages, but by the early 20th century, it was placed on display at the Treasure House of the Hofsburg museum in Vienna, where Hitler saw it in 1909. This Spear has no greater claim to authenticity than any of the others — in 2003, metallurgical tests suggested that the spear is actually from no earlier than the 7th century A.D. — although Hitler was allegedly convinced that it was the genuine article, leading to its confiscation by the S.S. in 1938. In 1946, the Spear and the rest of the Imperial Regalia were returned to Austria, where they are once again on public display at the Hofsburg museum.
It should be noted that all the various purported Holy Lances are only spearheads, not complete weapons. The spear used by Longinus was most likely a Roman hasta (long spear), an iron head mounted on a hardwood shaft roughly 12 feet long. The shaft of the Spear either was not preserved or was lost to the ravages of time.
The Spear in the DC Universe
The Spear was introduced to DC continuity in February 1977 in Weird War Tales #50. In the DC Universe, the relic seized by Adolf Hitler was indeed the real Spear of Longinus. It had a history every bit as remarkable as Hitler believed and it possessed real — and exceptionally formidable — mystic powers.
The DC Universe Spear was somewhat different from the various real-world relics. It was usually depicted as a short spear, perhaps 4 feet long, rather than a hasta. It is also intact: The spearhead was never separated from the shaft and later evidence suggested that the Spear could be damaged or destroyed by any conventional means.
It was never been revealed precisely how Hitler acquired the Spear in the DC Universe. It may have been displayed in Vienna and seized in 1938, just as the Hapsburg Spear was in real life. In the 1980s, the supervillain called The Wizard claimed to have provided Hitler with the Spear, but the Wizard's former villainous colleague Per Degaton maintained that the Wizard was in Tibet at that time and had nothing to do with Hitler's acquistion of the relic. (America vs. the Justice Society #3 and #4) In any case, the DC Universe's Hitler did not entrust the Spear to his lackeys at Nuremberg, choosing instead to keep the relic with him in Berlin.
In November 1940, Nazi agents in Scotland captured three American "mystery men": Batman, the Flash, and Green Lantern. The three heroes had been dispatched by President Franklin Roosevelt and William Stephenson, the head of British intelligence, to investigate reports of a planned German invasion of Great Britain. At a specially convened rally in Berlin hours later, Hitler prepared to unmask the three Americans and then slay them with the Spear of Destiny as a demonstration of German superiority. He was interrupted by the arrival of two more American heroes, Dr. Fate and Hourman, who quickly freed the three captives.
Enraged, Hitler called on the mystic power of the Spear. Despite the Spear's origins as a Christian artifact, Hitler's philosophy (at least on Earth-Two) was a decidedly un-Christian one, influenced by Frederich Nietszche and Teutonic myth as interpreted by Wagner. As a result, most of the magical effects Hitler produced with the Spear took the form of figures from Norse mythology. His cry of rage summoned a flight of Valkyries, the sword maidens of Wotan, riding the winged horses of legend. At Hitler's command, the valkyries attacked the American heroes, engaging them in battle high above Berlin.
Exultant at this sign of his own power and German's dominance, Hitler ordered his commanders to begin Operation Sea Lion, the planned invasion of Great Britain, which had been scrapped months earlier as a result of poor weather in the English channel. At the same time an experimental long-range bomber was dispatched across the Atlantic to attack Washington, D.C. in hopes of killing President Roosevelt.
NOTE: In pre-Crisis continuity, these events took place on Earth-Two. There is no evidence that the Earth-One Hitler possessed the Spear of Destiny, or if he did, that it played any significant role in the war; the Earth-One Spear's history may have followed that of the real-world Spear. In post-Crisis continuity neither Superman nor Batman had yet appeared in 1940 and neither took part in these events. In the post-Crisis history, the valkyrie succeeded in killing Roosevelt, who was restored to life through the intervention of the Spectre; see Secret Origins v.2 #31.
As the beleaguered heroes pursued the valkyries, who headed out over the ocean to escort the bomber on its way, Dr. Fate issued mystic summons, enlisting the aid of other American mystery men. Drawn to England by Fate's magic, the Atom, Hawkman, and the Sandman joined British troops in repelling the first wave of German invaders. Just as they realized that they stood no chance against the full might of the Nazi force, they were joined by The Spectre, the recipient of Fate's fourth summons. Growing to enormous size, the Spectre strode into the English Channel and singlehandedly laid waste to the entire German fleet, crushing ships and men like toys.
Hastily regrouping, the nine assembled heroes engaged the valkyries, but were unable to prevent the Nazi bomber from reaching the American mainland. That attack was thwarted thanks to the timely arrival of Superman, who demolished the German bomber and intercepted its deadly cargo. Minutes later, the Atom prevented one of the valkyries from striking down President Roosevelt in the Oval Office. Their mission a failure, the valkyries vanished, returning to whence they came.
At Roosevelt's suggestion, the heroes agreed to form a permanent team, for which Superman provided a name: the Justice Society of America. (DC Special #29)
NOTE: In pre-Crisis continuity, the Sphere of Influence affected only those heroes with mystical abilities or an unusual vulnerability to magic. The heroes most at risk included the Spectre, Dr. Fate, Superman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, the Shining Knight, Johnny Thunder's Thunderbolt, Sargon the Sorcerer, Zatara, and Earth-S's Captain Marvel (and the rest of the Marvel Family). Non-magical metahumans (e.g., Johnny Quick, the Ray, the Human Bomb), heroes whose powers were derived from purely mechanical sources (e.g., Robotman, Commander Steel, Starman), or heroes with no superhuman powers (e.g., Manhunter, Wildcat, the Americommando) were not affected. In fact, in the summer of 1942, with both their mystical powers on the wane, Dr. Fate and the Spectre were able to create a spell to temporarily shield themselves from the Sphere of Influence for a humanitarian mission in Europe (as explained in Young All-Stars #27). In post-Crisis continuity, the Sphere of Influence apparently affected all metahuman heroes, even those whose power was not derived from magical sources. In National Comics (second series) #1, for example, the Flash felt the edges of the Sphere of Influence while on a mission in Dresden in early 1945. Presumably, nonpowered and purely mechanically based heroes remained unaffected.
A little over a year later, in the wake of the Japanese attack on the American naval base at Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt convened the All-Star Squadron, an organization of all American mystery men and metahuman heroes of the era. The Squadron was enlisted to invade the Japanese mainland in the hope that their assembled might would bring about a swift end to the war.
Unbeknownst to the heroes, however, Hitler apparently spent part of the previous year further investigating the power of the Spear of Destiny. With the help of a Japanese sorcerer and scientist known only as the Dragon King, then in possession of the Holy Grail, Hitler created a mystic barrier surrounding Axis territory. As the All-Star Squadron discovered with disasterous results, any hero vulnerable to magic who entered the Spear's "Sphere of Influence" fell victim to a magical compulsion to serve the Axis cause.
In their first encounter with the Sphere of Influence, the unaffected heroes managed to forestall a disaster by luring their magically entranced comrades out of the range of the compulsion spell, and beat a hasty retreat. Afterwards, the Allied commanders, realizing the potentially horrific consequences of the most powerful American heroes falling under Nazi control, ordered all metahuman operatives to stay out of Axis-controlled or disputed territory, thereby confining many of the heroes to the home front. (All-Star Squadron #4)
The Spear of Destiny's influence served to keep the majority of the Allied heroes from playing an active part in the war either in Europe or in the Pacific. In the final months of the war, however, American heroes discovered that the Sphere of Influence was weakening as the Germans and Japanese lost ground, enabling some Allied heroes to venture cautiously into some previously restricted territory. (National Comics v.2 #1)
With Allied troops nearing Berlin in mid-April of 1945, Hitler feared that the war was lost. Unwilling to accept defeat gracefully, he determined to avenge himself upon the German people who had proven unworthy to carry out his dreams of conquest. He attempted to use the power of the Spear of Destiny to bring about Ragnarok, the Twilight of the Gods as he pictured it from the final chapter of Wagner's Ring of the Nibelung cycle.
Although Hitler never knew it, he came perilously close to succeeding. The Spear's power ripped a hole in the sky, unraveling the fabric of the universe as Hitler's vision of Gotterdamerung drew to a close. To stop it, the Justice Society of America traveled back in time from some 50 years in the future and entered the Ragnarok cycle. By intervening in the battle, the Justice Society prevented the cycle from reaching its conclusion, saving the world — but only at the cost of being forced to endlessly repeat the events of the battle, apparently for all eternity. (Last Days of the JSA Special)
In 1945, Hitler knew only that his last efforts had failed; the power of the Spear had at last deserted him. Not long afterward, he committed suicide in his bunker in Berlin, alongside his wife, Eva Braun.
Moments after Hitler's death, the Spear was removed from his bunker by a mysterious figure, who was pursued by a pair of American soldiers. One of the soldiers was slain, but his comrade, Sergeant Baxter, tracked the Spear to the home of Baron Kragen, a mad German nobleman who hoped to use its power to revive the Third Reich. Baxter killed Kragen and his daughter, Ilse, but was himself slain by the Baron's Chinese manservant, who claimed the Spear for himself.
The Spear was subsequently taken to China, where its power aided Mao Tse Tung's Communist revolution, and later to Korea, Laos, and Cambodia. (Weird War Tales #50) It eventually fell into the hands of the Soviets and was transported to Russia, where it remained until it was seized by agents of Kobra the Conqueror. Kobra subsequently attempted to use the Spear to destroy the Spectre. Although the villain was ultimately unsuccessful, he did discover that the Spear had the power to harm the Spectre's ectoplasmic form. (Armageddon: Inferno #1–3)
After Kobra's defeat, the Spear was retrieved by American intelligence operative Eve Eden (a.k.a. Nightshade) and delivered to Sarge Steel, then the U.S. secretary of metahuman affairs. The relic was crated and filed in a warehouse for future study. (Spectre v.3 #21)
The Spear was forgotten for about a year until the Spectre destroyed the Balkan state of Vlatava, leveling that nation and wiping out virtually all of its population. (Spectre #13) In the wake of that incident, the U.S. government hired occult researcher Professor Nicodemas Hazzard to find a weapon capable of destroying the Spectre. Interviewing the surviving members of the Justice Society of America, Hazzard learned of the Spear's existence from Wesley Dodds, the former Sandman. (Spectre #20) Hazzard discovered its current location and arranged for it to be removed from its warehouse.
The Spear was entrusted to Superman, who agreed to confront the Spectre and, if necessary, use the Spear to destroy the vengeful spirit. Unfortunately, Hazzard's investigation had neglected one crucial detail: The Spear's power was still infected by the madness of Adolf Hitler, making anyone who wielded it suffer megalomaniacal delusions. (Spectre #21)
Superman confronted the Spectre, but was overcome by the Spear's curse. The Man of Steel was subjected to a grim, vivid hallucination in which he used the Spear's power to conquer and ultimately destroy the world. Superman was able to break free of the Spear's influence before losing control, although he realized that he could not use it against the Spectre. Instead, the Man of Steel and the Spectre came to an agreement that there could be no future atrocities like Vlatava, an arrangement that Superman later conveyed to Sarge Steel and the President. Recognizing the danger that the Spear represented, Superman enlisted the Spectre's help of disposing of it. The Spectre flung it into Earth orbit, buried at the center of an enormous mass of ash and debris from Vlatava. (Spectre v.3 #22)
Months later, a conspiratorial organization called the National Interest retrieved the Spear of Destiny from space (Spectre #47) and once again attempted to use the Spear against the Spectre, who only narrowly escaped destruction. Afterwards, the Spectre hurled the Spear towards the sun, hoping to put it further out of reach. (Spectre #50)
Later, the Spectre, no longer bound to the soul of Jim Corrigan, was possessed by the fallen angel Asmodel, who used the Spectre entity's power to lay waste to creation. As Earth's heroes organized against the Spectre, Captain Marvel, accompanied by Starfire, located the Spear of Destiny — still on its journey towards the sun — and returned the relic to Earth. (Day of Judgment #3) Asmodel was subsequently defeated by the spirit of former Green Lantern Hal Jordan, who was now bound to the power of the Spectre (Day of Judgment #5). Jordan subsequently entrusted the Spear to the Sentinels of Magic, a loose-knit group of magic-wielding heroes including Sentinel, Zatanna, Dr. Occult, Faust, and the Blue Devil. The Sentinels hurled the Spear of Destiny into the sun after casting a spell to ensure that only they would be able to retrieve it (Day of Judgment Secret Files & Origins #1)
The Spear's Powers
The exact nature and extent of the Spear's powers were ambiguous. However, even those with no formal magical training were able to use the relic to produce world-altering effects: Aside from the Sphere of Influence, Adolf Hitler used the Spear's power to summon a flight of real, tangible valkyries and, in April 1945, nearly succeeded in unleashing the devastation of Gotterdamerung onto the Earth and bringing about the end of the world. Other individuals with no mystical inclination have nearly succeeded in destroying the Spectre, one of the DC Universe's most powerful magical entities, by simply using the Spear as a melee weapon. The Sphere of Influence itself was an extremely formidable spell, capable of automatically controlling the minds and wills of the most powerful metahumans and sorcerers at tremendous distances without even requiring the conscious volition of the Spear's wielder. It should be noted, however, that the Sphere was created by Hitler in partnership with the Dragon King and bolstered with the power of the Holy Grail. A feat of such magnitude might not have been possible without the assistance of a more competent magic-user.
Most evidence strongly suggested that the Spear was indestructible or at least impervious to any conventional assault. On three occasions, the Spear has survived being accelerated to the escape velocity of the Earth (i.e., each time it was thrown into space), and its eventual disposal by the Sentinels of Magic indicated that even being thrown into the sun did not actually destroy the Spear, although it obviously made it more difficult to retrieve).
For more information on Adolf Hitler's obsession with the Spear, there's a book by the late Trevor Ravenscroft, entitled Spear of Destiny: The Occult Power behind the Spear which pierced the side of Christ &helllip and how Hitler inverted the Force in a bid to conquer the world (Samuel Weiser, 1987, ISBN: 0877285470). The book is quite entertaining, although not very credible as a piece of serious history. Ravenscroft also wrote a sequel, entitled The Mark of the Beast: The Continuing Story of the Spear of Destiny, (Samuel Weiser, 1997, ISBN: 0877288704), which I have not read. Some of the information for the historical section of this article also came from the Wikipedia entry on the Holy Lance.
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