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Will Eisner’s The Spirit #1 Review

4 min read

Spirit Issue 1 CoverLife without The Spirit.

Creative Staff:
Story: Matt Wagner
Art: Dan Schkade

What They Say:
Set in the classic period of The Spirit’s golden age, the 1940s, the first 12-issue story arc follows the strip’s most beloved characters, Commissioner Dolan, his daughter Ellen, Ebony White and Sammy as they attempt to uncover why The Spirit has been missing, and presumed dead, for the past two years. Has the famous blue-masked hero finally fallen victim to one of the malicious felons or beautiful femme fatales from his lengthy rogues’ gallery of enemies? In the words of Central City’s most prominent headlines: “WHO KILLED THE SPIRIT?”

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers):
With the general age and overall prestige of Will Eisner’s The Spirit, I always feel a bit odd in that I’ve read very, very little of the character over the years. The forties era material has always been a little difficult for me to get my mindset shift to, and as much as I try I rarely feel like I succeed, both with original work and more updated ones. With this one, I do admit that I’m one of the very few that really, really, enjoyed the live action movie as I find it to be just incredibly fun in all the right ways. But the comics have eluded me. What could get me to try it in earnest? Well, Matt Wagner is pretty much at the top of that list, so discovering that he’s writing a new twelve part Spirit series essentially makes this must-read material.

And the opening issue pretty much hits all the right notes about it, though it has a difficult job to do. Without ejecting all that came before and starting from scratch, what we get is a series where it’s been a couple of years since the passing of The Spirit, the unofficial deputy of Central City that’s helped take down many master criminal alongside or for the police department under Commission Dolan. With the close relationship between the two, one borne out of The Spirit’s real identity and his relationship with Dolan’s daughter, that worked well. But since he’s been missing for so long and presumed dead, life has moved on. Dolan’s retiring soon, the new commissioner has a hardline approach when it comes to vigilantes like him, and even Ellen Dolan has moved on to a young man that she pretty much has under her “control”, doing everything she wants. But it lacks the life and vitality across the board that it had with The Spirit involved.

Much of the first issue is involved in showing some of the past events, the origin story for how The Spirit came to be, and the connections with the Dolan’s and some of what was done. It’s all pretty smooth and the blending of past and present hits well, particularly with Schkade’s artwork tying it together well enough. The back half of the book is a little rougher to get into, partially because it’s a bit more unfamiliar for me, as we get two of the Spirit’s helpers from before with the now private detectives of Strunk and White. They’ve been keeping up in dealing with low level stuff since the Spirit disappeared, and we see them doing some good work here, but there’s this sense that they’re really underperforming because of the change without the Spirit. That they intend to figure out what happened to him is the catalyst for getting things moving, but you’d think they’d have done it a bit earlier than two years later. That said, we do get a good feel for both of them and they may uncover some interesting things. White in particular has a good view of things, and you can see how the modern lens will deal with looking at the stories of the period a bit more honestly and less cleanly, which is to its advantage.

In Summary:
Though not a big fan or a deep knowledge fan of The Spirit, Wagner and Schkade have put together a very accessible book here. One that explains a lot of the foundations of the work while also moving it forward in new ways, blending the past and modern styles in some very good ways. The book is a very good read, well detailed, filled with personalities that stand out, and come across visually in some pretty terrific and striking ways. While it’s largely doing the heavy lifting here of explaining things and setting the table for what’s to come, it does it in a way that really does engage and makes you want to see what the secrets and truths may be, and how the city is going to change because of it. There’s a real professionalism and polish about the work that makes me now anticipate the twelve issue run in full and already wishing I had it all to pore over.

Grade: B+

Age Rating: 13+
Released By: Dynamite Entertainment
Release Date: July 1st, 2015
MSRP: $3.99

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