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From A Library – The Spirit Volume 1

The Spirit #1–6 and Batman/The Spirit by Darwyn Cooke and Jeph Loeb & Darwyn Cooke

Confession time – I haven’t read any of the original issues of The Spirit by Will Eisner. Being versed a little in comic book history, I am aware of the character obviously (and not just because Frank Miller is doing the film) and the influence of Eisner’s work on the field. I just haven’t got round to actually reading any of the books. I’ve read more of Alan Moore and Rick Veitch’s homage, Greyshirt, in Tomorrow Stories, than the original so when this volume appeared on the book shelves of the library, I felt duty bound to read it.

Darwyn Cooke is the man responsible for this version of The Spirit – with the deserved acclaim for The New Frontier behind him, he is obviously up for the challenge of following Eisner on his most well-known creation. From my understanding, I thought that the composition and panel layout was a crucial aspect to The Spirit (certainly based on the interesting panel design in Greyshirt), but Cooke opts for a traditional style of grids to tell the story, with the exception of the title splash pages.

I have nothing to base any comparison against, so Cooke can do what he wants, but he starts out with a lot of humour to bring you onside – the ticker tape along the bottom of the television screen of the news show has some hilarious lines: ‘-ited Nations officials finally admit they’re “basically useles’; ‘oil prices up … no, down … and up again … wait …’ – and tells entertaining done-in-one crime dramas about Denny Colt and his cast of supporting characters, rogues gallery and femme fatales.

The first story concerns a newsreader being kidnapped by The Pill because she was going to blow the lid off the crime cartel of Central City. The Spirit rescues her (after a symbolic rebirth, as he escapes from a slit in the back seat of a car, to demonstrate that this is something new), only to discover that she was broadcasting from her mobile throughout, thus alerting the bad guys to their location.

The second issue is about Madam P’Gell and her quest for revenge, while the third issue is about the origin of The Spirit, as a character from that fateful night of his ‘death’ reappears. The fourth issue involves Silk Satin, special agent, and an adventure in the sand. Issue five goes for jokes, when Spirit-brand pork and beans hit the market – the cover for this issue if particularly funny – due to Mister Carrion, perhaps the oddest villain, and his vulture Julia. The final Cooke-written issue is an odd story about a musician who is changed by rainwater dripping from a blue space rock – this tale feels out of place next to the previous stories, but it demonstrates the range of genres The Spirit can inhabit. However, Cooke tells the stories with wit, energy, warmth and control of the characters, and these six issues are well constructed and thoroughly entertaining.

The collection finishes with the Batman/Spirit team-up, written by Loeb but drawn by Cooke. This is a little silly, which might be the point, but jars against the previous stories. The respective rogues galleries band together to destroy the Policeman’s Benevolent Association’s Annual Law Enforcement Convention (where Batman’s Commissioner Gordon and The Spirit’s Commissioner Dolan are in attendance) and all the police who are there. Poison Ivy, Killer Croc, Harley Quinn, Riddler, Scarface, Penguin, Catwoman, the Joker, P’Gell, Carrion, Cossack and Octopus all appear in this tale from back in the early days of both heroes. It feels a little forced and pointless (unless you really wanted to see this team-up), which is a shame compared with the rest of the book.

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