Propaganda relives the Spirit of Will Eisner
Back in 2007 I reviewed the Batman/Spirit special and the first issue of this Spirit series (review here). I declared it to be:
“Simply beautiful. A pure labour of love from Darwyn Cooke and J Bone. Every panel drips with style, design and it’s a perfect homage to a master storyteller. This feels exactly like it should, it’s very much a worthy addition to the Eisner library.“
And now, having read this first volume containing issues 1-6 and the Batman/Spirit special I have very little to add to that. Quite simply, I doubt I’ll read anything this near-perfect in a superhero vein this year.
Darwyn Cooke and J Bone have managed to do something very special here. They haven’t tried to update, retool or reimagine the Spirit for a modern age. They haven’t made him a grim and gritty vigilante. They haven’t given him a new origin, a drug addiction, psychological weakness or sexual deviation involving animals or any of the standard revamp tricks we used to get when characters were reimagined in this way. In fact, they haven’t done anything to him at all. All they’ve done is look at what made the character work so well and given us more of the same. They’ve taken Eisner’s boy in blue and simply told some more wonderful, exciting and genuinely fun stories. It sounds easy, it sounds simple, but I can’t really imagine anyone else managing to do it anywhere near this well.
For those who don’t know the details; The Spirit is Denny Colt, crimefighter in Blue Suit, Fedora and gloves. Created by Will Eisner, back in 1940, The Spirit is quite rightly held up as one of the most perfect example of what can be done in comics. The Spirit was, quite simply, a masterpiece. Eisner’s sense of storytelling and innovative page designs are quite marvellous, the way he can convey so much and so simply is masterful and practically impossible to replicate.
In fact, a few years back, various big names in the comics biz; Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, Dave Gibbons, Paul Chadwick et al all tried and failed to produce a great Spirit comic. It was interesting reading their individual takes on the character but although the comics were really good, they lacked the style and innocence that made the Spirit so great.
But not here. Cooke and Bone absolutely and completely recapture the sheer, simple brilliance of Eisner’s character. The art is perfection as well. Cooke & Bone have created a style that almost does the unimaginable; captures Eisner in spirit but creates a look and a feel all their own. Not better than Eisner, just equally different.
(Yep, it’s got all that. Art by Darwyn Cooke from The Spirit. Published DC Comics.)
The only shame is that there will only be two volumes of this. And that’s it. J Bone couldn’t commit to any more than 12 issues and without him, Darwyn Cooke couldn’t envisage carrying the book. So cherish this while you can because there’s not much left.
(Your homework for today – read Eisner’s Spirit. Cover art from the Best of The Spirit, by the irreplaceable Will Eisner. Published DC Comics.)
But luckily for you, there are a huge amount of magnificent Spirit comics available from the genius that was Will Eisner. DC has collected the entire Will Eisner strip into 24 volumes of the Spirit Archives and there’s even a very reasonably priced sampler; The Best Of The Spirit. As good as this Cooke/Bone version is, it’s nothing compared to Eisner’s original. All I can hope is that anyone reading this review, anyone enjoying this Spirit, will go out and investigate Eisner’s Spirit. Once there, they will discover a genius at work.
Richard Bruton is a lifelong comics fan and former Comic Book Store Guy; you can read more of his thoughts on comics and life on his blog Fictions.