Sunday Slugfest: The Spirit #1

A comic review article by: Jason Sacks, Robert Tacopina, Maxwell Yezpitelok
Organized crime and police corruption run rampant in Central City, and Police Commissioner Dolan chooses to walk the line between right and wrong as he runs a police force that is bought off by The Octopus and his eight organized crime families. Only Denny Colt, a.k.a. The Spirit is effective in combating The Octopus and his eight arms, but how much can one man do?

Robert Tacopina:
Maxwell Yezpitelok:
Jason Sacks:

Robert Tacopina:

Will Eisner's The Spirit is a series that is near and dear to many comic fans. However, it never appealed to me and thus the majority of my experience with the property has been the craptastic film of a couple of years ago. With that travesty fresh in my mind this book better come out like a bullet. However before I even opened the book I couldn't help but wonder why DC decided to relaunch this without Darwyn Cooke who was praised for his work on the title. Going in a new direction the publisher hands the keys to Eisner's baby to writer Mark Schultz.

So going in with all these hesitations I found myself rather impressed what the creative team managed to do with this reintroduction to The Spirit. I was enthralled from the breathtaking opening sequence which was thoroughly entertaining and gave a good bit of description regarding the character of The Spirit without having to resort to a long drawn out origin story. The rest of the ride was equally compelling with the exception of Imani and her Centralettes, who just came across as somewhat of a joke. Oh yeah, the sight of The Spirit deep-throating a hot dog was kind of creepy too.

The dramatic element of this noir flavored book was what had me hooked and the way that writer Mark Schultz gingerly allowed the events to unravel at a pace that was beneficial to his style paid off big. It was nothing at all like some other titles that try to ram the story at you at break-neck speeds to the extent where things get lost in the hectic pace.

The revelation of infamous assassin Angel Smerti was interesting and knowing The Spirit's history, well let's just say that Angel definitely falls in our hero's wheelhouse. The characters and their characterization was another bright spot be it from the main protagonist or his arch-nemesis the Octopus. Kudos to Schultz for coming out of the gate with a gripping story that manages to encapsulate the long celebrated history of this character into a single first issue that will hopefully draw in new readers.

The art by Moritat, with colors by Gabriel Bautista, added a gritty flair to the environment of Central City and its inhabitants. Moritat's pencils gave the city a sense of life that enhanced the feel of this issue. Plus, he draws some nice female characters on top of it all. The colors were exceptionally suited to the story and pencils infusing a little extra pop to the eye candy.

As if the main story wasn't enough we get treated to an equally fantastic back-up story by the legendary duo of Denny O'Neil and Bill Sienkiewicz who instill a vastly different but equally read worthy yarn that is a wonderful accompaniment to the main story.

I found myself deeply intrigued with The Spirit under this new creative team. Having said that I am going to give this a good arc or two to prove that Schultz & Co. can continue this stellar quality of storytelling and continue to earn my cash. While I did greatly enjoy the relaunch of this title I have to admit that with such a saturated market it will have to continuously impress for me to warrant adding another title to my pull list. If they keep this up it will be a slam dunk.

Maxwell Yezpitelok:

Let me start with a warning: the scene depicted in the cover, with The Spirit and his girlfriend hanging over a factory well (or a sewer, or something like that), is nowhere to be found in the actual comic. So, if you're some sort of "women hanging over sewers (or factory wells, or something like that)" fetishist and you were planning to get this comic only because you hoped to see more of that sort of thing, don't do it unless you have the time to write an angry letter. Otherwise, go ahead, because this is a great comic. And besides, it's hard to stay angry at a cover by Ladrönn.

Mark Schultz and Moritat have done a pretty good job here. The characters are well-rounded, the situations are intriguing, and the atmosphere feels very real. The art is fantastic. Moritat's Central City has more personality than a lot of people I know. It's the perfect setting for a hardboiled detective story, and that's exactly what this is: a great hardboiled detective story. Is it a great Spirit story, though? Um, no, not really.

There's a character called The Spirit and a character called Commissioner Dolan and a character called The Octopus, and they even look like The Spirit and Dolan and The Octopus (well, not The Octopus… he doesn't look like anything), but none of them feel like they've got anything to do with Will Eisner's characters. They're closer to Frank Miller's film adaptation then they are to the original comic strip. I know that sounds like an awful thing to say about something, anything, but it really isn't. Miller's version failed because he couldn't decide if he wanted to do drama or slapstick—he kept putting these gritty Milleresque characters in funny Eisneresque situations, which made for an odd combination.

Schultz knows he wants to do drama and doesn't appear to have much interest in slapstick, so the end result is a lot better… even if it's nothing like Eisner's original. I know this is hard to grasp for a lot of comic fans, but a bad adaptation doesn't necessarily make for a bad comic (or a film, for that matter). Consider how unfaithful the movie Blade Runner was to Philip K. Dick's original story. If Ridley Scott was concerned about not pissing off the fans, several DVD libraries would be short one classic (or five, if you count the reissues).

Oh, about the back-up story: Denny O'Neil and Bill Sienkiewicz make a great team, but I gotta say his art doesn't work as well in black and white as I thought it should. Personally, I found the figures and the narration itself a little confusing, and adding some color generally helps with that. Other than that, it's a clever short story with a cool ending.

Jason Sacks:

I've been a fan of The Spirit for as long as I've been reading comics. There's magic in the characters, magic in the setting of the stories, and magic in the almost unlimited storytelling choices that a character like the Spirit presents to a creator.

The Spirit and his setting are infinitely malleable. You can do almost anything with the character, his world, his friends and his allies. In the hands of even decent creators – Frank Miller notwithstanding – the Spirit is a character and series in which you can do most anything and have it work. It's one of the few series in which the individual creator matters, where great creators like Will Eisner, Darwyn Cooke, Mike Ploog, Neil Gaiman and Paul Chadwick can present their own unique takes on the character and have them feel both unique and appropriate.

Aside, of course, from the impossibly wretched Frank Miller film, which appropriately found its way onto our list of the Ten Worst Comics to Film Adaptations. The less said about that horrific two hours, the better.

Which brings us to the latest version of The Sprit, now as part of DC's new First Wave line.

The world of First Wave is intended to be a dark and bleak world, in which organized crime is rampant and only the greatest heroes of the "first wave" of heroism can fight that crime. First Wave is the perfect setting for a character like the Spirit. There are a long line of Spirit stories by both Eisner and Cooke that present the Spirit as a lone crusading hero battling impossible odds in order to defeat real-world evils. I was excited to read about this reboot of the character, as the previous DC series seemed a bit listless and unfocused after the brilliant Darwyn Cooke left the series.

The comic starts with a gorgeous cover by the amazing Ladrönn, a piece that's full of intensity and implied drama. Who cares if it doesn't represent a scene to be found inside the comic? With its dripping rain, looks of intense fear on the faces of the Spirit and Ellen, and noir feel, the cover is the perfect symbolic kickoff for the comic.

The splash page also does a great job of channeling the spirit (ha!) of Eisner's creation while also showing the creativity of artist Moritat. It's a tradition with Sprit stories for the splash page to have a great, stylized version of the Spirit logo. Moritat continues that tradition with a spectacular page in which the Spirit logo is spelled out in the skyline above Central City's very sinister-looking docks on a rainy day as the Spirit hovers in the darkness over the scene.

Not only is the splash page a cool image, but the page also works symbolically. The all-consuming maw of the city looms over the docks, literally consuming the docks in their shadow. In order to defeat the darkness, the Spirit must also become one with the darkness. Yet he's also separate from the darkness, somehow above the events in the city. Along with Mark Schultz's narration, which informs readers that "Central City destroys all that lives within its rotten borders," the beginning of this issue sets a wonderfully dark feel for the events that will follow.

As the story proceeds, we see the darkness on display as the Spirit battles a dockworker who's devoted to smuggling drugs into Central City in the pitch dark. But the Spirit triumphs in this small battle, and on page four literally brings light to a very dark situation.

As the story proceeds, readers learn more about Central City and get a feeling for a city that seems stuck in time. Though the story seems to be set in the present day, there are none of the strange feelings of the era that made last week's Doc Savage feel so awkward. Central City feels like a city out of the 1930s, a place straight from Will Eisner's comics about the immigrant experience, and that setting comes alive on the page. Drying laundry hangs on lines that cross tenement houses, street markets abound, elevated train tracks seem to trap characters on street level, and all the restaurants are greasy spoons.

There's a feeling of decrepitude about Central City, a feeling that the city may never have seen better days. It's a city where childless parents run free in the streets, the racketeers run wild, and the police are helpless to do much of anything to stop the continuing decay of society.

It feels like Schultz and Moritat have the setting just right. They've created a world that reflects their vision for the characters, and they bring that world to very vivid life.

Schultz and Moritat do a great job establishing the main characters. The Spirit is a heroic crusader in the classical mold, living outside the law in order to avoid corruption and to allow himself the freedom to fight crime as he needs to. Commissioner Dolan is a good man, though compromised by having to live inside the system. And his daughter Ellen Dolan is an idealist desperately trying to improve Central City, no matter the odds against her.

I found the villains less interesting. The gang meeting towards the end of this issue felt a bit flat and familiar to me. One section of the scene is swiped a bit strongly from the '80s movie The Untouchables, and none of the gangster characters really come alive for me.

But another character that seems straight from Eisner does come alive. The assassin Angel Smerti follows a long line of Eisneresque femmes fatale with punning names. She's beautiful and very, very dangerous, and will definitely be a great adversary for our hero in future issues.

The lead story in Spirit #1 isn't pure Eisner, but it's very true to the spirit of the character (hey, that's the second time I used that pun!). This should be a fun ride.

The back-up is the first of a series of "Spirit Black and White" anthology stories. This first piece is by Denny O'Neil and Bill Sienkiewicz. Sienkiewicz delivers some of his more interesting artwork in this story, delivering a story full of dramatic camera angles and some interesting effects with rain and lighting. It's a bit of a confusing read, but then again it's by Sienkiewicz and Sienkiewicz and confusing go together like the Spirit and noir. I enjoyed the story, but your mileage may vary on this one.

As a longtime Spirit fan I was delighted by this issue. The characters and city have a slightly different feel from the comics that Will Eisner and Darwyn Cooke created. Notably there's a pretty complete lack of humor. But the greatness of a character like the Spirit lies in his malleability. This alternative take on the character works really well. This should be a fun series.

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