Our next recommendation in The 2020 PopCult Gift Guide is a slim, inexpensive collection of some of the best comic book stories ever published. Any comic reader who enjoys excellence, any fan of the legendary Will Eisner, and also any fan of crime noir will love THE SPIRIT: AN 80TH ANNIVERSARY CELEBRATION.
THE SPIRIT: AN 80TH ANNIVERSARY CELEBRATION
by Will Eisner
Clover Press, LLC
Will Eisner’s The Spirit is one of the most important comic book features ever, due to the influence it’s had on comics since it debuted in 1940. Eisner’s mastery of short-form storytelling, combined with his innovation in building much of the language of graphic storytelling and the comic book continues to influence comic book artists many decades after the publication of new stories of The Spirit ended. Eisner was not only a master of laying out a story and panel composition, but his finished art (some of it completed by assistants under his direction) still stands out as some of the best comics has ever seen.
It is a testament to Eisner’s talents that The Spirit has remained relevant and has been kept in print for such a long time. I first discovered The Spirit in the 1970s, when Jim Warren brought the character back to newsstands in a magazine-sized reprint series.
But The Spirit was originally published in color, as a comic book/comic strip hybrid. The Spirit Section was a weekly tabloid-sized comic book, distributed as a Sunday Newspaper insert, and at its peak in the 1940s, was delivered to over five million households.
The Spirit was the masked vigilante identity of Denny Colt, a Central City police detective gunned down in the line of duty who fakes his death so that he can continue to fight crime outside of the boundaries of the law, with the approval of the city’s police commissioner.
While that might lead you to think that The Spirit is a gritty, noiresque crime drama, you’d only be partly correct. In addition to being the finest comics noir ever created, The Spirit also offered up light-hearted character studies, poignant urban fables and regularly mixed in elements of romance, comedy, horror and adventure with the not-so-standard detective stories.
THE SPIRIT: AN 80TH ANNIVERSARY CELEBRATION is a delightful sampler, with nine vintage stories (five of them with new color by award winning colorists Laura Martin and Jeromy Cox), each with a brief introduction by a selection of comics professionals and historians, including Denis Kitchen, Paul Levitz, Craig Yoe and Kenova’s own, Beau Smith.
My only nit-picky criticism of the introductions is that they don’t all give the original date of publication of the story. Chalk that up to me being a comics nerd who was spoiled by reading reprint comics curated by E. Nelson Bridwell while I was growing up.
The intros are short and filled with great information, and the selection of stories is top-notch, avoiding the “Classics” that have already been reprinted a million times before in favor of lesser-seen, but still amazing works that show off Eisner’s range as a storyteller. We get to see The Spirit in different settings, a Western, a monster movie, a broad parody, a radio drama, a nuclear spy story and more. This volume also includes his “origin” tale, as re-told in 1946.
All of this demonstrates Eisner’s timeless quality as a writer and artist. These stories still stand head and shoulders above most of the comics produced before or since. Eisner’s work does not seem like “Golden Age” comics work, but it is. However, it fit right in with the Warren Magazines when I discovered it in the 70s, and it still stands out compared to the best of today’s comics.
If you were to compare Eisner to a filmmaker (which is easy to do because he was a pioneer when it came to bringing a cinematic style to comics). you couldn’t just compare him to one director. Eisner’s work is like the best of Orson Welles, Frank Capra, Sam Fuller and Stanley Kubrick, all rolled into one.
THE SPIRIT: AN 80TH ANNIVERSARY CELEBRATION is a great introduction to Eisner’s work. The Spirit has been collected many times before (notably with the entire run collected as part of DC Comics’ Archives Series), but in this nicely-bound, slim but ample collection, at a low price, it’s affordable and easy to hold and read. This is in the “Graphic Novella” format, which is a softcover book with hardcover binding and trim, and only around a hundred pages or so.
THE SPIRIT: AN 80TH ANNIVERSARY CELEBRATION is highly-recommended for any fan of comics, and can be ordered from any bookseller using the ISBN code. If you are shopping online to avoid dying from COVID-19, you can order the book from Amazon, or directly from Clover Press.