The Best of The Spirit


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The Best of The Spirit


  • Words: Will Eisner
  • Art: Will Eisner, et. al
  • Inks: Will Eisner, et al.
  • Colors: Will Eisner, et al.
  • Story Title: N/A
  • Publisher: DC Comics
  • Price: $14.99
  • Release Date: Dec 14, 2005

The Spirit 101.

Twenty-two of Will Eisner’s most beloved and well known Spirit stories have been gathered in this affordable trade paperback. These are the stories and characters that first brought Eisner to national attention. The femme fatales, the cheap crooks and gangsters, and the man who fought them dressed in a blue suit, fedora, and domino mask.

The character of the Spirit was supposed to be created in the same vein as other costumed heroes emerging in the late 1930’s and early 1940’s, however, he owes far more to old pulp traditions of The Shadow than to Batman or Superman. Appearing as mini-comic books in the Sunday newspaper, these stories were marketed toward children but Eisner’s work surpassed age boundaries. While kids could enjoy the almost non-stop action and adventure, older readers who happened along would find some serious and humorous explorations on the human condition. Many of Eisner’s themes and topics were far ahead of their time and some, familiar then, were so well written they prove timely now. Take, for example, Eisner’s story of a man who is put down his entire life. When he finally snaps and takes his revenge it is as modern as our own phenomenon of "going postal".

There was also the violence of the series, which is perhaps surprising to modern readers. Characters often died, and sometimes in terrible fashion. The Spirit almost never escaped an adventure without taking a few lumps and Eisner seemed to revel in the satire of drawing the Spirit with bruises and copious bandages while other comic book characters escaped their escapades without a scratch.

Each story is only seven pages long but it is a testament to Eisner’s style that they seem much longer. When one of these tales is finished the reader feels as satisfied as if he/she had read a modern, twenty-two page comic. In just a few pages Eisner consistently managed to present whole individuals, characters that the reader recognized and could see the humanity in. There are writers in comics today who still cannot do in twenty-two pages what Eisner could do in seven.

Not only did he handle the writing duties, but he was artist for the series as well. This collection is wonderful in that it contains a few of Eisner’s earliest stories, as well as those in the middle and towards the end of his Spirit run. Over the years his work became more polished and faceted and this can be seen in the collection. There must also be recognition and acknowledgement (as Eisner himself did) that a number of assistants and fill-in writers and artists would assist with production over the years– particularly between 1942 and 1945 when Eisner was called up for duty in WW II. Some of those assistants and ghostwriters are names famous in their own right, such as Jack Cole, creator of Plastic Man.

For a number of years now DC has made The Spirit available in their Archive editions. Although a beautiful format, lovingly produced, the Archive editions are priced out of the range of most casual comic book buyers. Even for collectors it would be a serious investment to purchase all of the seventeen volumes currently available. There have been, in the past, other reprints of Eisner’s Spirit material, but even these are now long out of print. Finally fans and new readers can get a taste of this work at an affordable price.

Eisner’s legacy is undeniable. He is the man credited with making comic books a recognized and respected art form. In his honor, the comic book industry instituted the Eisner Awards to recognize significant contributions to the world of comics. He passed away almost a year ago but modern writers still find themselves following Eisner’s ghost... or perhaps his spirit. If you’ve never read The Spirit you have a treat waiting for you and this is an excellent place to start.

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