The Spirit Book One

Darwyn Cooke (with the aid of J. Bone’s inks) is responsible for the most exciting re-imagining of a character this decade: Will Eisner’s Spirit. Book One is a handsome hardcover collecting the first six issues of the series plus the Batman/Spirit crossover written by Jeph Loeb.

Will Eisner Spirit Book One cover
Will Eisner’s Spirit Book One
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The book itself stands apart from the usual collection. The hardcover binding consists of images instead of plain color boards, and the dust jacket has the Spirit letters cut out to show the art beneath. It’s a beautiful job of design, just like the material it contains.

Or rather, re-design. Cooke reinvents the decades-old characters for modern readers, keeping all the excitement while ditching some of Eisner’s more embarrassing, dated elements. Obviously, these changes are most noticeable when it comes to Ebony, the young black cab-driving sidekick, but the women also benefit. They’re still femme fatales, but with additional backstory, they’re more three-dimensional and less stereotypical, with motivations that don’t solely revolve around the title character.

Everyone’s gorgeous, or at least gorgeously drawn. There’s exoticism and glamour and danger and tortured histories and a handsome, rugged man in the middle of it all. Individual panels are marvelous in their construction and subtleties. P’Gell is just as seductive and slinky as she needs to be to snare a foreign prince, while Silk Satin is a CIA agent with endurance and determination to spare.

The cover promises “Action – Mystery – Adventure”, and that’s what you’ll get here in spades. Whether it’s rescuing a kidnapped television anchor or crashing an embassy party, the Spirit does everything with style and verve, capped off with Cooke’s wonderful expressions and gestures. It’s pure comics: imagination and skill put down in words and lines.

This is high escapism in the classic mold, and Cooke was the best possible choice for caretaker of the Eisner legacy. His work is true to the concept and the roots of its appeal while he brings creativity to his work with the characters.

Sadly, the last issue of this series with these creators will be #12. Here’s an interview with the author. (A complimentary copy for this review was provided by the publisher.)

7 Responses to “The Spirit Book One”

  1. Chuck Says:

    I’ve loved this book since issue #1. There have been some stunning issues.

  2. Joshua Says:

    Seems to me Eisner’s artistic legacy would be better served by artists doing and owning their own original work.

  3. John Says:

    I have to agree with Joshua even as I agree with your assessment, Johanna. I read the first couple issues and thought it was all very well-realized, I can’t think of one bad word to say about it. The thing is, I have a reaction to it that I’ve had other remakes of brilliant things – what’s the point? Why is this necessary? I have yet to answer that, I confess. I suppose it was neat for Cooke to be able to work on these characters and that bit of personal satisfaction is valid as a justification, I guess.

    I don’t really see the point in updating The Spirit – the character is about as relevant to that action as Sam Spade or The Thin Man, all types of their time – or putting him in a shared universe – in fact, not being in one is part of the charm. The same charm, I might add, that has been lost with Plastic Man and Shazam.

    On the other hand, I suppose this was inevitable and I should just be thankful that the originals haven’t been sullied by instead placing the character in the hands of an over-rated hack like Frank Miller.

    Oh, wait . . .

  4. Chuck Says:

    They haven’t put the Spirit in their shared world, and hopefully they never will. I feel the same about Shazam and Plas, too. Shared worlds have their own cool, but they’re overdone nowadays.

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