The Spirit Archives Volume 26
Kudos to DC for following through on their commitment to complete the Spirit Archives series, even if most of the books are now out of print. Still, most collectors bought them on release — spreading out purchases is the only way to afford the whole thing!
This last volume, released last summer, is particularly odd, and of interest mostly to completists, since it has very few actual comics in it. It collects lots of Will Eisner art featuring the character of Denny Colt (The Spirit), but most of the pieces are covers or pinups.
I found it most relevant in terms of how it illustrates the changing face of comics. The Spirit had always “done its own thing”, being published as a newspaper insert instead of a stand-alone newsstand magazine-format publication, but Eisner’s later partnership with Denis Kitchen, who as instrumental in bringing awareness of the Spirit forward during the 70s and 80s, briefly took the character in some unexpected directions.
The book is arranged by decade, with the 1950s represented by just a few sketch and script pages of stories left unfinished by the series’ cancellation. The rarest material is in the 1960s section. There’s a never-before-reprinted five-page story involving the New York City mayoral campaign of 1965 as well as four stories from the aborted Harvey Comics Spirit run. (I had no idea Harvey, home of Casper the Friendly Ghost and Richie Rich, tried a Spirit reprint series.)
The 1970s brings the Spirit into the world of the underground comic, as Kitchen Sink began their reprints. Eisner contributed new covers and short stories, many of which deal with the changing times. For example, the first issue’s wraparound cover has a topless woman on the back who’s described as “a female impersonator with hollow breasts” used to smuggle drugs. I can’t figure out if Eisner was enjoying a new freedom or determinedly trying to seem hip.
One of the new one-pagers makes fun of those who want to compare the Spirit to a superhero; another handwaves away the problem of the racism demonstrated by the stereotype of Ebony. It seems like Eisner would rather go for a joke than seriously respond to criticism; his right, of course, and probably smarter for his reputation in the long run.
After the first fourth of the book, the rest is mostly illustrations and covers done for special projects (convention programs and the like) and the reprint series. It’s nice work, but since Eisner is lauded for his storytelling skills, it kind of misses the point. Well over half the book is cover reprints, making this a very expensive gallery.
The biggest omission — and given the detailed nature of the rest of the book, it surprises me to note this — is the jam story from The Spirit (Kitchen Sink) #30. Only the three pages drawn by Eisner, including the first and last, are included. I guess permissions would have been too complicated and/or costly, since there were 50 contributors. The four-page Cerebus Jam story, partially drawn by Dave Sim and Cerebus, is included in full.
Overall, this book is unnecessary to understanding Eisner’s work or the appeal of the character, but it’s easier to find than all the various bits of ephemera it contains, if you want to see absolutely everything Eisner did with the character.