December 25, 2008

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Best of the Spirit

Written by Will Eisner
Illustrated by Will Eisner
DC Comics

[In honor--is that the right word in this case?--of the new Frank Miller movie, I figured I'd post this review I did a few years ago of this introduction to the classic Eisner Superhero. I have to admit, what little I've seen of the movie doesn't make me hopeful and the blogs are making it even worse.

At any rate, should you want to know more about the Spirit but don't want to spring for the expensive Archive editions (Showcase Presents The Spirit would be GREAT DC, thanks for asking), this would be a good place to start.]

As you may have gathered, this is a collection of Spirit stories ranging from the origin story to more modern tales. Most people, once they start reading comics fairly seriously, become aware of Eisner, the awards named for him, and so forth. I grant that Eisner was groundbreaking, but this is where I have to go on a "man was he misogynistic" rant that I admit I missed until an ex of mine pointed it out.

There isn't a single story featuring a female character in this collection of twenty two stories that doesn't put the woman in an unfavorable light. The best we can manage is the Spirit's one female main character, but she still can't see her way past a criminal husband. Sheesh. Perhaps that's just the nature of the collection, but when you take into account his graphic novels, especially the autobiographic one, it's clear that Eisner had issues with women all of his life.

That's partially mitigated by his life circumstances, but I find it odd that no one ever talks about how anti-feminist Eisner's work really is once you start to look at it more closely. I'd like to hear this shortcoming mentioned more often, especially since I've read and re-read the apologia for Eisner's African-American sidekick. If we can make apologies for his treatment of African Americans at the start of his career, why does he get a pass for ill treatment of women by his pen?

Still, the sin is worth looking past, because there are a lot of great stories here. My personal favorite may be the one on the streetcar, where the Spirit uses spirits to help get the killer. I also like the Christmas tale of redemption and the one about people who have fallen through the cracks living in the sewers (written decades before the Morlocks) and feeling like they have their own form of justice.

All of the stories have the creative use of panel space that Eisner is legendary for, and you can see that he was destined for better things than a fairly run-of-the-mill hero. I'm not sure who picked these particular stories, but they are a nice progression of mid to late forties strips. Eisner is definitely a must-read for comics fans, but those with stong feelings about portrayals of women in comics should be ready to wince here and there. I know I do.