September 1, 2009

, , , ,   |  

The Spirit Volume 1

Written by Darwyn Cooke and Jeph Loeb
Illustrated by Darwyn Cooke and J. Bone
DC

I've not read all of the original Spirit, but I have read enough of it and Eisner's other work to get an appreciation for the character and its importance to comics.

I'd also heard good things about the new Spirit series, so I figured I would give it a try. Darwyn Cooke has a good rep as a writer/artist as well, so it seemed like a good combination.

The results are, I have to say, somewhat mixed. Cooke tries way too hard to do some of the things Eisner used to do (like splaying "Spirit" on the splash page in ever-more-creative manners) and seems almost afraid to use the Spirit's African American sidekick. When he's working with Eisner characters, there almost seems to be too much of an attempt to get it right, so they feel more like empty vessels than real characters.

On the other hand, as the book progresses and Cooke starts just getting the Spirit in strange situations (the use of his likeness--Anime Style--to sell canned beans, for instance), there's a comfort with the material that makes the book worth reading. The story of a strange rock that causes happiness and tragedy while the Spirit ends up as a side character also works well and seems to play to Cooke's strengths as both plotter and artist.

As an opening trade on a series that can't be easy to do--think of all the eyes judging you against the past and then you try to write something--this ends up as pretty good stuff. The stories at the front are pedestrian and feel like something Batman could do, which is funny considering there's a Batman crossover included in this collection. However, that doesn't make them bad stories, just a bit--generic, I guess is the best word I can think of for it.

One thing I found both odd and refreshing was that the stories were all one-shots. I am so used to reading things in trade that was a nice throwback to the way things were. None of the tales included here required two issues or more to tell. Heck, there's not even really any subplotting going on to tie them together, unless you count the Spirit's weakness when it comes to dealing with women. (I am afraid that while racial stereotyping is gone, Eisner's callous treatment of women lives on, as even the good women are shown as harpies.) I assume this is done in homage to the original materal, which is both good and bad, depending on how you look at it. I really wish Cooke had tried a better approach to the women in the stories, but then again, that's a complaint easily levelled at a lot of comics.

The Batman crossover is an odd duck, written with the help of Jeph Loeb. It's definitely designed to be in the style of a Golden Age Batman story, or perhaps the animated series. Batman and the Spirit both follow their police chiefs to a conference featuring quite the Rogue's gallery. Bats and the Spirit work together to try and stop the Octopus's mad scheme, but there's a Joker in the deck. It was cute seeing the interaction between the two sets of rogues and the story itself was fun. Sometimes, a comic doesn't have to be anything other than that, you know?

I'd say this is probably of limited interest, simply because there aren't a lot of hard-core Spirit fans, and those who are may not like the idea of someone other than Eisner doing the writing/drawing. Plus, there's twenty-some volumes of the original, so it's not like we're lacking for Spirit stories. If you see this, and like either Cooke or the character, give it a shot.