Friday, September 21, 2018

Retro Review: Spirit Newspaper Strip #1 (1940) - "The Origin of the Spirit"

Spirited Away

Written by: Will Eisner
Art by: Will Eisner and Joe Kubert
Cover Price: Insert in the Sunday edition of Register and Tribune Syndicate newspaper
Release Date: June 2, 1940

I have always wanted to get into the Spirit and after Reggie sent me a hardcover volume (vol 4), I decided to do it.  It's funny that almost every comic fan knows the name of Will Eisner, but I'm not sure that a lot of people have read his most famous work.  For these retro reviews, I am starting from the beginning here and will continue on, though I doubt I will ever reach the end.  Let's jump into the origin of the Spirit, shall we?

We open with Eisner introducing his main characters, Denny Colt and Commissioner Dolan.  They have a playful (betting a nickel?  Rockefellers!) back and forth and the scene ends with Colt heading off to capture the escaped Dr. Cobra so he can collect the reward...hopefully that is more than 5¢!

We quickly head off and see Denny find Dr. Cobra's sewer lab (yea, the Doctor is not very fancy) and when a fight breaks out, Denny shots the huge tank of chemicals Cobra was experimenting on and they spill out all over him.

Dr. Cobra makes his escape right before the police and Commissioner Dolan show up and find Denny lying there dead.  This is confirmed by the coroner and the headline in next day's paper.  My favorite thing about a lot of these classic comics is to use the newspaper headlines as a narration device!

That can't be it, right?  Right!  Later that night we see Denny rise from the dead and while it's not really scary, it made me smile as he makes his way to see Dolan.  There isn't any real logic in going to see his friend except to set up the reward angle for Denny and for Dolan to recognize the voice of his dead friend.  We also get Denny's new alter-ego name...The Spirit!

As Denny heads off to take down Dr. Cobra, Dolan investigates and that leads them both to the same place...the cemetery.  After Denny roughs up some of Dr. Cobra's thugs, his secret is revealed to Dolan and they head off to take down Cobra together.  I love the way that Eisner explains what happened to Denny here.  It's one of those moments where the reader sees the characters completely understand and so you just go with it.

The two eventually take down Dr. Cobra when Dolan shoots him.  Again, these classic comics usually end with the bad guy dead!  Oh well, we hardly knew ye, Dr. Cobra, but you served your purpose!

My favorite part of the entire strip is the ending when the Spirit tells Dolan that he will shack up in the cemetery, live off reward money and gives the Commissioner his card...a mini rock tombstone!  I need to get something like that!  To make it even better, Dolan takes credit for taking down Cobra so I guess the Spirit will be eating light this week without that reward money!!!

This is a classic and whether or not you love golden age comics, I think most comic fans would get a kick out of reading this.  There is the standard goofiness that is in almost all of these older comics, but this is a bunch of steps above most of what came out at the time.  In just a couple of pages, Will Eisner creates an iconic character and makes you want more.  There are whole runs that can't do that!  He is a legend and this first strip already shows why!  Then there is the art which is awesome.  The progression and storytelling are way ahead of its time and I mean still to this day.

Bits and Pieces:

I say this a lot in these retro reviews, but this is something that all comic book fans should check out.  It's a quick read (it's only seven pages long), but it's packed with story, action, and characters that stand the test of time.