Monday, October 25, 2004

The Spirit

For the past couple of weeks, between other things I've been reading THE SPIRIT ARCHIVES, VOLUME I by Will Eisner, and I finished it tonight. This is a perfect book for reading in bits and pieces, since all the stories are only seven pages long. For those who don't know, these are comic book stories that ran originally in a syndicated weekly insert in various newspapers during the Forties and Fifties. The Spirit is really amateur criminologist Denny Colt (a great name) who was put into suspended animation when he was drenched in chemicals while battling the evil Doctor Cobra. Since he appeared to be dead, he was buried in Wildwood Cemetary. (Darn good thing he wasn't embalmed first . . . ) When he wakes up a day later, he decides to let his Denny Colt identity remain dead and buried so that he can fight crime without anybody knowing who he is. To that end, he dons a small mask, which of course conceals his true identity from everyone even though he still looks and dresses exactly like Denny Colt. But arguing with comic book logic is wasted effort. Better to just enjoy the stories.

And these stories from the first seven months of the feature, June through December 1940, are certainly enjoyable. They start out as pretty standard Forties comic book fare but gradually take on a humorous edge at times, while at other times the stories feature some pretty grim slice-of-life social commentary. Sometimes the same story manages to be both funny and bleak. Eisner was also an innovative artist as well as a good writer, and the stories are usually much better that most of what was being published in comic books at the time.

I'd read quite a few of the Spirit stories from the late Forties. During the Seventies some of them were reprinted by Warren Publishing, the same outfit that produced VAMPIRELLA, CREEPY, and EERIE (also magazines that I read and enjoyed). By the late Forties, some of the Spirit stories were being written by Jules Feiffer, and together he and Eisner produced some of the best comics of all time. The early stories aren't as good as the later ones, but they're still well worth reading.

2 comments:

Unknown said...

One of my favorite disguises is in the old Batman serial. Bruce Wayne drives a Mercury convertible with the top up. Batman drives the same Mercury convertible with the top down. And of course nobody ever notices that the two guys are driving the same car, except every seven-year-old in the audience.

Hank Brown said...

Are you crazy? Of course domino masks are effective--it's impossible to recognize someone with their eyebrows and cheekbones concealed. All Superman needs is a pair of glasses. The Merc convertible sounds perfectly plausible.

Ahem.

Thanks James for pointing this post out to me. I didn't know (or had forgotten) that Feiffer later came to work on The Spirit himself. I wonder if he wrote the Damascus story??? Anyway, I'll be looking for more reprints. I wasn't overly impressed with the movie, BTW.