Today is the day that many of us Golden Age comic book fans have been waiting for, because today is the day that Will Eisner’s The Spirit comes to a theater near you. For those of you who may think that The Spirit is just another superhero, think again. There is much more to him than a blue suit, a red tie and beautiful women – both good and evil.
The Spirit was a 7 page Sunday newspaper insert created by 22-year-old Will Eisner that first ran in the Register and Tribune Syndicate on June 2, 1940, shortly after Superman and Batman debuted in comic books. The Spirit, in reality, was Denny Colt, a Central City police officer, who was beaten up and left for dead lying in a puddle of chemicals by the villain Dr. Cobra. Colt was pronounced by the coroner and was buried in Wildwood Cemetery. Unknown to everyone he was merely in a state of hibernation and broke out of his grave and continued his crime fighting crusade as The Spirit. Only police commissioner Dolan knows his true identity.
The strip itself was ahead of it’s time focusing its attention on a more adult male audience by incorporating crime noir, sex (via the many femme fatales), humor, a touch of science fiction and fantasy, and violence (including murder and blood). But mostly it was known for its use of sequential artwork by using angles, darkness and vibrant colors. Eisner stated in the past that a person could completely understand an entire strip without having one single word balloon; each panel would explain itself. That’s not to say that the language was not included, quite the contrary. For such a young man, Eisner’s usage of English catered to a more mature and well educated reader, even though some would say that his characterization of African-Americans at the time was unfounded.
The Sunday strip continued through October 5, 1952 and the character of The Spirit has been revived a number of times including a current run in DC Comics, which is on issue #24. For those of you want to learn more about The Spirit, DC is just finishing up its massive 26 Volume Hardcover Archive set, collecting everything The Spirit has ever appeared in. Interestingly enough, the series was first to only be 15 volumes collecting only the strips that Eisner worked on, not the strips that were done posthumously by Wally Wood (Tales From The Crypt), Jack Cole (Plastic Man) and others while Eisner served in World War II (Eisner was, however, the editorial director). DC wisely added these extra books making for a total of 24. Then as the last few were being planned outs the editorial staff at DC made the decision to add in a 25th Volume collecting the very rare and never-before reprinted Spirit Daily strip in it’s entirety that originally ran from October 1941 to March 1944. But that’s not all; DC has kept on going and on December 31, 2008 will release a 26th Volume that will collect all The Spirit material that was published by many other companies including Harvey Comics, Warren Publishing and Kitchen Sink Press, from the 1950’s to the 1980’s, thus ending DC’s monumental undertaking.
But there’s even more! In 1998, Dark Horse Comics published their own Spirit series that ran for 10 issues and was done by such prolific creators like Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons (Watchmen) and Neil Gaiman (Sandman). This April 2009 Dark Horse is going to collect the run in their own Archive Edition and it will match the DC line; even tagging the spine of the dustjacket as Volume 27. Kudos to both DC and Dark Horse for combining their editorial efforts.
It should be pointed out that Volume 3 (softcover edition) of DC’s current run will collect issues #14-20 and be out in comic books stores on January 28, 2009. There is no word yet from DC if these stores will be reformatted into Volume 28 of the Archive Series.
So enjoy the movie in all of it’s Sin City-esque glory then go out and read up on why a movie was to be made in the first place – because when it comes to Golden Age superheroes The Spirit ranks right up there with – and beyond – them.