UPDATE: Now available in paperback.
Undoubtedly one of the most influential comic characters of all time, The Spirit, who lay quietly resting with his creator, Will Eisner, is now making something of a come back. Comics superstar turned movie director Frank Miller is bringing the character to movie theatres. But in the meantime, Darwyn Cooke, top name comic creator in his own right, is bringing The Spirit back home to comics.
Cooke’s Spirit sticks close to the, uh, spirit of Eisner’s original. The characters feel like they’ve been lifted straight out of Eisner’s work and transplanted into the modern world. The Spirit himself is a masked vigilante detective, a man who abhors the injustices of the world but feels the need to operate outside the local police department. Luckily, the father of his girlfriend is the local chief of police, so he gets tips and backup from the cops when he needs it. Despite the name and the mask, The Spirit has no superpowers – he’s just a regular tough guy with a strong right hook, a sense of justice and one hell of a lucky streak.
The most jarring aspect of the book is its transplantation into the modern world. Cooke has maintained a fifties attitude and outlook to his hero – female readers may balk, for example, at the way he treats his stay-at-home partner. Cooke is also well known for illustrating his comics with a distinctly retro visual style, leaving the characters looking, sounding and behaving like caricatures from the 50’s, but surrounded by the science, technology and culture of the modern world. In the original stories, The Spirit’s fedora and blue overcoat would have let him blend into a crowd, now he’s more likely to stand out.
It’s worth suspending disbelief and going with the flow though. Cooke’s writing is as fluid and exciting as the character deserves, and the series of stories in this book, including one where our hero runs into a typically retro-looking Batman, are a masterclass in self-contained episodic writing. And with characters like Indiana Jones proving the popularity of this kind all-too-human action hero, fans looking for more high adventure in a similar sort of vein (albeit replacing archeology with detective work) will find it in The Spirit.