Now here’s a thing. A comic featuring Will Eisner’s “Spirit” that strips away so many of the flourishes that so many Denny Colt stories have relied upon. This is a raw, simple, and direct Spirit. A pulpier Spirit, befitting the “First Wave” logo on Ladronn the cover. This is part of a larger DC branding about rugged, manly men and their feats of derring-do. The best of the bunch have been written by Brian Azzarello, who isn’t here even in spirit (no pun intended), but he will appear in the back-up story in an upcoming issue. The worst are those first couple of “Doc Savage” issues that recently appeared on the comic stands. “The Spirit” is somewhere in the middle, but with a couple of bonuses on its side: Moritat on art, and playful black-and-white backups.
“The Spirit” #3 is writer Mark Schultz’s last issue, with new “Gotham City” Mr. Popular David Hine coming in with issue #4. And what Schultz has given us in his opening three issues is something rare in the Spirit world: a serial. Most of the Spirit stories, from the days of Will Eisner to the days of Darwyn Cooke, have been self-contained. The stories may have progressed, and continuity may have been maintained (when needed), but 99% of the good Spirit stories have been one-offs. They haven’t featured the line “to be continued,” even by implication. Sure, there may be exceptions, but not only has the Spirit largely featured in one-shot stories, he hasn’t been the most interesting part of nearly any of them. He’s a supporting character in his own world, historically speaking, and the star of the show has been the visual storytelling and graphic rhetorical flourishes.
This series has changed that, not by ignoring the art — Moritat is an exceptionally fluid artist, and this comic looks great — but by telling a Spirit story that has some room to breathe. This isn’t a tale that plumbs the sophisticated depths of Denny Colt (if he has any), but it is a three-part story that makes the Spirit feel like an action/adventure character, rather than a four-color Monsieur Hulot, stumbling through a cleverly constructed artistic showcase.
Raw, simple, and direct, as I said at the start, as the Spirit tangles with the lovely and deadly Angel Smerti and may help her find redemption.
The back-up story by Uslan, DeSanto, and Justiniano, on the other hand, is simple and direct but pretends at being clever. It satirizes Rupert Murdoch’s media empire in the most obvious way possible (and I seem to remember Darwyn Cooke doing a satire of the conservative media in one of his Spirit stories from the last series, and even though it wasn’t his best, it was more entertaining than this one). It does have one spectacular moment, though, as Justiniano gives us a double-page layout that winds back on itself and shows the Spirit cut a swath through an army of minions. It’s a Frank Quitely-esque moment from Justiniano, and it’s the best page of art I’ve ever seen from him. The rest of the back-up doesn’t live up to that single moment.
Overall, I like this approach to the Spirit — this longer-form storytelling in an overtly pulpier world. It works, and it doesn’t seem to demonstrate the need to rely on trying to out-Will-Eisner Will Eisner, which is good. Because that would be impossible.