Modern pulp fiction at its best, Francesco Francavilla’s take on The Spirit sucks you in and may not let you go — ever. Instantly engaging, the first page tells you that Francavilla has done his homework on this classic character, and he intends to take Denny Colt on a dark ride. In fact, do yourself a favor and sit with that first page for a bit before you go on to page two; it speaks volumes.
It’s a dark and stormy night (literally), and down-on-his-luck vagabond Carl Stevens dies in a part of town no one cares about. When their on-scene investigation reveals no visible wounds and no other signs of foul play, Commissioner Dolan and the Central City P.D. are willing to chalk this one up as a simple death by natural causes. The Spirit arrives and offers to help, but there’s no case here and Dolan sends him home.
Ebony is driving for The Spirit and takes advantage of the night off to spend time with his visiting cousin Vince. Unfortunately, Ebony’s cousin isn’t exactly an upstanding citizen and falls into service with his old cohorts to pull a robbery. Meanwhile, things take a turn for to the creep-tastic as two cloaked figures arrive at the morgue, buy Stevens’ body, and drive off. The robbery goes sideways, and the cops and The Spirit are in hot pursuit. Vince evades the law, but is taken by the hooded mystery men.
Come to this title for the noir-laden mystery and stay for the art. Francavilla’s thick lines and deep colors present a drenched, nocturnal scene perfect for murder, robberies and body snatching. Purples, blues and muted yellows establish a gritty Central City that is a living character much in the way we view Gotham City when reading a Batman story. It’s an effective vehicle for establishing a dark mood whether the characters are inside or out in the down pouring rain.
Speaking of vehicles, kudos for the research on post-WWII automobiles! There are cop cars, taxis, parked cars, car chases — a wide variety of static and in-motion views of cars were required by this script, and Francavilla rises beautifully to his own challenge. The details are delightful but not distracting, effectively reminding us that this is not set in modern times.
Francavilla favors large panels and sparse dialogue, so following the story requires a good balance of your reading effort between the art and the words. Don’t run right through the pages to see what happens next. If you approach it the way I believe the artist intends, you’ll read it being sorry you forgot your umbrella, shiver from the cold, and find yourself reaching for a hot cup of coffee to chase it away.
And if you don’t know who Denny Colt, Commissioner Dolan and Ebony White are, you may want to look them up, because Francavilla isn’t offering an encyclopedia on the history of these iconic characters to bring you up to speed; he’s too busy cooking up a juicy mystery. This is a book for fans that was written and drawn by a fan of the character and his rich history. Sit back and enjoy, it’s going to be a wild ride.