Quarterbin Follies #29: Losing The Spirit?

CAM00514It is another week and another “Quarterbin Follies,” the column where I myself write about whatever old comic books I read last week. I would like to start this column with a thanks and shout out to Zach, Levi, and all the folks at gamingrebellion.com, who have invited us at Ideal Comics into the Gaming Rebellion family (or club, or clique, or whatever it is), and offered to dual-post this column! We are excited to share our love of comics with a whole new audience!

Enough of that, let us begin!

It was a few years back, and my buddy Andrew Grant handed me a stack of comics. He picked them up for a song, he had said, and he thought of me. Why? Because it had the first three issues of the then-new Will Eisner's The Spirit from DC Comics; and he knows I like old, nostalgic things.

For the next few years books sat in the bottom of a box, and then a crate for a few years after that until last week when I pulled the things out to read. I tucked into the first issue on a Wednesday morning, and was less than impressed. Now here I really risk sounding like a horrid curmudgeon, partly because I have a lot to complain about here, and partly because I am in fact a horrid curmudgeon. All that being said, I think I will start with the highlights.

This 2010 effort was drawn by the mononymic Moritat the book is damned pretty. The first page is even a direct, and frankly 'wowing' homage to Eisner's unique design work. Within the book itself the style owes more than a little to Bruce Timm, with The Spirit's Great Lakes based Central City possessing a certain timelessness despite definitely not being set in the Forties or Fifties of the Eisner originals.CAM00513

Like in the original comics, the Mark Schultz-penned script treats The Spirit as an indefatigable defender of the downtrodden and the afflicted, and Commissioner Dolan as the haggard last-clean-cop in Central City. Well, that is about the end of the good, frankly. Once you get past the senseless progressive speech-ified narration, the setting is nothing but the dismal and stereotypical 'grim-n-gritty' Gotham City clones that pervaded the comics of a decade-and-more ago. There is nothing interesting or distinct here, and even the previously lauded timelessness seems distracting. Schultz does a fine job making the villains seem villainous, but only slightly more so that the police.

Entirely divorced from the tale is Eisner's whimsy. For any who might not have read my last post, much of the beauty and genius of Eisner's stories was his ability to balance the graphic with the cartoon--the silly with the serious. The Spirit had the ability to transcend the detective genre, which was his home, and tackle ne'er-do-wells of any stripe, and often with a self-aware smile shared by hero and reader alike. But under Schultz's pen, there is no joy and no hope, and no cock-sure bluster; just a grim, grey impulse more suited to Frank Miller or Dashiell Hammett than Eisner-- more Chinatown than The Spirit.

I gotta say that I have no problem with dark tales. There is a place for the Red Harvests of the world, but I think Schultz is just missing the point. He was writing The Spirit, and the Spirit has a zeitgeist of his own. But is seems like maybe Schultz was trying to write Ms. Tree instead.

CAM00516And before you go calling me a feeb who just doesn't get "it," let me point you to the "The Spirit: Black and White" back-up in that very issue, brought together by the formidable and legendary Denny O'Neil and Bill Sienkiewicz. It is a tale dark and serious, true, but with a delightfully ironic ending so sharp I almost started laughing. Now, THAT was a "Spirit " story, and well worth the price of admission (provided you can find it in the Quarterbin).

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Mathew D. Rhys

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