Will Eisner’s last The Spirit story was written in 1952, but that doesn’t mean it was the last we’d see of the character. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, reprinted stories appeared courtesy of Kitchen Sink Press. Eventually, DC would reprint the entirety of The Spirit in wonderful hardcover collections. Keeping The Spirit available would be crucial in influencing many notable creators, including Neil Gaiman and Alan Moore. Those two would join an impressive roster of talents that have brought Eisner’s signature creation in to the modern era.
Kitchen Sink’s The Spirit New Adventures (1996-1997) came out swinging with its first issue. Featuring the Watchmen creative team of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, the first of what would be an 8-issue series set the standard that each succeeding issue would try to reach. After a second issue by Neil Gaiman, the series would see the likes of Kurt Busiek and Paul Pope try their hand at the character. Like the original strip, each issue would stand alone, allowing for easy access for all readers. Many of the issues would experiment with layouts and design, taking their cues from Eisner’s work.
This era would also see the very last time Eisner would work on the character. In 2005’s The Amazing Adventures of the Escapist #6, Eisner would write and illustrate several pages featuring the character. 2005 proved to be a big year for the character, as Eisner would license the Spirit to DC comics, resulting in a one-shot Batman/The Spirit, leading to an ongoing series. The first twelve issues, written and [mostly] drawn by the great Darwyn Cooke are considered among the best work on the character ever. Upon Cooke’s departure, the title would see varying quality – mostly on a downward trend – until the license eventually expired. Still, there are some high marks to be found, including a wonderful crossover with IDW’s The Rocketeer by Mark Waid, J. Bone, and others.
As mentioned, the DC license would eventually lapse, and the Eisner Estate would partner with a new publisher – Dynamite Entertainment. Given their lineup of pulp-era characters, this appears to be a match made in comicbook heaven. Based on their first few efforts, that assessment seems accurate. Matt Wagner, who has written several of Dynamite’s series including The Green Hornet and The Shadow, would pair with artist Dan Schkade to tell the best Denny Colt story since Darwyn Cooke’s run. Their 12-issue series The Spirit Returns managed to maintain the… errr… spirit of Eisner’s short stories while successfully deviating from formula. Schkade’s artwork in particular is remarkable.
Fred Van Lente and Bob Q would collaborate on a crossover between The Spirit and the 1966 tv show incarnation of the Green Hornet, but it would be overshadowed by a different project: a 5-issue series written and illustrated by Francesco Francavilla. The Spirit: The Corpse Makers would lean much harder into the noir elements of the character’s past than other incarnations.
In 2017, the Spirit would return to newspapers courtesy of Joe Staton and Mike Curtis’ Dick Tracy, pairing the two fedora-wearing heroes. Staton and Curtis would lean hard into the weird elements of the Spirit’s tales, not once shying away from the absurdity that modern creators avoided. It helps that their Dick Tracy work was in itself rife with absurdities. Also in 2017, a several writers and artists would collaborate in a special centennial newspaper for the Lakes International Comic Arts Festival. Those that manage to get their hands on it will see The Spirit through the lens of Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips, Michael Cho, Bryan Hitch, Becky Cloonan, and many others. Though Eisner’s The Spirit will always be the definitive version of the character, it is great to know that generations which have been influenced and inspired by those stories will continue to carry them on for years to come.