Yeah. Oh hell yeah.
This is what Will Eisner’s Spirit was all about. The Spirit, despite his mask, was never anything other than just a man. He is an ordinary man who went through an extraordinary experience and was literally reborn into a better, more pure life. Denny Colt was reborn as the Spirit, and in that rebirth was able to find the hero within himself. The Spirit is the best in all of us, a man who has found true happiness and peace by being forced to confront a life without the things he loves most. When he puts on the mask, Denny Colt doesn’t become the Spirit in the same way that, say, Bruce Wayne becomes Batman. Denny Colt always is the Spirit. When he puts on his mask, Denny is simply showing the outer world who he always feels he is inside.
On the day that Denny Colt died, another person died as a result of Denny’s actions. The Spirit #11 finds that person arisen from the dead as well, but in a very different way. Denny has discovered the true goodness within himself, while Alvarro Mortez, El Morte, has discovered just the opposite: His death and resurrection has made El Morte a man of pure evil, the king of zombies, determined to destroy the Spirit’s beloved Central City.
What makes The Spirit #11 so great, what makes Darwyn Cooke among the very best cartoonists working today, is that all of this is just in the background. It’s all there, but the subtext is texture and emotion that adds another level to a spectacular action story. This issue is one of those stories that progresses with a relentless drumbeat of action, a seemingly endless stream of action and reaction, of battles that never seem to go well for the good guys, and heroes trying desperately to prevail despite the long odds. But at its heart is something that makes this more than a simple action story: It’s about two men and the divergent choices they made.
But I want to emphasize that this is indeed a straight-out exciting comic book, without a doubt one of the best zombie stories I’ve read in comics in a long time. The zombie menace in this story is spectacular and brutal, almost primal in the zombies’ groupthink relentlessness. El Morte, the leader of the zombies, is straight-out scary, with his skull-like face and giant, glaring eyes. Against the Spirit and the police, it’s hard to imagine the zombies losing. As the Spirit says in a caption, “That’s when I see him, lit by smoke and fire… the vision from my nightmare come to horrible unlife, El Morte has them all moving slowly, like they have all the time in the world.” What a perfect summation of the horror. No surprise that, as the Spirit says several pages later, “It’s slaughter. The monsters go down but they get right back up. My head begins to spin through the faces of wives and sons and daughters who will have to carry this weight with me now.” And in that very panel you can see the faces of the police officers, terrified out of their minds but trying to be brave as they fight. And you can see the relentless, truly evil faces of the zombies as they exact Mortez’s revenge.
As always, Cooke’s art is a masterpiece of gorgeous design and amazingly evocative rendering. It’s not exactly a secret to anyone who read The New Frontier that Cooke’s art is often quite astonishing. Let’s just say that his art here, aided by J. Bone and Dave Stewart, is as good as anything that Cooke has produced.
Most amazing of all, Cooke’s story is as intelligent, exciting and unique as his artwork. Even in the middle of a desperate battle, Cooke keeps the story focused on Denny and his family of Ebony, Ellen Dolan and her father Commissioner Dolan. He deliberately sets the heroes as a counterpoint to Mortez and his mother, who are inciting the zombie invasion. Interestingly, Cooke also brings in a new character in the person of an ex-boyfriend of Ellen’s, who makes the ultimate sacrifice to fight the evil menace. That man, Argonaut Bones, is a gay man, obviously very happy in a long-term relationship, whose loyalty to his friends and ideals wins over his self-interest. It’s a nice reflection not only on Argo, who is a true hero, but also on Ellen, who seems to have been searching all her life for a hero as great as her father.
They say the greatest creators are the ones who make it look easy. Will Eisner was that kind of creator. So is Darwyn Cooke. This is just simply an outstanding comic book.