This is another anthology issue of The Spirit, featuring three stories by three separate creative teams. Each of the stories are entertaining in their own right, but none achieve the level of transcendence that former series artist Darwyn Cooke was able to achieve with this title. If that sounds unfair – Cooke is one of the absolute finest cartoonists in comics these days – it’s also an impossible comparison to avoid. Cooke’s eleven issues on this title managed to tread the fine line between paying tribute to Will Eisner’s original creation while at the same time maintaining their own artistic integrity. Cooke’s run was an amazing tour de force, a tribute to both Cooke’s storytelling abilities and his deep and abiding passion for comics history.
The cover tempts with a suggestion of Cooke’s genius. It’s a cute and clever illustration of the Spirit surrounded by his female admirers. There are many small touches that make the cover wonderful. Each woman is drawn true to her character, even the vulture Julia, which is drawn with a wink by Cooke. In separate inset pictures we see supporting characters Ebony and Commissioner Dolan. The cover therefore contains both a sexy feel and a holiday feel – no mean feat. The only negative is that it’s a bit outdated – it’s a Christmas cover released shortly before the beginning of February. But the charm of the cover wins out.
Eduardo Risso and novelist Glen David Gold produce the first story in this issue. You may know Gold from his outstanding book Carter Beats the Devil. It’s a cute piece involving zoos, a sexy lion tamer, and a criminal who talks like a Rhodes Scholar. Like so many of Eisner’s great original stories, there’s a lot of story crammed into these eight pages, along with some wonderfully thoughtful page layouts by Risso and some charming touches of humor. However, there’s so much story crammed into these eight pages that I found it hard to follow the final story twist. However, it’s easy to tell that Gold and Risso are big fans of Eisner’s original stories and that they loved creating this pastiche.
“Family Treasure” comes next, as written by Denny O’Neil and illustrated by Ty Templeton. It’s one of those Spirit stories that take place in a driving rainstorm as the Spirit is forced by his own sense of justice to get involved with something that seems slightly nefarious. This story contains a bit less plot than the first story – perhaps because of O’Neil’s long history as a comics writer – which makes the story feel less compressed. O’Neil also delivers a very nice and ironic ending for this story. Templeton’s art is nice in storytelling terms. He does a nice job of varying angles in order to add to the tension of the story. But his use of a thick line in his inking somehow detracts from the intensity of the story. The thick line gives the story a humorous sheen somehow, which doesn’t quite work in this context.
Simone, Hester and Parks deliver the third story, which cleverly uses pictographs rather than words to tell its tale. It’s a clever idea, nicely done. The pictographs are clever, but what really makes the story work is the artwork. Hester and Parks seem to really be having fun with the exaggerated figures they present, giving the story a combination of looseness and intensity that seems quite Eisneresque. They do a great job conveying the pathos and fighting spirit of Denny Colt as he’s nearly drowned in freezing water. His escape is dramatically told, and his intensity in finding them men who hurt him is wonderful.
None of the three stories in this comic are transcendent, but they are both fine tributes to Eisner and fine pieces of work in their own right. It’s obvious that everyone working on this comic had a great time. If none of the stories are great in the way that Darwyn Cooke’s or Will Eisner’s versions of the Spirit are great, that’s no insult. This is a nice, solid, satisfying anthology issue.