Will Eisner’s The Spirit: The New Adventures Archive
Written & Illustrated by Will Eisner, Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons, Angus McKie, Neil Gaiman, Eddie Campbell, Steve Oliff, Tracey H. Munsey, Chris Shadoian, Jim Vance, Dan Burr, Ray Fehrenbach, John Wagner, Carlos Ezquerra, Tracey Anderson, Daniel Torres, Mark Kneece, Bo Hampton, Ashley Underwood, Kurt Busiek, Brent Anderson, Will Blyberg, Alex Sinclair, John Roschell, Moebius, Michael Allred, Matt Brundage, Michael Avon Oeming, Laura Allred, Mark Schultz, David Lloyd, Paul Chadwick, John Nyberg, Bill Spicer, John Ostrander, Tom Mandrake, Dave Lanphear, Scott Hampton, Dennis P. Eichhorn, Gene Fama, Rick Altergott, Marcus Moore, Pete Mullins, Mick Evans, Jay Stephens, Paul Pope, Joe R. Landale, John Lucas, Lee Loughridge, Brian Bolland, William Stout, Tim Bradstreet, Grant Goleash, Peter Poplaski, Tom Martin
Published by Dark Horse
Okay, I’m not entirely clear why it is that DC publishes the current Spirit series and the twenty-six volume Archive editions of Will Eisner’s seminal Spirit strips, but Dark Horse publishes the Archive edition of Kitchen Sink Publishing’s 8-issue 1998 series Will Eisner’s The Spirit: The New Adventures. And frankly, I’m still of the opinion that the world doesn’t really need a non-Eisner Spirit, as the character was never more than a cipher for Eisner’s astonishing creative whims.
But the book exists, and it’s a good one. Dark Horse did a nice job designing the book to match DC’s editions, making an effective companion piece (and props to DC for allow Dark Horse to copy their design work). In case you’re unaware of The Spirit, in 1940, cartoonist Will Eisner was contracted to create a comic book supplement to run with Sunday newspapers. Pressured by the syndicate to create a masked hero, Eisner gave readers an eight-page adventure of a presumed-killed police officer who returns wearing a fedora, domino mask and gloves to protect his beloved Central City from criminals and Axis spies. The Spirit himself was rarely developed, often serving as tool for Eisner to explore the creative possibilities of the comic book form. Noir and slapstick, science-fiction and the humdrum, Eisner crossed any boundary in his pursuit of a great story, and his design-intensive splash pages and creative page layouts remain among the most influential illustrations in comic book history.
After Eisner folded The Spirit section in 1952 to focus on other business ventures (including using comics as training and educational tools for the U.S. military), the character continued as a fan favorite among discerning fans. Many reprint projects were begun over the years, climaxing in DC Comics’ recently concluded twenty-six volume Archive series that compiled the entire twelve year Eisner run, in addition to the brief daily strip (the only Archive I don’t have) and Eisner’s handful of post-1952 shorts and covers. However, it wasn’t until the mid-1990s when Eisner (by this point back in the comics field as the author of many rightly acclaimed graphic novels dealing with themes of family, immigration and city living, among other subjects) agreed to let other creators have a turn at spinning tales featuring his famed hero.
The result was 1998’s Will Eisner’s The Spirit: The New Adventures from Kitchen Sink Publishing. Eight issues later, Kitchen Sink collapsed in the midst of the industry’s late-90s struggles, cutting the experiment short. The eight issues published featured two issue-length epics (Paul Chadwick in #5, and Joe Lansdale and Mark Nelson’s #8) and six issues of tales mirroring Eisner’s eight-pagers. The debut issue featured three short stories by the Watchmen creative tandem, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons.
Qualitatively, New Adventures likely made Eisner proud. Nearly every story has a strong hook and good art, a crackling script. On some level, as I suggested above, The New Adventures is far from required reading. As good as Darwyn Cooke et. al.’s more recent Spirit series at DC Comics was, the Spirit is not a character who needs further development or offers up unexplored avenues. Eisner treated him as tabula rasa, pursuing flights of absolute whimsy about a man who can fly one week, then perhaps following with a terse parable about the dangers of blind patriotism the next. It wasn’t even uncommon for the Spirit himself to make only a cameo in his own strip! On that level, creators don’t need the Spirit; they need simply pursue their creative impulses in a manner that would make Eisner proud.
But since they did use the Spirit, at least most of them used him effectively. Moore and Gibbons, in their trio of interconnected tales, suggest two possible origins for Eisner’s ultimate antagonist, The Octopus, both dovetailed neatly into the Spirit’s own origin, before wrapping up with a humorous lark that echoes Eisner’s own flights of fancy. Paul Chadwick dives deep into Eisner’s oft-maligned sidekick Ebony and his connection to his racial community. Neil Gaiman and Eddie Campbell are among those who use the character as a cipher in an Eisnerian sense. Even the least of the New Adventures revisit classic Spirit femme fatales effectively if not always memorably, and that’s not really a bad thing.
Will Eisner’s The Spirit is a must-read comic book. Will Eisner’s The Spirit: The New Adventures is an entertaining nod to the master. If you’ve read the former and want to see impressive creators pay homage to the masterly work done, read the New Adventures. If you haven’t read the original, please do so right away.