Will Eisner’s The Spirit: The New Adventures

3 out of 5

This is a very handsome hardcover collection.  The paper stock is thick and the production quality clean and bright; the book has good amount of extras, including an unpublished issue from the series it collects; and hardcover itself feels very durable but is invitingly lightweight.  The contents…?  Meh?

The Spirit has just never done it for me, in the same way that the Rocketeer and Doc Savage and The Shadow and other pulp-era or pastiche heroes don’t do much for me.  Even with the bevy of excellent creators at this book’s helm – collecting the Kitchen Sink series for which Eisner granted the first time use of his characters to others’ hands – it’s still pretty much the norm for this character; nostalgia and respect aside, these Golden Age dudes have a sort of staid goodness built into their foundations that doesn’t lend itself to much story variation.  And true, I’m no historian, nor did I grow up on Denny Colt’s adventures, but any given reboot of these types seems to hit similar marks, and I get my fill of the cheeky detective vs. dames and gangsters pretty quickly; sacrilegiously, I’d say the inheritors to this archetype – Hellboy, ABC Comics – end up doing it much better.

Speaking of (ABC Comics’) Alan Moore, his contributions do a sort of Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow spin that’s perhaps the most out there extrapolation of the character, but even those bits don’t have much to so beyond point at the past and smile.  Jay Stephens’ / Paul Pope’s Halloween gag is amusingly dumb; Joe Lansdale’s bit is fun; John Wagner and Ezquerra flex some Judge Dredd-honed one-shot chops to give us a nice view of a particular Central City criminal; Gary Chaloner’s unpublished issue does a fantastic impression of the original’s era.  These are highlights, but the non-mentioneds are good as well, and all have notable and admirable artwork, especially the meta logo stuff by Daniel Torres in one of Alan Moore’s bits.  But again: there’s just not much to do with the character, and so not much drive to the reading experience.

Eisner himself initially considered The Spirit something of a lesser-than aspect of his endeavors – according to Dennis Kitchen’s intro – until coming to appreciate the legacy it had, as expressed by others.  And I respect that legacy, and Eisner, and the solid work contributed to this tome.  If you like your Golden Age collections, this is a fun update, but I think for most of us – or for the casual reader following a particular artist or writer to this book – it doesn’t leave much of a lasting impression.

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