So there it is; let’s not say goodbye, but instead, so long for now. DC’s latest attempt to continue the legendary superhero The Spirit on has collapsed under the weight of yet another hare-brained scheme on their part: start their whole core output out again with #1 issues. They’re all collector’s items so buy multiples, and multiples of their variant cover versions too. (Seemingly, my advice to them to just “write good stories and add good art” was too difficult. C’est la vie.) Even so, something has to go since all the attention has now shifted to making Superman more like Batman, and how we can sneak some cameltoe in on Wonder Woman, that tease.
In fairness, a majority of DC’s go with Denny Colt and company has been flawed as they never quite got the handle on Spirit creator Will Eisner’s approach: extremely cinematic visuals, a slightly hard-boiled milieu, but light-hearted because, deep in Colt/Spirit’s heart, he’s an overgrown boy scout and approached his work as such. Striking that balance between film noir (or comics noir?) and humor eluded most of the people who worked on this modernized version.
It’s not the first time either. DC fell into the same trap with their revamp of The Shadow in the late ’80s/early ’90s. It wasn’t until Kyle Baker got on the book that it started really cooking but, sadly, it was already too late and the series died. It’s the same here as some of the teams were really beginning to hit stride. Issue #14 from Matthew Sturges and Victor Ibanez just about nailed it and I was starting to see the light for this 21st Century Spirit.
It’s a shame that this last issue of the series, a special black & white art issue, perfectly captures the right and wrong moves the series made. The first story in this three-story collection is drawn by famed artist Brian Bolland but written by famed writer/artist Howard Chaykin. My dismay is over the fact that Chaykin has written the same character over and over again for the last decade and, damn it, he’s done it again. He turns The Spirit into just another square-jawed jamoke who knows that what every good woman needs is a slap on the behind. While investigating the murder of a philandering councilman, The Spirit has to interrogate his many, many mistresses. In the end though, he gets his woman, down across the border as the local police look on. Rebuking her protestations, The Spirit says to her of the federales, “I just told them where the money you robbed from the Cheathams was banked. They took half in return for looking the other way while I drag your tight little ass home to justice.” For another character, maybe that dialogue would work, but not for The Spirit. It seems as though Chaykin had zero idea about this character before he took it on.
Faring much better is Paul Levitz and Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez’s entry about a newsstand salesman’s constant problems with a shakedown artist, The Spirit’s attempt to bring justice, and the kind of bittersweet ending that would have made Eisner proud. He knew that sometimes, even when you get the bad guy, it doesn’t work out, and this team hits the perfect portion of pathos.
Will Pfeifer and P. Craig Russell’s story captures a lot of Eisner’s visual mastery and the occasionally abstract storytelling he would throw into the series (which originally was a newspaper insert, and therefore needed to say a lot in only a handful of pages) just to shake things up. It reads well, looks good, and Russell has been one of comics’ finest artists for decades, but a part of me kept seeing Russell and not The Spirit, so while it is leagues ahead of the issue opener, it still doesn’t fully satisfy.
Not that it really matters. DC is fully committed to this latest gimmick of starting Batman, Superman, and all the rest over again, going so far as to drag Swamp Thing back from their Vertigo imprint, for God only knows what purpose…kids parties? Flower delivery? We should probably be grateful the company didn’t just kill them all off, yet another go-to of publishing desperation. In the end, I wouldn’t be this perturbed by their blatant gerrymandering if I didn’t think The Spirit was finally getting where it needed to be. Maybe if they had snuck in some cameltoe on Denny Colt?