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The Spirit Archives, Vol. 26 (Review/Retrospective)

It’s strange reading The Spirit Archives, Vol. 26. Not just because it’s a collection of absolutely everything (from stories to pin-ups to posters to sketches) rather than a set of comic strips. Also because of the scope of this final hardcover collection in DC’s Spirit Archives programme. While, with the exception of the last volume, each book collected six months of the weekly strip, this final book collects pretty-much everything Will Eisner did with the character from the time that the weekly strip ended through to his death in 2005.  I’m a bit surprised that there’s only one book of this material, although it does allow the reader to flick through the decades following the end of the strip as if examining a family photo albums – watching the subtle changes as time marches on.

Despite the fact that he was cancelled, The Spirit never seemed to quite go away. There was a lot of work featuring the character by other writers and artists, but most of that isn’t collected here. Instead, this admittedly disjointed collection reads best as a sort of a documentary charting the on-going relationship between Will Eisner and arguably his most popular creation.

Still making waves…

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The Spirit Archives, Vol. 23 (Review/Retrospective)

You know that The Spirit is in a state of declining health when even the back cover concedes that, “by the second half of 1951, The Spirit was winding down.” Still, having read the collection from cover-to-cover, I find it quite difficult to disagree. The Spirit Archives, Vol. 23 provides an interesting study of a comic strip coming to terms with its own mortality, but there’s also a sad sense that the magic is slowly evaporating from Will Eisner’s iconic creation. We are no longer watching a beloved comic strip missing a few steps. Instead, we’re watching a slow and painful deterioration.

I gather, from the look on his face, he has read the strips...

I gather, from the look on his face, he has read the strips…

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The Spirit Archives, Vol. 20 (Review/Retrospective)

By 1950, it seemed like time was almost up for The Spirit. Indeed, the run of stories collected here represents perhaps the last six months of the truly superb hot streak the strip had been on since Eisner returned home from the Second World War. There’ll be time, discussing the next few volumes, to explore and to contemplate the decay and decline of The Spirit as a Sunday newspaper strip, but The Spirit Archives, Vol. 20 contains a pretty solid run of weekend adventures for the masked crimefighter. There’s still a lot of the fun and energy and verve that defined Eisner’s best work on the character, even if you can almost sense the ennui creeping in at the very edge of the page.

The man behind the mask...

The man behind the mask…

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The Spirit Archives, Vol. 19 (Review/Retrospective)

The times, they are a-changing. It seems that is true for The Spirit as well. Given it’s a weekly comic strip, those changes aren’t necessarily obvious at the micro-level, as you read through these superb archive editions collected by DC comics. Change is, after all, as likely to be a gradual development as a sudden change of pace. However, reading The Spirit stories collected here, it is clear that things have subtly shifted over the past year or so. It’s not quite the harbinger of doom that we’d see over the next couple of years as the strip died a long, slow and painful death – it’s more a change of focus on the part of Eisner, as he seems to continue to push the character boldly forward.

Denny Colt is the Spirit? No!

Denny Colt is the Spirit? No!

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The Spirit Archives, Vol. 18 (Review/Retrospective)

I seem to be opening each of these reviews with a reminder that The Spirit is in fine form, and that it continues to be a superb piece of pulpy entertainment. I continue to be astounded at the relatively consistent standard that Eisner works to, week in and week out. More than that, though, I am continually impressed with the vigour and ingenuity that the writer and artist brings to his work. Just when you think you have The Spirit figured out, it throws another curveball, effortless switching gears and becoming something a bit different than you were expecting. Sometimes it’s a technicolour noir story, sometimes it’s a treatise on humanist philosophy, sometimes it’s a western, sometimes it’s romance, sometimes, its comedy, sometimes it’s tragedy. Sometimes it’s all and more.

The Spirit Archives, Vol. 18 doesn’t necessarily have a single story that can be measured against The Story of Gerhard Schnobble that we found in The Spirit Archives, Vol. 17, but it’s still a testament to Eisner’s storytelling sensibilities and his strength as a writer and artist.

The board walk...

The board walk…

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The Spirit Archives, Vol. 17 (Review/Retrospective)

The Spirit Archives, Volume 17 contains perhaps the best-loved Spirit story of all time. Indeed, you could make a compelling argument that The Story of Gerhard Schnobble represents perhaps the best seven pages that Will Eisner ever produced, beautifully encapsulating all the magic of the creator’s work, tempered with the same awareness of the harsh realities of life. This collection continues to offer The Spirit at the peak of its run, and The Story of Gerhard Schnobble simply sees all these elements that have been working so consistently for so long coalescing into something that is practically transcendental.

Beginning with a bang...

Beginning with a bang…

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The Spirit Archives, Vol. 15 (Review/Retrospective)

The Spirit Archives, Vol. 15, finds Will Eisner in the middle of a very strong run on his most iconic creation. While this collection of stories doesn’t necessarily do anything new or radical, it does offer an example of a master storyteller at the height of his powers, crafting entertaining and exciting pulpy adventures on a weekly basis. Indeed, this run of stories offers a fairly efficient cross-section of what the strip was capable of at its best, perhaps more than any of the volumes surrounding it. While it might not be the very best collection of Spirit stories written, it is a pretty handy introduction to the character and his world.

Doesn't somebody want to be wanted?

Doesn’t somebody want to be wanted?

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