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The Spirit Archives, Vol. 16 (Review/Retrospective)

We’re more than half-way through Will Eisner’s tenure on The Spirit, and I find myself struggling, just a bit, to come up with something novel to say about it. After all, I’ve gone on and on (and on and on) about how Eisner has handled the weekly strip for the bones of about 10,000 words at this point. As much as I like to examine each six-month period on its own terms and merits, there comes a point where I have to concede that this is just one giant project, and a lot of what I can say about it I have already said. Sure, there are some new themes and ideas, and Eisner always enjoys putting a new slant on old concepts, but I can’t help but feel that this extended bunch of reviews and retrospectives will wind up tripping over each other. (I say that as if they haven’t already.)

With that in mind, just because I might have a bit less to say about The Spirit Archives, Vol. 16 doesn’t mean that it isn’t a great collection of stories. We are, after all, in the middle of the most celebrated part of Eisner’s run. This collection is pretty consistently smart, funny and moving. Just because this reviewer is struggling not to cover old ground doesn’t mean that Eisner is any less of a master.

A web of deceit...

A web of deceit…

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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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The Spirit Archives, Vol. 14 (Review/Retrospective)

The Spirit Archives, Vol. 14 finds Will Eisner back in full swing. The Spirit is truly firing on all cylinders, after taking about a year just to get everything lined up after the creator returned from military service. The success of this volume isn’t so much that Eisner is doing anything especially new or innovative. Rather, it seems like The Spirit has made a note of the aspects of the strip that work and has decided to concentrate on those stronger elements. This six-month stretch on newspaper strips doesn’t necessarily contain a record-breaking number of stand-out stories, but there are far fewer duds that we’ve seen before. There’s still a couple of Ebony-centred stories, but they’re few and far between. The other annoying kid sidekicks are mostly demoted to black-and-white one-line “P.S.” strips at the bottom of the page, and don’t intrude on the narrative.

The Spirit Archives, Vol. 14 isn’t so much about doing things better, as doing them more consistently.

Getting into the Spirit of things…

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The Spirit Archives, Vol. 13 (Review/Retrospective)

With Eisner now back on the strip for over half-a-year, The Spirit is forging ahead into the middle part of its run. Many commentators and pundits would argue that the few years following Eisner’s return from military service were among the best in the strip’s history, and it’s hard to disagree. While Eisner took the time in his first six months to tidy up loose ends – killing the Squid, sending Satin home with a daughter – here we see the creator building up the world he has created. This collection includes the strips introducing (and a number of subsequent appearances from) both P’Gell and the Octopus, arguably two of the most important characters introduced into the strip following the Second World War. There’s also a sign that Eisner is branching out a bit, and pushing the strip out from the shadow of the Second World War. After all, a new era of prosperity and a Cold War were both just around the corner, very fertile ground for the creator to explore.

A banner year?

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The Spirit Archives, Vol. 12 (Review/Retrospective)

The Spirit Archives, Vol. 12 marks Will Eisner’s return to the strip. To be fair, the writer and artist had returned for the last two entries in the previous volume, but this is the first book entirely composed of Eisner’s post-war Spirit stories. While I don’t think Eisner had quite found his groove yet – the best was still yet to come – it’s amazing how dynamic the comic feels after reading the non-Eisner material. It’s easy enough to point to the Eisner-esque tropes and tricks, the techniques and the plot devices and the philosophy that faded from the strip in has absence, but there’s also something much less tangible here. There’s certain energy, a je ne sais que, that had been absent for the previous couple of years, returning in force.

Eisner is back. And, in a way, so is The Spirit.

It’s like he was never gone…

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The Spirit Archives, Vol. 11 (Review/Retrospective)

I have to admit that I feel a bit guilty for glossing over the World War II era of The Spirit. The era tends to get ignored because Will Eisner effectively handed over control of the strip to a variety of writers and artists while serving in the Armed Forces. The talent involved professionals like Jack Cole and Lou Fine, so it’s hardly as if it was neglected. Still, without Eisner’s passion driving the strip, it seemed to lose its way slightly. The aesthetic shifted even further the longer Eisner was away. Fans skipping from the first collection of post-Eisner work (The Spirit Archives, Vol. 5) to the work included here will see a radical change in style. While there was still a strong influence from Eisner, the comic simply didn’t look right. However, the differences extended deeper as well. On some primal level, The Spirit of the World War II era didn’t really feel right either.

Hounded by the Spirit of Will Eisner…

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The Spirit Archives, Vol. 5 (Review/Retrospective)

With The Spirit Archives, Vol. 5, we get our first real taste of what The Spirit looks like without Will Eisner. I’ve always felt like The Spirit belonged to Eisner in a way that very few iconic American comic book characters belong to a particular creator. The Spirit belonged to Eisner in the same way that The Adventures of Tintin belonged to Hergé. I am fond of Darwyn Cooke’s revival of the character, and there’s something interesting about the Kitchen Sink anthology series, but those exist mainly as curiosities or companion pieces to Eisner’s work on the character.

In many ways, this stretch of strips, published by Eisner’s staff and colleagues during his army service, feels the same sort of way. It’s more of a historical curiosity than an end to itself.

Lighten up…

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The Spirit Archives, Vol. 4 (Review/Retrospective)

As with the previous collection, the War looms large in The Spirit Archives, Vol. 4. While Eisner had been keenly following events in Europe from the start of the strip, things really come to a head here. These are the strips for the six months following the attack on Pearl Harbour, and – understandable – there’s a strong patriot undertone to everything here. Eisner would eventually put his patriotism into action when he was drafted, leaving his character in the hands of his staff – who dutifully kept the comic warm for him during his term of service. While Eisner’s early work on the strip isn’t quite as good as the work that would follow, and the shadow of the Second World War dominates, these are still fascinating stories told by a master storyteller.

Carrying on, naturally…

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The Spirit Archives, Vol. 3 (Review/Retrospective)

Join us the December as we take a dive into the weird and wonderful Will Eisner Spirit Archives, the DC collections of the comic strip that helped define the medium.

At this point The Spirit had survived a year. That first year had seen Eisner establish the strip, lay down many of the rules that would define the comic for the rest of its impressive twelve-year run as a regular fixture in the Sunday papers. This third volume is hardly the most essential in the twenty-six volume set, but there’s a sense of confidence in the stories the Eisner is telling and how he is telling them. The strip arguably wouldn’t hit its stride until after Eisner left for the war, and came back with a broader range of experience, but one can see the roots of that later success even in these (relatively) early adventures.

We'll always have Damascus...

We’ll always have Damascus…

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The Spirit Archives, Vol. 2 (Review/Retrospective)

Join us the December as we take a dive into the weird and wonderful Will Eisner Spirit Archives, the DC collections of the comic strip that helped define the medium.

With this second collection of six months worth of strips, we can see Eisner’s vision of The Spirit really cement itself, as well as the true beginnings of the more experimental work that the writer and artist would do with the newspaper strip. While a lot of people would argue that Eisner truly hit his stride in the postwar era of The Spirit, I think we can see him beginning to truly hone his craft here, and can get a sense of an artist slowly testing the horizons of an eight-page newspaper comic strip. It might not be his best work on the title, but it’s still fascinating stuff.

Accept no substitutes…

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