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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. 21 (Review/Retrospective)

The end is nigh. Even if I didn’t know that these wonderful hardcover collections from DC comics were finishing up soon (with the last of the weekly strips collected in The Spirit Archives, Vol. 24), I could probably get a sense that things were winding down from a quick read of The Spirit Archives, Vol. 21. Up until this point, The Spirit has had five years of quality following Will Eisner’s return from service in the Second World War. It’s very hard to think of any comic (then or now) that has enjoyed any four consecutive years of quality that measures up to the work by Eisner on The Spirit at the very height of its game.

And it is, I must confess, very easy to get caught off-guard by the slow (but steady) decline in quality in The Spirit. After all, off-peak Spirit by Will Eisner is still better than most of its contemporary comics. And, to be fair, the vast majority of modern comics. There is some great stuff here – some truly fantastic, great stuff. Unfortunately, there’s also a lot of evidence that Eisner’s creative energies were ebbing just a bit. The end was fast approaching, and this collection features the first truly noticeable stumbles.

Somebody's a fan of the Great Train Robbery...

Somebody’s a fan of the Great Train Robbery…

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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. 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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