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The Spirit Archives, Vol. 24 (Review/Retrospective)

And so, the end is near. The Spirit Archives, Vol. 24 is a bumper-sized edition, collecting every Spirit weekly strip published in 1952, from January through to October. It’s nice of DC to put out a slightly larger collection to finish out the weekly strip, rather than breaking the final year of the comic into two smaller (possibly more profitable) volumes. This collection devotes its cover to The Outer Space Spirit, but that storyline only emerges towards the end of the book. Given how much attention Wally Wood and Jules Feiffer’s reinvention of the masked crimefighter has generated, it’s interesting that it’s actually a fairly small contribution in terms of page count. Still, reading those adventures now, it’s easy to see why the storyline has attracted such a strong following, even if you practically see the weekly strip dwindling as you approach the final pages.

And we're flying to the moon and back...

And we’re flying to the moon and back…

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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. 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. 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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