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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. 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. 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. 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. 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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