Tuesday, January 27, 2015

CBR:Quickies Will Eisner's The Spirit (2005-2009)

How about some Action/Mystery/Adventure, with a bit of Humor while we're at it?!

Following my review of the classic Will Eisner's The Spirit, here's the Darwyn Cooke's The Spirit successful modern revival!

Don't miss out my previous pulp heroes-related reviews!

Time to go back to a genre of fiction I love, pulp noir!

Back in 2000, DC Comics obtained the rights to Will Eisner's classic hero The Spirit following Kitchen Sink Press which had been reprinting the original series all the way since the 1970s.

They first took this occasion to reprint the adventures of the blue domino mask, blue suit, blue gloves, blue fedora mask and red tie-wearing hero , blue-suited, red necktie in a book titled DC Comics Millennium Edition: The Spirit.

Following that release, DC let Darwyn Cooke attempt a revival of the pulp classic hero. After a one-shot, Batman/The Spirit, an ongoing series was launched and the masked vigilante was brought back in style, in the modern DC Universe.

And it became an instant modern classic! Despite the great reception at mid-point Cooke left the book, but the series still managed to last over 30 issues. A second revival would follow (more on that at the end, below).

Let's have a look at the first on-going series!

Launched under Darwyn Cooke, this series had it all, Action, Mystery, Adventure! Most issues running a single 22-page story. At first Cooke was the main artist, but soon the book would feature a rotating selection of creative artists each issue. The series brought The Spirit to a more contemporary era, our heroes often having to resort to using internet to help them solve the cases.

Everything was back here, slightly updated of course. The Spirit used to be Denny Colt of the Central City's Police before he was left to death and decided to use this new lease on life to dedicate his entire life to fighting crime. Commissioner Dolan still sending some hard cases to The Spirit whenever he needs some help. Ellen Dolan who doesn't always end up kidnapped only for The Spirit to save her, but still gets mad at him on occasion. And Ebony White finally turned into a much more competent cooler character, a close friend of our hero, and stripped off his racial stereotype characteristics.

After Cooke's departure, the series was put into the overseeing hands of Sergio Aragonés.

Comic title: Will Eisner's The Spirit: Book 1
Written by Darwyn Cooke & Jeph Loeb
Illustrated by Darwyn Cooke & J. Bone
Format: Trade paperback collecting issues #1-6 of The Spirit on-going series as well as the Batman/The Spirit one-shot.

[Already reviewed here]

Overall: It's a great pretty funny book.

Don't be afraid to check it out if you don't really follow DC Comics or don't usually read superhero comics. It's Highly Recommended to any old and new fan of The Spirit!

It's pretty insular and don't really degenerate into full-on super-powered epic stories. It's more grounded. More down to Earth. In a word, "pulp" in its purest form. Just the adventures of a regular Joe who gets himself into lots of troubles.

Some details have been updated graphically as well, but the characters are still very identifiable and recognizable. Brought into the modern age with the great expertise of Darwyn Cooke & Jeph Loeb, finally Will Eisner's The Spirit lives on~

Cooke took upon himself to reintroduce this classic pulp character of the 1940s for a modern audience, without betraying what the concept at its core. And his art style is oh-so fitting for such a task.

I give this one a: 2.5 / 3 Score! 

Comic title: Will Eisner's The Spirit: Book 2
Written by Darwyn Cooke, Walter Simonson, Kyle Baker, Glen David Gold, Gail Simone & Denny O'Neil
Illustrated by Darwyn Cooke, J. Bone, Chris Sprouse, Karl Story, Kyle Baker, Eduardo Risso, Phil Hester, Andyy Parks & Ty Templeton
Format: Trade paperback collecting Will Eisner's The Spirit issues #7-13.

This second volume collects pretty varied adventures. By this point issues now introduced a format sometimes covering multiple features, depending on the main story. Sometimes a monthly issue contained a shorter backup story at the end.

More murder and mystery!

This second book features a pretty fun tale by Jimmy Palmiotti and Jordi Bernet in the pure tradition of Will Eisner, taking place the entire time in the premise of this old building (the structure and style sort of reminiscent of the lighter tales Eisner did in A Contract with God).

There's also a gritty tale by Kyle Baker that explores some great typical noir storytelling.

Our hero then comes pretty close to putting a stop to his archnemesis, The Octopus, in the story reintroducing Silk Satin, this CIA agent The Spirit has a crush on.

There's also a pretty creepy "zombie" story around revolving around the mob. While the subject is nothing new, the way it's told via numerous inserted tales is pretty original and unique! It gets kinda unresolved on an cliffhanger note, but it's followed by a later issue (which is still contained in this same trade paperback, a few pages later). This marked the first multi-parter of this new Spirit series, the first story which took more than an issue.

After that there's a fun tale "Death by television", pretty cleverly playing with the medias in comic book format, which is always fun.

We also have pretty much the retelling of one all-time fan favorite and cult classic tale of Will Eisner's The Spirit, the story of Sand Saref, a childhood friend of Denny Colt. How this old love became one of his biggest enemies. I just love that Darwyn Cooke got to be the one to illustrate.

And let's also mention a pretty fun story with no dialogues lovely drawn by Phil Hester.

A second volume not only packed with action, mystery and humor but also heart.

Overall: A great second volume. Continuing in pure Will Eisner fashion, from the clever opening titles to the type of tone they cover. They got the best artists in the medium nowadays to follow up on Darwyn Cooke's footsteps, once he wasn't the main regular artist. This volume sees some fan favorite and some of the biggest names in the medium these days. And one my favorite cartoonists out there, Ty Templeton who really fits this character.

Simple, fun and clean.

The story of "El Morte", the zombie tale, kinda pushes it a bit too much in my eyes, The Spirit could have done without the supernatural element. I prefer my pulp stories more grounded in reality personally. The way he kinda represents a perfect opposite of The Spirit is only briefly alluded (both "resurrected", only El Morte is now this gruesome monster while The Spirit can pretty much continue to live on). But the fantastic issue of Sand Saref more than makes up for it. It follows the original version pretty closely, and almost give her a slightly more sympathetic voice. It already was one of the best stories of the original series, and it's just as good nowadays. She always represented this quintessential "bad woman", never truly that evil at heart. The choices she made in her life put her in the opposite side as The Spirit, 'is all!

I also truly adore the story taking entirely place in the single building, very much a great rribute to Will Eisner.

Darwyn Cooke & co started revamping many old time Spirit foes. Retelling two past Will Eisner Spirit stories together. Great pulp noir stories.

One of the weakest of the bunch is probably the celebrity talk show youtube-generation parody.

The Spirit continues to be a great intriguing character, be it in his very simple down-to-earth detective kind of way. The stories range from simple mystery tales to straight up supernatural tales.

I give this one a: 2.5 / 3 Score!

Comic title: Will Eisner's The Spirit: Book 2
Written by Sergio Aragonés & Mark Evanier
Illustrated by Mike Ploog, Mark Farmer, Paul Smith, Aluir Amancio, Terry Austin, Walden Wong, Jason Armstrong & Paul Rivoche
Format: Trade paperback collecting Will Eisner's The Spirit issues #14-20.

More detective tales! Mystery back to the forefront! The tone gets slightly more mature (there's a few brutal murders despite the cartoony art, and mention of viagra and whatnot).

Ellen gets a bit more directly involved in the stories moving forward from these issues.

This volume offers a couple of pretty intriguing mysteries, easily rivaling with some of the best crime drama television series we have nowadays.

There's a couple of mysteries taking place aboard cruise ships. In the first one, The Spirit gets all the way to France in order to put a stop to the enigmatic P'Gell, the femme fatale, one of the many times he ends up facing her in some complicated scheme to steal something precious.

The Spirit is forced to take a movie role (and he somehow gets to keeps his mask?).

The Octopus returns in a story revolving around mummies!

Let's also mention one of the best issues contained in this volume, illustrated by Jason Armstrong, which explores Denny Colt's past. Great stuff all around.

Lots of short stories and a couple of longer main adventures.

Overall: This volume marks the change from Darwyn Cooke as the headline of the series to cartoonist Sergio Aragonés. (Sadly, Aragonés didn't get to illustrate any story..) The transition from writer to writer is pretty much seamless, Mark Evanier helping it along. There's slightly more jokes flying around and a choice to feature more cartoony art styles.

One of my favorite stories from this volume is probably Aluir Amancio's, which really recaptures the characters Will Eisner drew while making this world his. There's a fun crime aboard this big luxury ship which involves lots of red herrings and disguises, pretty captivating. Almancio draws such lovely "vintage-style" ladies! And Jason Armstrong's gorgeous art in his feature is perfect for the book!

There's always action and adventure whenever danger comes from saving damsels... or surviving some dangerous femme fatales!

I give this one a: 2.5 / 3 Score!

Comic title: Will Eisner's The Spirit: Book 4
Written by Sergio Aragonés & Mark Evanier
Illustrated by Chad Hardin & Aluir AmancioFormat: Trade paperback collecting Will Eisner's The Spirit issues #21-25.

Another day, another murder or mystery, another adventure! (And always the same shirt!)

Central City's resident hero is forced to work with the police on an elaborate plan to keep a criminal alive. But he also escapes. Now with enemies after him, The Spirit is forced nevertheless to disguise as this guy to keep him alive. Thankfully Ellen finds a bunch of bikers willing to help. Let's hope this won't get Ellen any idea...

Next up is a story about magicians! One complicated enigma even The Spirit will have some problem resolving (featuring a cameo appearance by Paul Dini's actual wife, Misty Lee!).

A murder in a ranch allows our heroes to take a well deserved holiday trip in one really fun story.

The Spirit goes on a jungle adventure! This one's kinda forgettable and relying way too much on narration and flashback sequences. The problem is that the main story's not that interesting I think.

Finally Ellen joins a cooking contest.. and murder brings The Spirit to the same contest!

And that is all the stories contained here, since these 5 issues didn't contain any shorter stories.

Overall: By these issues Chad Hardin and Aluir Amancio sort of became the defacto main artists on the book. Which is good for people that don't like change, but I think it's a missed opportunity since I really liked the idea of these different standalone stories bringing in different artistic interpretations.

No more back-up features, the second features were ditched from the book by this point. If anything at least it allows for longer tales!

Another great volume, still a very solid book but the lack of different artist is just too bad.

I give this one a: 2 / 3 Score! 

Comic title: Will Eisner's The Spirit: Book 5
Written by Michael Uslan, F.J. DeSanto, Dean Motter, Michael Avon Oeming & Mike Ploog
Illustrated by Justiniano, Walden Wong, Paul Rivoche, Mike Ploog, Dan Green & Michael Avon Deming
Format: Trade paperback collecting Will Eisner's The Spirit issues #26-32.

The stories collected here range from pure all-out adventures to plain comedies, not trying to have these stories cover all genres at once as usual but letting them explore different directions and allowing The Spirit to breath some life into them.

Another important classic character (and not that really much explored) get introduced once more. This old love of The Spirit from back in his "Denny Colt's days", Silken Floss. How this surgeon named "Floss" (get it?) came to work for the Octopus. It features some of the best art in this entire series (and that's saying something!). Also the Octopus gets a lit more spotlight than ever for the first time in this new incarnation of Will Eisner's The Spirit (with his face truly never revealed as always - we only get the allusion he might have a slightly similar build as The Spirit and might possible be African American from a quick look we get a couple of panels..?).

A "siren" arrives in town, the mysterious Lorelei comes to town and work for Octopus in his criminal activities.

Murder brings The Spirit back to Paris in a complex cheating affair linked to some thefts and after we have a similar story on a much smaller scale with a little Tattoo shop back in Central City.

We even get a pretty fun chase amongst the local triads!

The last story bring us back to the supernatural genre (sadly..). With an actual livin' and breathin' leprechaun (why??), a disappearing magical island and some sorcerer. And this marks the other only actual 2-parter as well!! If they actually knew this was the finale issue, couldn't they have at least offered us one last pure pulp mystery tale before the end of the book?

Also, for some reason there's more continuity kept from one story to another in these last few issues, despite the various writers and artists. Such as mentions to Silken Floss or the last mystery The Spirit is involved in.

Overall: The final book collecting this series! This marks the end of this run started under Darwyn Cooke. It actually lasted for a surprisingly decent time!

For these last remaining issues they brought back the idea of a rotating team of creators. Also for the occasion, several different writers followed upon Sergio Aragonés & Mark Evanier, leaving The Spirit in other capable hands.

It's a pretty decent volume, but it just doesn't feel like a last book. At least it still contains a few surprises. And some of the finest artist you could wish for the series such as Justiniano and Paul Rivoche.

"Time changes, The Spirit doesn't!"

I give this one a: 2 / 3 Score!

For its entire run, it remaing a fairly good book, despite a couple of weaker installments far in between.

The series remaining pretty strong following  Darwyn Cooke's departure. It has this classic "old school" feeling without it being "old", if you will. (Much better than some other similar attempts from DC Comics at the time.)

A fun clean-shaven hero, a good sidekick kid with an equally smart mouth, some great laughs. Fun slapstick, humor, plenty of action and adventure, and even a little of weird (never too much).

During the time DC published these new comics they also reprinted some of Will Eisner's classic stories in two best of collections, the second one appropriately titled The Spirit: Femmes Fatale revolving around some of The Spirit's most memorable protagonists.

In 2008 was release the live-action film The Spirit directed by Frank Miller. And it was around that time DC canceled the original ongoing series they were producing. If there's one thing I didn't like about this film is that its influence forced DC to shut down this lighthearted series for a much darker and grittier Frank Miller-inspired new series.

This second series was launched with a mini-series crossover event, First Wave in 2010 under Brian Azzarello. The second comic book series laster for about 20 more issues, until that one also got canceled thanks (once again) to DC's "New 52" reboot *sigh...*.

But all this is for next time...

That's all for this time's Quickies!

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