Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Classics - The Spirit #1 (1974)

Who the heck is The Spirit?

That's what young Chuck would have been asking when seeing this magazine in 1974 - if he hadn't read Jim Steranko's two-volume History of Comics. A significant chapter in that fine work sings the praises of The Spirit - a comic book character I had never seen or heard of before.

The Spirit is actually police detective Denny Colt. He is (apparently) killed while foiling the plot of an evil scientist, but somehow he returns to life, dons a small mask and dedicates his energies to fighting crime as The Spirit.

Perhaps my ignorance was because The Spirit's last adventure was printed in 1952, almost a decade before I started reading comics. Perhaps it's because no local newspaper (as near as I can tell) ever carried The Spirit section, the comic that was included in Sunday newspapers around the country.

Thankfully, Steranko had tipped me off, so I eagerly grabbed this magazine published by Warren - an odd addition to its line of horror comic magazines.

Am I glad I did! The magazine includes a lushly-colored section in the center, and a total of eight stories starring the Spirit.

The star of the story isn't actually The Spirit - it's the ingenious stories by creator / writer / artist Will Eisner, who applied cinematic principles, created new styles and art forms for the comics page, wrote incredibly clever stories, loaded them with terrific characters, set it all up so the format could handle any kind of tale - action, tragedy, comedy, romance - and mixed it all together to create an amazing body of work.

These magazines are probably a bit tough to track down these days (though certainly not impossible), but thankfully these stories are all available through DC's Archive reprint series.

Even the earliest stories are a lot of fun, but it's the post-World War II tales that really pushed the envelope and demonstrated the potential of comics.

I don't think it's humanly possible for me to give this work a high enough recommendation. It changed comics forever, and (assuming you can forgive the depiction of The Spirit's sidekick Ebony, a clever black kid regrettably drawn in the minstrel style that was popular when the strip started) it's a must-read for all comics fans.

Grade: A+


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