by Matt Wagner, Dan Schkade
Matt Wagner resurrects Will Eisner’s famous masked crime-fighter in this issue, but does it live up to expectations? In a way, it depends on what you were expecting.
The Spirit has been missing for 2 years and is presumed dead. Commissioner Dolan is being forced into retirement and is making the best of his last days by trying to curb the crime wave due to the Spirit’s absence. His daughter, Ellen, is engaged to a mild-mannered assistant DA and the two reminisce about what the Spirit meant to them. On the other side of town, the Spirit’s former companion, Ebony White, has started a detective agency with his friend Sammy. After they finish their first (and only) assignment, Ebony decides to go after the biggest mystery that’s been under their noses all along, what happened to the Spirit?
It’s a gutsy move opening this series with the titular character appearing only briefly in a few panels and Wagner choosing to build up his supporting cast and tease out his appearance to the reader. I applaud the effort, but I don’t think it’s execution was 100% effective. We have a scene or two with Ellen and her father telling what the Spirit meant to them, but the man who spent the most time around him in costume has no flashback and barely mentions him? Surely a page or a few panels could be given to show Ebony’s connection to the Spirit, if only to justify why he’s going to devote his limited resources to finding him?
Being the Spirit’s former partner could be reason enough,which if so, that highlights another possible problem with a heavy reliance on the past. The Spirit is a character 75+ years old and this series seems to be picking up where Eisner’s run left off. We can see this with Commissioner Dolan retiring and an aged Ebony White. But the decision to put Ebony in a red outfit and drive a taxi doesn’t make much sense to people coming into this world for the first time. For those that come in with a decent background of the characters, the issue has enough Easter eggs to pique interest in the next issue.
Dan Schkade’s art style is good at imitating Will Eisner’s and makes the world of the Spirit feel like it never went away. The decision to keep the setting close to the 1940’s is probably for the best, as it allows for a throwback atmosphere. Schkade proves to be the ideal artist to render it, with a smooth cartooning look for the inhabitants of Central City .
Overall, Wagner’s first issue takes a slower and more thoughtful approach in reintroducing the Spirit. While this won’t catch immediate attention from readers, Wagner has proven himself a reliable storyteller for the classic pulp characters (The Shadow, Zorro, Green Hornet). Sure to please fans of the character, this issue is set right in the world that Will Eisner drew decades ago.
Rating: Poor, Fair, Good, Great, Excellent