SPIRIT’d Away (sorry, I couldn’t help it.)

February 2, 2009

spirit-coverTHE COVERS

Overall, I found that the provided covers of the Spirit reminded me of Archie comics and the television show Scooby Doo in their depiction of kind of goofy but otherwise tame or otherwise non-threatening villains. But at the same time, they seem to hint at the kind of trouble that awaits the Spirit within (whether it be being bitten by small sewer creatures [no. 28] , clawed at by demons [no. 23], or ensnared in the web of  a lady [no. 26]), which I feel is a fairly effective way of enticing readers. However, as interesting counterpoint, the cover of “The Tale of the Dictator’s Reform” seems to concern a very real “villain,” and yet does not depict Hitler in a particularly sinister light nor hint at the kinds of evils Hitler perpetrated, either on the Spirit or his real life victims.

In terms of the lettering of the title and Will Eisner’s signature, I enjoyed the ones that were consistent [nos. 23 / 26 / 28 ] as they kind of act as their own recognizable logo or icon, and provide a sense of permanence and dependability while the Spirit is thrown into a different perilous situation issue by issue.


“The Origin of the Spirit” was not all too surprising, although I am not quite sure if it was a riff on or the creation of the typical “man is altered by freak accident (typically caused by the villain) and changed into hero” genesis myth. Stylistically, this first issue (June 2, 1940) of the Spirit was pretty straightforward, with the exception of slanted panels on pages 22 and the last couple pages.

On Eisner’s wikipedia entry, I read that he attended high school and was close friends with Batman creator Bob Kane. This lead me to recognize some similarities between The Spirit and Batman, in that both act as kinds of vigilante extensions of the law, working in partial conjunction with their respective police commissioners, who are the only one who know of their true identities. Additionally, neither have “super powers” per se, just a lot of good detective skills and hand-to-hand combat training. However, while Batman gets to masquerade as the wealthy Bruce Wayne by day, I’m unsure as to what Denny Colt will be doing when the sun is up.


“Lorelei Rox” I enjoyed as a fairly bizarre and also quite comical tale of an Elvira-like siren woman and her exploitive high-jacking handler. I felt as though the action scenes were more thrilling (with more expressive zip ribbons on pgs 93-94) and the lettering more varied. I also thought that Eisner decision to get rid of the panel borders on pgs. 90-91 was effective in conveying the hypnotic effect of Lorelei’s song on the Spirit. Furthermore, I felt as though “Lorelei Rox” had particularly more interesting composition than the earlier “Origin” comic, with a nice mix of wide shots, close ups, and canted angles. Also, Eisner’s usage of the flashback was both interesting and ironic (concerning the ending).

But I think the best aspect of “Lorelei Rox” was Eisner’s effective usage of film noir stylings. “Lorelei” is extremely moody, with its prevalence of darkness, thunder and rain. Additionally, the Spirit’s fairly somber demeanor and Lorelei’s femme fatale leanings stood out as typical conventions of film noir storytelling.

Relating to what I know of Eisner’s life, I can’t help but wonder if Eisner’s further adoption of the noir style could somewhat be attributed to his life after the war and post-war America in general. I’m sure his life during the war was somewhat bleaker, which possibly could have lead to this darker form of storytelling. Additionally, film noir is typically used to explore a world of vice and sin, two elements that I’m sure played at least some role in his experience abroad. Also, concerning the ironic ending panel of “Lorelei Rox” (p. 94), Lorelei’s presence seems to suggest that she might kill the Acme Truck Driving dispatcher, but is presented in a comic light. This kind of dark comedy and the idea that Spirit (who believes he has saved the day and carried out justice) has actually failed are both common elements of pessimistic post-war literature such as Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five and Heller’s Catch-22.


One Response to “SPIRIT’d Away (sorry, I couldn’t help it.)”

  1. Cnthia Allen Says:


    I appreciate the way you have linked highlighted topics in BLUE to Wikipedia articles.

    One of the interesting insights I gleaned from ComicCon this week-end was when I attended the PULP FICTION panel on Friday. I found out that Eisner, Kane, Kirby and others of the “beginning era” comics in the 1930s and 1940s, grew up on PUlP NOVELS, that began in the early 1920s. Only in the last 2 years have they been started to be reprinted. Such Pulp classics as THE SHADOW and THE WHISPERER often served as “inspiration” (cases could be make for plagarizism). The first issue of BATMAN takes very liberally from SHADOW #9 (which I bought on Friday), for instance.

    Thus, the similarities of Police Commissioners you mention in Batman and the Spirit are homages to the Shadow and other Pulp novels.

    You are doing excellent work with citing page numbers with the comments!

    I enjoy that you can compare Spirit covers to those of Archie comics and Scooby Doo.

    Concerning LORELEI ROX, again, good Elvira-like siren comparison. And I liked that you pointed out the zip ribbons on pages 93 and 94.

    Regarding “film-noir” styles — most all comics writers were familiar with how Orson Wells revolutionized film visual grammar in the early 1940s. In addition, the Jewish comics owed a great deal to the German expressionism after many Jews left Germany in the 1930s.

    What I enjoyed reading most in your film-noir commentary, concerned the dark comedy elements you pointed out in LORELEI on p. 94.

    So, very good work.


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