2017 is the 100th anniversary of Will Eisner’s birth and it’s wonderful to see his most famous creation get a new lease of life in this Dynamite mini-series. It’s even more wonderful to see the creative baton being handed over to Francesco Francavilla, one of the most distinctive and consistently excellent creators in the business.
Before the story starts properly, the reader is presented with a beautiful page of artwork dedicated to ‘Will and Darwyn’, references to Eisner himself and Darwyn Cooke whose Batman/Spirit crossover book was instrumental in introducing The Spirit to the DC Universe when DC acquired the property in 2007. Cooke went on to write and pencil the ongoing The Spirit series in 2007. The single image features the titular hero crouching in an overgrown graveyard, his head bowed and hat tipped slightly back to keep off the ever-present rain. Its colour palette muted and sombre, it is a powerful and poignant image, and a great tribute to two incredibly influential – and talented – comics creators.
Once the story itself starts, the sense that it is in the hands of someone who understands the character and his setting is extraordinarily strong. We are presented with a dead body, a crime scene, detectives, shadows and buckets of rain – all very noirish, all very pulp. The relationship between Dolan, the Central City cop leading an investigation into the death of a homeless man, and The Spirit is economically outlined in a handful of panels, as is the ongoing friendship between The Spirit and his sidekick, Ebony (Eb) White. Indeed, it’s White and his cousin who form the main focus of this issue. His cousin has just got out of prison (although, in an effort to preserve Eb’s innocence, his cousin won’t go into details about where he’s been) and is looking forward to spending some time with Eb, when he is hailed by a former acquaintance who is looking for someone to step in and replace a member of his gang who’s just been picked up by the police. Eb’s cousin isn’t given much of a choice and agrees to do the job scheduled for that night. This is the same job that Eb himself picks up on the police band radio and The Spirit duly leaps into action.
A heart-breaking confrontation between The Spirit and Eb’s cousin might be expected at this point, but it doesn’t quite turn out that way. There are other forces at work on this particular evening and the issue ends in an unpredictably chilling way while The Spirit and Eb are still en route to the scene of the bank robbery.
As might be expected from a first issue, there are a number of plot threads introduced here, but, in focusing on the relationship between Eb and his cousin, Francavilla ensures that there’s an emotional connection between reader and story that never gets subsumed by any of the other elements he’s introduced. A lot of that connection is down to the artwork, too. We feel Vin’s shame when he speaks to Eb; we understand his uncertainty when he’s ‘offered’ the job. Francavilla’s facial expressions are always clear here and he conveys a range of emotion with extraordinary economy.
His action sequences are also excellent (there’s a car chase here that almost roars off the page), but it’s his depictions of the city, its griminess, its eternally rain-drenched streets, its shadow-haunted alleyways and gothic architecture, that soak into the bones. The issue’s final page is a perfect case in point – a Central City police car in the foreground, its police light a smear of orange above its roof, passes the city’s ominously-angled crematorium, whose chimney belches dirty yellow smoke into a night sky dominated by a full moon, which is in turn partially obscured by thick cloud. Disturbing and beautiful in equal measure.
To sum up, then, this is a memorable introduction to a story that promises to be both intriguing and emotionally engaging. Its central narrative is strong and it is fit to burst with the kind of foreboding atmosphere that this reviewer finds almost impossible to resist. My one minor complaint is that The Spirit himself isn’t in it very much. That aside, I can heartily recommend the issue – particularly if you like your comics pulpy and moody. A very strong start to what I suspect will be an outstanding series.
Note: This first appeared on the Weird Science DC Comics website.