Let us take a trip back to July 1st, 2015. Most of us were excited about the upcoming SDCC, as it was the 75th anniversary of Will Eisner’s The Spirit. Luckily for us fans of the time, the first issue of Dynamite’s Will Eisner’s The Spirit was just released, and would lead us into a tale of mystery surrounded by noir and comedy as we were tasked with figuring out who killed The Spirit. This was the tag line that would get us to check out this tale by writer Matt Wagner and artist Dan Schkade — interestingly, Matt’s son, Brennan, would be the colorist on this project as well.
The Spirit is one of those characters that you might know something about, nothing about, or maybe even too much about — after all, The Spirit is 80 years old now, so he has quite a bit of continuity and history, but this story arc manages to put the mystery first so it doesn’t matter how much you know. Instead, it is about how much you can put together. Plus, he has been around quite a few publishing companies such as Eisner & Iger, Kitchen Sink Press, DC Comics, IDW Publishing, Dynamite Entertainment, and currently Clover Press.
Looking at the story this opens on a very drastic note of a newspaper front page headline asking, “Who killed the Spirit?” This right away lets us glean some information in order to learn that by this point, The Spirit has been missing for two years and hard times are hitting Central City. We learn about the new character, City Councilman Weatherby Palmer, and his intentions towards being the next Commissioner. We are also introduced to the classic characters of Commissioner Eustace Dolan, his daughter Ellen Dolan, Ebony White and Sammy Strunk. They still have that classic feel to them, but in the case of Ebony and Sammy they have grown up and become detectives all of their own. The creative team does an amazing job of showing us the origin story along with presenting the loss that these characters have in regards to their friend. The hook is there and the characters have a purpose for their actions. Plus, we don’t even see the main character in the first couple issues, so the supporting cast is built up nicely in order to carry the book.
When we finally are treated to the Spirit’s return, I love the fact that even he doesn’t fully understand why he was kidnapped and held prisoner. Which is great, as his return doesn’t stop the story, but rather enriches the mystery. The first couple of issues are great in revisiting Spirit’s rouges gallery with the likes of Mister Carrion, P’Gell, Sand Saref, and the Octopus. As you continue onward with the story, you are introduced to new characters, which I won’t spoil for you, and the creative team does a great job of having them feel like they’re classics from the original Spirit Sections in the Sunday newspaper comics.
Matt Wagner creates a perfect celebration that honors Eisner’s original idea of seven page mini-stories, yet stays contemporary with modern comics for the overall maxi-series. Wagner also works in “everyman” moments with two new characters that add to the adventure, but aren’t a part of the story which was respectfully done. I also appreciate the little bits of Easter eggs for eagle-eyed readers — my favorite was issue #4’s use of “Denis’ Kitchen” in the style of the Nighthawks painting. Denis was a good friend and publisher of Eisner’s and I’m sure he loved that. This story is just so timeless that it fits right in with the classic Spirit Sections that any fan, new or experienced, can enjoy.
The artwork in this book is a beautiful collection of images that honor the Eisner legacy as well. Dan Schkade manages to bring both a classic noir feel to characters that are a bit cartoony, but not ridiculous — they just find the right vibe of the Spirit’s world. Dan also does a great job of working classic elements, like the oversized props and logos, into the story. The fight scenes are just perfect, and let us know how much punishment The Spirit goes through and helps to add that energy for us to cheer him on when he comes bouncing back in for the win. Add to that Brennan Wagner’s colors, and we are in for some eye candy as he creates an atmosphere that gives that detective pulp vibe. And I’d be remiss not to shout out A Larger World Studios for their lettering ability, as they managed to keep the style of the words being a part of the story in tact with classic Spirit stories.