Reviews and Recommendations by Mel Odom, Professional Writer

THE SPIRIT by Darwyn Cooke & J Bone

Though I’m ashamed to admit it, I’ve never read a single issue of The Spirit until Darwyn Cooke’s graphic novel collecting the first six issues of the new series put out by DC Comics. I’ve read comics nearly my whole life, and heard about Will Eisner and the Spirit for nearly as long.To tell you the truth, the Spirit didn’t fit my idea of a superhero. For one, there was the problem of no superpowers. And two, the costume was really lame for a kid who grew up with superheroes wearing Spandex and their underwear on the outside. The Spirit just looked too…real. That meant boring to the child that I was.So I went on for nearly fifty years with my assumption that I wouldn’t like the Spirit.Enter Darwyn Cooke. Actually, I didn’t know that I liked him at first either. I thought his art was too raw at the time, too two-dimensional and unfinished. Then he did New Frontier, which became an overnight bestseller and is coming out as a straight-to-DVD animated movie soon. I picked up New Frontier and really liked Cooke’s writing and art. His artistry is flamboyant and unique. He played fairly with the characters and showed real talent when reimagining the DC Universe for his story.

Now he’s brought that same understanding of character to The Spirit, a monthly comic from DC. He writes and pencils the comic, something that few people in that business do any more, or are skilled enough to accomplish. From what I understand of the character since I’ve been poking around after getting curious, he’s captured the flavor, pacing, and zest of Will Eisner’s work.

Denny Colt is a private investigator that cracks a big case but gets overwhelmed by the villains. He is also doused in chemicals that makes it look like he is dead. After he recovers and crawls out of the family crypt, he decides to remain “dead” and adopt a new identity to fight crime. He does this with the reluctant acquiescence of Central City Police Commissioner Dolan. Dolan also happens to be the father of Denny’s girlfriend, Ellen.

Even though he looks like a 1940s private eye with a domino mask under his slouch hat, the Spirit is much more than a bare knuckles hero. He doesn’t just investigate; he has adventures. Those adventures are by turns deadly serious, humorous, absolutely loopy, or anything in between.

As I read the stories, I was at first confused. Then I realized that the Spirit was a lot like Jack Cole’s Plastic Man series. Totally malleable. (Yep, that’s a pun, and I’m not sorry.) I settled into the graphic novel for a light-hearted and fun read that vamoosed through the panels with the pacing of a runaway avalanche.

I call the volume a graphic novel, but that’s doing the book an injustice of sorts. In this day and age when every writer and artist is trained to produce a five- or six-issue arc that will fit neatly and conveniently into a graphic novel format a few months later, Darwyn Cooke decided to be daring and write standalone tales. That’s right, you can sit down and read a single comic-length story and get it all in one shot. That was like a breath of fresh air. It also made for more tightly plotted stories.

One of the other things I really liked about the book is the collection of secondary characters culled right from Eisner’s works: the ever missing-in-action Octopus, P’Gell, and others. Cooke even introduces us to Silk Satin, a hard-as-nails female character and member of the CIA, and she’s tough enough to take out Dirty Harry. You never know what to expect from story to story within the pages of this beautiful hardback book.

I do wish that some kind of primer with an art gallery of iconic Spirit characters had been included with the graphic novel as added value. I understood from the stories that some of the characters were ongoing from Eisner’s original run, but it would have helped with more. Eisner evidently created a deep, rich world and Cooke is running elegantly with the ball. There’s no reason for Cooke to try to stumble through all that had gone on before for Denny while in the middle of his own stories, and you can pick up enough to get by. But now that I’m hooked, that little bit of extra would have been great.

If you haven’t read the comics and still maintain your love of great storytelling combined with sheer fun, pick up this graphic novel and prepare to be wowed. Cooke has brought major wowness to a whole new level.


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