Eisner’s Spirit is generally recognized as a landmark in the comics medium. I have admittedly reached the real thing by a backwards process that included the 2008 feature film and Darwyn Cooke’s 21st-century reboot of the comic. But, having now read this convenient anthology of some of Eisner’s key work from the 1940s, I do see what all of the fuss is about.
There’s no special attraction to the plots, characters, or setting: The Spirit is basically straightforward fantasy detective fiction that seems to be a synthesis between Bob Kane’s Batman and Chester Gould’s Dick Tracy. What makes Eisner’s Spirit special is the storytelling: his inventive use of both graphic and narrative perspectives. These features are thrown into relief in the format of the eight-page weekly comics supplement syndicated to various newspapers, where all of the stories in this anthology were originally published.
These stories include the Spirit origin episode, tales of the chief femmes fatales of the series (Silk Satin, P’Gell, and Sand Saref), and most importantly, many of the stories in which the Spirit himself only appears in a few of the final panels, just to provide external continuity for what is otherwise a free-standing parable of crime and punishment.
At eight pages per story, this collection is able to include over twenty tales of The Spirit, and they are worth savoring. It amply demonstrates why Eisner’s work has been inspirational to comics creators for generations.