Friday, November 30, 2018

Forgotten Books: WILL EISNER'S SPIRIT ARCHIVES Vol. 1 (2000)

I've read a fair number of Spirit adventures over the years, many of them in the black and white Warren magazine published in the late '70s and early '80s. But I never made an effort to sit down and read the series from the beginning. Until now. 

Volume 1, you'll notice, covers only the first six months, and since the series ran until 1952, I have a lot reading ahead of me. The whole thing runs 26 volumes! 

In the Introduction, Eisner tells how he was approached by the sales manager of a newspaper syndicate, asking him to create and furnish a weekly 16-page comic book insert to help papers compete with the growing popularity of comic books. At the time, Eisner and partner Jerry Iger were operating a studio providing material for Fiction House, Quallity and other comic lines, along with the Hawks of the Sea comic strip. 

Eisner, still only 22, took the job, largely because it would allow him to write for an adult audience and push the boundaries of the medium. Accompanying each issue's 7-page Spirit tale was the four page feature Lady Luck, illustrated in the beginning by Chuck Mazoujian, and five pages of Mr. Mystic by Bob Powell. 

The Spirit's first appearance (above) looks pretty crude compared to what what would come, but it took only a few months for it to become a stylistic marvel. Eisner experimented with a lot of cool camera angles, and had an amazing knack for conveying the fluidity of action. All of the samples offered here are from this volume. While it seems certain Eisner did the pencils, it's unclear who provided the inks. Did he enlist the help of his old studio guys? I don't know, but I'm betting someone out there does.

The Spirit saga starts like this: Criminologist Denny Colt is supposedly killed battling the bad guy in his first published adventure. Instead, it's revealed (but only to his friend the police commissioner) that he was exposed to chemicals that put him in suspended animation. Colt decides to stay officially dead, so he can fight cime in ways the cops cannot. He adopts the name the Spirit, and takes up resdience in a tomb at the local graveyard.  In the very early stories, he even employs the pulpy gimmick of leaving notes written on miniature tombstones. 

Eisner didn't want a superhero name at all, but gave in at the insistence of the newspaper folks. They also insisted he have a costume, which Eisner grudgingly provided in the form of a domino mask and gloves. 

As to Eisner's desire to tell adult stories, he still has a long way to go. Most of these stories are better-than-average comic book fare, but still basically kid stuff. The Spirit fights villains with names like Dr. Cobra, the Black Queen, Mr. Midnight, the Killer Clown, Ogre, and Orang, the ape with a human mind. There's a Voodoo doctor, a killer robot, death dolls, criminal quadruplets, and a woman with the mind of an ape. And so on. And the Spirit, for no particular reason, acquires an automobile that can sprout wings and fly.

But in a few other stories we see Eisner striving for something more. These morality plays include a young man shown the perils of gambling, a pair of crooks in Santa suits who drop into a church and get the Christmas spirit, kids who learn not to idolize gangsters, and a bad actor convict who's scared straight. 

The crimefighting takes a more serious turn when the Spirit (like every other comic book hero) does his part for the war effort. In this case, starting way back in October, 1940, he's enlisted to fight spies and sabotuers here at home. 

Eisner himself was drafted in 1942, and went overseas, leaving the strip in other hands until the end of the war. That means I can expect a lot more Eisner in the next two or three volumes, followed by many by his replacements, before the Eisner work resumes. Am I up for the challenge? We'll see. 

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

"Jesse James, King of the Bandits" by EVERETT RAYMOND KINSTLER (1952)

This tale illustrated by Everett Raymond Kinstler appeared in Avon's Blazing Sixguns #1, from Dec. 1952. Scanned for comicbookplus by darwination. Thank you, sir. 

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Dan Turner, HOLLYWOOD DETECTIVE in Color!: "Off-Stage Kill" (1951)

Here we go again. This one's from Crime Smashers #7, published back in Nov. 1951. And once again, it was uploaded to comicbookplus by freddyfly. Be here next Saturday for Dan's next case, "Bear-Trap Kill."