What’s so special about The Spirit? A review of The Spirit Special #1

In a little over a month, you may end up seeing a movie called The Spirit.  People are going to tell you how it’s directed by Frank Miller, creator of 300 and Sin City, to establish his comic book movie pedigree.  They’ll probably even throw in the fact that Miller co-directed Sin City as well to bolster Miller’s cinematic credentials.  They may even to tell you that The Spirit is based on an old and rather famous comic book by some guy named Will Eisner to try and give the movie a sense of history and importance.  And in honor of this Christmas’s big movie release, DC has put out The Spirit Special #1, featuring four stories that presumably tie into the movie somehow.

The first story “Sign of the Octopus” from 1947 feels like it may be the closest in tone and mood to the movie if the movie’s trailer is any indication.  Caught and beaten, the Spirit is basically tortured into giving up the whereabouts of a safe full of money.  It’s a surprisingly brutal story from the late 1940s, complete with exploding grenades right under a henchman’s body and a bloody bat used to beat the Spirit but it is a reminder that The Spirit does live in a dirty and physical world.  This issue features the Spirit’s enemy the Octopus who is played in the movie by Samuel L. Jackson.  As what may be a sign that Miller doesn’t get it, Eisner never shows more of the Octopus than his arm.  The character remains a mystery, always hidden in doorways, windows and shadows.  He’s a threat but he’s never defined clearly.   The Octopus is certainly not Shaft and was never trapped on a plane with snakes.

Following up the Octopus story, DC’s included a rather forgettable story, “Black Alley,” featuring a slightly clueless cop, a botched murder attempt and a murderous double crossing.  This story must have some tie into the movie because it’s not a memorable story although it does contain some fantastically moody artwork as it plunges the characters into darkness. It also has a great foot chase over subway tracks.  It’s a simple but effective chase.  While the story is actually pretty good, it pales compared to almost any other The Spirit story that could have been included in this special.

The final two stories, a two parter featuring “Sand Saref” and “Bring In Sand Saref,” is a classic and makes up for the lack luster second story.  It’s the introduction and origin of one of the Spirit’s greatest femmefatales- Sand Saref.  Recently revisited by Darwyn Cooke in The Spirit #12, Eisner’s story pulls at the heart strings of the reader as the Spirit encounters his one great love from his past.  More than the other stories, these SandSaref stories show the versatility of the Spirit and how Eisner could create mood and unforgettable stories in only a few pages.  The inclusion of this story is obvious as SandSaref plays a justifiably big part in the movie but the story also deserves to be seen by everyone.  The Spirit and Saref’s relationship is one of the greatest love stories in comics, as their past makes it impossible for the two to ever really be together but their feelings just can’t keep them apart.  She’s the bad girl that the Spirit thinks he can redeem.  But it’s not even that fair to call her a “bad girl” as the story shows how she walks the line of opportunisticthief while also being a war hero, fighting for what’s right and fair.  In only a few pages, Eisner created a fantastic story that is as good now as it was 50 years ago.

If after you see the movie and are interested in Will Eisner’s comic work on The Spirit, this comic misses the mark on what made The Spirit great.  At least it does half of the time.  Gone is the innovative storytelling and the imaginative layouts.  The SandSaref story shows how strong of a storyteller Eisner was but the first two stories in this collection are far from his best work on the character.  Get it for the SandSaref story but to get a better sampler of Eisner’s Spirit work, check out DC’s Will Eisner’s The Spirit: Femme Fatales trade or their The Best of the Spirit collection.  One way or another, get some Will Eisner’s The Spirit.

The Spirit Special #1
“”Sign of the Octopus”
“Black Alley”
“Sand Saref”
“Bring In Sand Saref”
Written and Drawn by: Will Eisner
Interior Color Restoration by: Jamison

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