Customer Reviews: The Best of the Spirit
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Customer Reviews

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on May 9, 2006
Eisner's "Spirit" work is landmark watershed etc. no question about it. And perhaps the stories in this volume are cream of that crop (there were so many Spirit stories that it seems impossible to really assemble just a few into a "best of") but be warned that this particular package has its drawbacks. As another reviewer noted, they are reprinted at standard comic book size, while the originals were at magazine size, so the art is a bit cramped and details muddied. That's to be expected but the cheap paper doesn't help any, causing some of the finer lines to look blurry, at least to me. Add to that what could be a recoloring job that seems slapdash, and it's not the easiest read. I'm not sure if the coloring follows the originals, or IS the originals in most cases, but in the case of the character Ebony, Spirit's youthful sidekick, he is definitely recolored. The original was a pretty standard (and admittedly, to current views, extremely offensive) "boy" in his coloring: looking like he's stepped off the stage of a minstrel show. In this volume he's been recolored as a blond caucasian. It's an understandable alteration, given what I assume is the wide -- and not necessarily Eisner- or old-comics- fluent audience for this volume. I'm not really complaining about the recoloring of the character (though I'm not sure why he couldn't have been recolored black but w/out the white lips etc.), but if they recolored that, what else was retouched?

In short, for the price (esp here on Amazon) and convenience, it's hard to beat this as an intro to Eisner and the Spirit. The hardcover archives are much more expensive, even for the better quality, and the old reprints (from Warren & Kitchen Sink) were the right size, but B&W, so these are a good choice to start. But still, they look kind of crappy.

Btw, my fave spirit stories (not included) are "The Spirit in Space" -- amazing Wally Wood art in a story about the Spirit going to the moon w/a bunch of convicts. Wood at his best.
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Will Eisner is a genius, plain and simple and his genius extends to far more than his work on the Spirit. Eisner was only 19 when he and partner Jerry Iger opened the Eisner & Iger studio to produce comics for comic publishers. Among the artists they recruited were legends Jack Kirby, Lou Fine, and Eisner's high school friend, Batman creator Bob Kane. Then in 1939 Eisner was approached to produce a weekly comic supplement that would be syndicated in numerous Sunday newspapers. The shrewd Eisner agreed as long as he could keep the copyright to the characters, including the main feature of the supplement, the crime-fighting Spirit. This was quite a coup for Eisner as he knew he would never be able to get the same rights if he had his work published by an actual comic book publisher. And as the owner, Eisner also had creative control which other artists and writers of the day didn't have. Thus Eisner was decades ahead of his time.

This collection from DC comics includes 22 eight page Spirit adventures beginning with the Spirit's origin from June, 1940. Eisner would lose a few years to World War II but returned to his strip when he got back home in 1945 and continued with it until 1952. The Spirit is Denny Colt, private investigator and criminologist. While tracking down the devious villain Dr. Cobra, he is saturated with experimental chemicals and goes into a state of suspended animation, making him appear to be dead. He crawls from his grave and dons a simple mask and the moniker of the Spirit to battle crime in Central City. The cast of the Spirit includes Police Commissioner Dolan and the Spirit's sometimes sidekick, the orphan African American kid Ebony White who provided some comic relief.

Eisner loved sexy, beautiful, bad girls and women were the Spirit's antagonists as often were men. In "Postage Stamp he tussles with the beautiful thief Dulcet Tone and later with a spy called Satin as he tries to locate a secret letter filled with the names of war criminals. It's often said that artist Jim Steranko introduced pop culture and cinematic art to comics, but Eisner did it long before Steranko. Eisner often cleverly utilized the Spirit logo on the splash page making it part of the story. He lettered his text in creative ways such as pyramid or circular forms, not seen in other comics of the times.

Eisner used true cinematic vision in laying out his panels, like a meticulous film director. He used downward perspective and other interesting angles that are still innovative today. What truly sets the Spirit is that while comic books were written for kids, Eisner clearly aimed the Spirit at an adult audience, employing sly, sometimes tawdry humor that would be over the head of most children. Another interesting device Eisner employed is that quite often the Spirit would barely make an appearance in his own stories. A good example from this collection is the story "Christmas Spirit of 1948". At the state prison, convict Basher Brains is sick of hearing about Christmas until he receives a visit from Santa Claus himself who says that even Basher is on his list. Basher's request is to get out of jail and borrows Santa's outfit to escape. But Basher would soon learn the true spirit of Christmas from some street kids. The Spirit does not make an appearance until the final few panels.

It's utterly amazing that these stories were produced at a time when comics were churned out as quickly and mundanely as they were. Sixty years later they have lost none of their potency or their humor. This is a marvelous collection, especially if you are new to the Spirit. My highest recommendation! By the way, I am uploading a picture of the actual book cover, which is not the one Amazon displays.

Reviewed by Tim Janson
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on December 30, 2005
The only reason I'm holding one star back is because I'm old. The art in these stories is so nuanced and rich that it should have been presented larger than standard comic book size. But that's the only bone I have to pick with this volume. Younger readers who don't have to squint to read this will be well rewarded.

And with a price like this, there's really no excuse not to treat yourself.

Will Eisner may not have invented the comic book, but he was one of the people who made them good. His talent and influence helped transform the medium from kids' throwaway entertainment to literature. "The Spirit" is Eisner at the height of his powers, and this collection is the best of the best. The phrase "no collection should be without it" has become watered-down through overuse, but in this case it is no less than the truth. If you're at all interested in comic books, this is where you start.
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on December 25, 2005
I've always essentially liked Eisner. I have both of his how-to books on comics, and a couple of the B&W Warren Spirit reprints from the 70s. But it wasn't until this collection that I got hooked.

The stories in this collection have the elegance of the best harboiled crime writers, and a stylish approach to visual storytelling that must've inspired what was best about the early Mad Magazine (and other EC titles). While The Spirit himself is pretty much of an affable do-right, the villians are usually very textured and often very funny.

And, for a vintage crime comics fan like me, the fact that this is pretty hard-hitting for the sunday funnies-- with somebody getting plugged in almost every story, and a few unsavory surprises besides-- make this a true addition to the genre. And man, could Eisner draw them dishy dames! I've now pretty much resigned myself to the fact that I'm going to have to get a few of the post-war Spirit Archives.

The only problem with the book is that it's a flimsy trade paperback, and should have been printed to the same standards as the Archives. But, due to the inventiveness of the stories, I can't bring myself to give it less than four stars.
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on May 25, 2016
I was really looking forward to being re-introduced to this character but the 'new' reproduction values in the coloring of this reprint and even blurry lettering in some cases ruined the reading experience for me and took away any enjoyment of the stories. Eisner deserves better than this.
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on April 6, 2014
I enjoyed this book collection of some of the best Spirit strips...except for....somebody had taken scissors and cut panels out in various places. I know I bought this used in "good" shape and the clipped panels didn't take much away from the story but dang! Why did somebody ruin a great book.

You can see the skill level in drawing and inking develop through the years plus the influence of "political correctness" as the Spirit's sidekick early on was a very stylized "StepandFetchet" with giant red lips and pretty horrible English. Later issues the sidekick is white and buck toothed....and still obnoxious. The character names remind me of Al Capp's variety used in the "Lil' Abner" strips....Sand Sarief for example.

If you enjoy comics, graphic novels (ala Frank Miller, Robert Kirkman) then check out the "daddy" of them all..the Spirit.
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on November 10, 2013
It's so much fun to read the old originals of these comics. Not only can you watch the art evolve over time, and compare the art of a variety of different illustrators, the dated content drops you back in time, when the good guys could escape from impenetrable prisons, dispatch the bad guys with a single punch and a jaunty "Sorry, Fritz, that's not how we do things in America, you sauerkraut-eating Nazi," and for whom the stunningly gorgeous girl villains would fall, hard. The damsels that got rescued were more wholesome... glove-and-hat-wearing girl-next-door types who'd swoon and wonder "who IS he?" Nostalgically entertaining to see a man put on a simple eye mask and go unrecognized by all - akin to Clark Kent's magic eyeglasses. I love the dated artwork, and variety of illustrators. And, not being one of those mylar-bagging classic comics fangirls, enjoy reading compendiums rather than individual comics. I can't say the Spirit is my fave "superhero," but he sure is entertaining.
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on October 18, 2008
I love Will Eisner's creation "The Spirit", but let's face it: when it comes down to buying all 26 volumes of the Archives at $50 a pop, I'm not THAT big of a fan. Luckily, I can purchase the affordable trade paperback THE BEST OF THE SPIRIT, containing 22 classic stories from 1940 - 1950 that I feel serve as an excellent overview of the series. Contents include:

"The Origin of the Spirit", in which criminologist Denny Colt becomes the titular masked hero. This is a fairly typical origin for a Golden Age character, though the storytelling is much more refined - and the art, cleaner - than what was usually seen during that period.

"Introducing Silk Satin", "Meet P'Gell", and "Death of Autumn Mews", which showcase Eisner's trademark bombshells.

"Life Below", "Two Lives", and "The Story of Gerhard Shnobble": tales of the city and how it affects its inhabitants, a theme which would be used to great effect in Eisner's groundbreaking graphic novels of the `70s.

"The Last Trolley", "Wild Rice", "The Last Hand", and "Sand Saref": hard-boiled crime.

And one of my favorite comic stories of all time: "The Killer", which shows a double homicide through the eyes - literally - of the guilty.

And of course, there's more! This collection shows that Eisner was a pioneer of the comic medium, and perhaps its earliest master. His experiments in narrative, layout, perspective, color, and photo-collage show that he was decades ahead of the game, influencing a number of Silver Age writers and artists who were considered "originals" in their own right... and short of Jack Kirby, NOBODY can draw a fight scene better than Eisner. As far as the reproduction goes, it's just fine for a $15 trade format, and I don't see any recoloring of the Spirit's sidekick Ebony, as mentioned in another review; however, the Spirit does have a blonde white kid named Sammy as another sidekick later on.

In closing, please note that the more recent movie tie-in trade collection, FEMMES FATALES, reprints quite a few stories contained in this volume. If you have THE BEST OF THE SPIRIT, there's really no need for the other book.
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on October 22, 2008
I'm new to The Spirit but decided to read about it before I watch the movie. I wasn't really expecting anything because I've read some comics from the Silver Age and they were not too good. The writing was very dated and the stories very uninteresting. Much to my surprise, this was not the case with The Spirit. I can tell why they would call this the Citizen Kane of comics since, at the time, these stories must be quite revolutionary. Some of these stories are just as good if not better than the current or more recent comic book stories and the artwork is quite beautiful and would put to shame a lot of the more current renown artists. If you enjoy beautiful women in your comics, look no more. The women in these stories are very beautiful and would make Lois Lane, Mary Jane Watson, or Gwen Stacy look average in comparison. My favorite story which I found quite touching is the last story on the origin of Sand Serif who is possibly the most beautiful woman in all the Spirit stories. It's ashame a certain actress that looks nothing like her is going to play her in the movie. Given these stories are quite old, I'm am extremely impressed overall by the quality of writing and artwork. Highly recommended!
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on November 5, 2013
Will Eisner was somewhat of an oddity in the comic book field in that his drawings had depth and perspective. The Spirit was a crime fighter in the way of Batman and other comic book heroes but the stories include a lot of subtle humor. The Spirit is Eisner's best known series and this collection showcases some of the best strips. A fun book to enjoy.
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