The Spirit is an extremely influential comic book character who was created by one of the most important comic creator of all-time, Will Eisner.
Eisner was an early comic creator and an exceptionally talented writer and artist (a rare combination, even today).
The Spirit was originally supposed to just be a detective, but after Superman’s 1938 debut and the subsequent success of other superhero properties such as Batman, Wonder Woman, and the Justice Society in All-Star Comics, demand for masked avengers was through the roof. Eisner’s character Denny Colt was illustrated as a noir detective dressed in a dark blue trench coat with a fedora and a red necktie; he wanted the character to be believable. Reluctantly, he made him into a superhero by giving him gloves, a domino mask, and a secret hideout.
Denny Colt became the Spirit after it was believed that he was murdered. He was actually just put into suspended animation and buried by one of the books frequent villains Dr. Cobra (got to love those old plots). Denny Colt spent his time in his hideout, under his own headstone and spent the rest of his time handing out fists full of justice. There was nothing supernatural about him. He couldn’t fly, he wasn’t super strong, he wasn’t bulletproof, he didn’t run around in brightly colored underwear. He was just a detective who kicked evildoer ass.
Eisner introduced new storytelling elements to comic art. He used different angles, colors, shadows, language, and unique plot twists to tell better, more creative stories. He also introduced more adult themes, dialog, and characters, with many overtly sexual fem fatale villains and allies.
Simcha Weinstein, author of the book “Up, Up, and Oy Vey!” explains:
“The Spirit [became] a critical and commercial smash. Sometimes called the Citizen Kane of comics, The Spirit combined action and fun with a previously unseen maturity that appealed to children and adults alike.”
The book was kind of a big deal once it hit newsstands in 1940.
In addition to creating The Spirit, Eisner made consistency between pages a standard. In many early comics, it wasn’t uncommon to see characters costumes change slightly between panels.
During World War II, Eisner enlisted in the Army but ultimately pioneered the use comics for the creation of instruction manuals. He also created the first graphic novel, A Contract with God.
A few years ago he created the first historical graphic novel, The Plot, which gives a fully cited, academic, yet illustrated account of the forged anti-Semitic documents, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. In The Plot, he explains the convoluted history of the documents, and how they have been used to spread a false message of anti-jewish hatred.
Eisner and his work was a huge influence on Frank Miller, the director of the upcoming Spirit movie, and writer/ co-director of Sin City & 300. In 2005, a book of interviews with both men called Eisner/Miller: Interviews conducted by Charles Brownstein was published. It really shows the mutual admiration and respect that these two artists had for one another.
Shortly after finishing The Plot, Will Eisner died on January 3, 2005 at the age of 87. He left behind an incredible body of work, innovation, and a legacy of creativity and social responsibility. Everyone who has ever been inspired or moved by a comic book or comic movie owes a debt to Will Eisner.
I’m not sure if The Spirit movie will be good or bad, but I have no doubt that Miller has every intent of honoring Will Eisner’s memory and contributions to comics and storytelling. I’m looking forward to seeing The Spirit after it hits theaters on December 25th.