The appeal of comics featuring the Spirit has (almost) always been the art. Whether it was Will Eisner creating a new visual language for comics or Darwyn Cooke’s bold cartooning in DC’s last “Spirit” comic, a big reason for interest has been in the art, with the stories acting as a secondary concern. The new relaunch of “The Spirit” as part of the First Wave line of books takes a similar approach with the series having Moritat as its regular artist and a string of black and white back-up stories beginning with Bill Sienkiewicz in this issue.
I don’t mean to suggest that the writing in this issue is unimportant or bad, because it’s not either one of those things. But both exist to service the art it seems, providing Moritat and Sienkiewicz interesting and dynamic stories to draw. Both artists follow Eisner’s example, working the title of the comic into the art. Moritat does it twice, with the buildings of Central City spelling out SPIRIT on the opening splash, while the six panels of the third page are shaped like the letters. Sienkiewicz takes a slightly more obtuse approach with six panels on the first page of his story taking up the very top of the page, showing objects that resemble each letter in subtle ways at times like the bridge of a nose and an eye making up a P or a streetlight being an R. These nods to Eisner’s visual sense help get the reader into the (pardon the unfortunate pun) spirit of things.
In the main story, Moritat has a blocky, suggestive style in illustrating the first part of a story where the Spirit is the target of a European assassin hired by the Octopus to finish a job he and his gang haven’t been able to. The story goes through various stages, from the Spirit beating up some bad guys to donning the disguise of an old man and trolling a bad neighborhood for information to the Spirit talking things over with Captain Dolan in a seedy bar to the Octopus’ meeting. Moritat gives us an expansive view of Central City and its inhabitants, all of whom wear their personalities on their faces. He varies his line work depending on the character, going from strong angles with the Spirit to soft curves with Ellen Dolan.
Gabriel Bautista’s colors are a little drab, though. Very muted and give off the impression of a constant fog or haze existing in the city atop the art. In the opening pages, the colors pop more though dark, while the rest of the issue looks a muddied and too bland. Moritat’s line work is too vibrant for such tame colors, needing something bold that makes the reader stop and take note. Otherwise, Moritat’s storytelling is fluid and interesting. Rarely do characters look like they’re simply standing around, always expressive with his suggestive lines.
The back-up story is a very simple story of two brothers who fell out when one testified against the other. But, with Bill Sienkiewicz’s stunning, bold ink drawings, the story moves along at a chaotic pace, messy panels of rain-soaked action practically falling over each other. Sienkiewicz’s art has such energy that you need to go back and read the story a second (and third and fourth and fifth...) time because it doesn’t allow you to linger, pushing the eye forward always. His Spirit is a creature of quick movements, rarely standing still, only clear in one or two panels, almost a blur.
“The Spirit” #1 is definitely a comic for art fans with the writing working in service of the art. You won’t be disappointed with the likes of Moritat and Bill Sienkiewicz.