Batman/The Spirit #1
Writer: Jeph Loeb
Pencils/Cover artist: Darwyn Cooke
Inks: J. Bone
Colors: Dave Stewart
Editor: Mark Chiarello
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $4.99 US/$6.75 CAN
Though I’ve read a couple of the late, great Will Eisner’s past Spirit stories here and there, I’m really not all that familiar with the property and the supporting cast of characters. With Darwyn Cooke’s new ongoing Spirit series due in stores next month, this crossover with the Darknight Detective is a perfect primer for readers who might be unfamiliar with the more charming, crimefighting title character. Of course, the real appeal isn’t so much the meeting of two classic comics icons but Cooke’s artwork, and the pop-comic artist doesn’t disappoint his fans. With his artwork on this one-shot and his scripts for Superman Confidential, with writing and illustration duties on The Spirit and a New Frontier DVD release on the horizon beyond that, Cooke is gearing up to be the hottest creator of 2007. And it’s not as though he didn’t have some heat going already.
America’s top cops are gathering for a big convention in sunny Hawaii, and two of the “stars” of the law-enforcement event are Commissioner James Gordon of Gotham City and Central City’s Commissioner Dolan. Police officers aren’t the only ones gathering in the Aloha State. The colorful criminals from both Central and Gotham have seized an opportunity to make a grand statement at the cop convention. Fortunately, the Batman and the Spirit are hot on the trails of their respective rogues galleries.
Cooke pays tribute to the masters and legends of the industry that have come before him with his efforts here. The first Spirit sequence embraces the Eisner tradition of incorporating gigantic letters into the art and action, and there’s plenty of nods to classic Batman artists such as Dick Sprang and Jerry Robinson. Of course, the art is at its strongest when Cooke focuses on his own unique style. I love watching him work within the traditional nine-panel grid approach and then taking in variations on the method. The Bruce Timm leanings in his work shine through here as well, as he employs the 1990s cartoon designs for most of the Batman villains.
Jeph Loeb comes to this team-up special after a lengthy run as writer on another team-up title, Superman/Batman. Fortunately, he abandons the melodramatic tone of his World’s Finest stories for a campier feel that’s more in line with the 1950s feel of Cooke’s artwork.
I do have qualm about this book, and that’s the cover price. I was floored, so much so that I went back and checked the original solicitation to see if it was billed as a $5 US comic. It was, but I can only guess I was expecting a prestige-format one-shot instead. Don’t get me wrong… there’s plenty of story and art to be found once one makes one’s way into the comic, but at first glance, it seems flimsy and doesn’t seem to demand the higher price. I suspect it’ll limit the title’s sales, which is unfortunate.
While the main attraction is the artwork, Loeb’s juxtaposition of the Spirit’s roguish charm and the Batman’s cold, grim demeanor is a lot of fun. The writer doesn’t rely too much on super-hero team-up cliches; the conflict between the title characters when they first meet is fleeting (and is actually something upon which one of them counts). Loeb does a solid job of balancing the two worlds of the two main characters. If anything, this is more of a Spirit story than a Batman story. He dominates the beginning of the book and the final page. The script tells the reader just about everything s/he needs to know about Eisner’s masked hero, as well as his enemies. I was particularly intrigued by the concept of the Octopus, and I hope (and expect) Cooke will capitalize on that interest with his scripts for the new Spirit series. 7/10