The Spirit #1
“Ice Ginger Coffee”
Writer/Pencils/Cover artist: Darwyn Cooke
Inks: J. Bone
Colors: Dave Stewart
Letters: Jared K. Fletcher
Editor: Scott Dunbier
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $2.99 US/$4 CAN
Artist Darwyn Cooke is no stranger to writing for the medium. He penned Batman: Ego and merited a lot of attention for his work on DC: The New Frontier (which is getting a big push during this holiday gift-giving season with its Absolute edition). But with his scripts on Superman: Confidential and now The Spirit, Cooke is really starting to come into his own as a comics writer. Based on the Batman/The Spirit one-shot Cooke did recently with writer Jeph Loeb, I was expecting a light, traditional super-hero romp in this first issue. Instead, Cooke offers up a clever and entertaining criticism of 24-hour news networks and superficial journalism. Even the writer/artist’s visual storytelling exceeds expectations, and given Cooke’s track record as a comics artist, that’s really saying something.
Ginger Coffee, the vivacious and popular anchor from National Network News, is kidnapped shortly before she’s about to go on air with an interview with a secret underworld informant. The interview promises to blow the top of the criminal organization run by Amos Weinstock, otherwise known as the Pill. When Ginger comes face to face with the mobster, she learns exactly how he earned the nickname. Fortunately for her, the Spirit is monitoring the situation, rushing to the rescue. The question is: who’s going to save him from Ginger’s ambitions?
The two-page title splash across pages 2 and 3 sums up this comic book and Cooke’s inventive storytelling abilities perfectly. The writer/artist carries on the late Will Eisner’s trademark incorporation of letters and logo into the Spirit artwork, but Cooke does so in a way that’s quite 21st century in tone. Instead of the noir, concrete look Eisner often employed, Cooke’s take on the tradition is electric, frenetic and fast-paced. It also hints at the importance of the TV-news plot elements and the more refined tone of ideas the writer plans to explore.
While the first few pages speak to the fresh new energy that’s being brought to the property, the simpler leanings in Cooke’s artwork and the cover dress point to a continued emphasis and appreciation of the Golden Age origins of Eisner’s masked hero. The design for the Pill is delightfully gruesome. Deformed villains aren’t just a staple of Batman stories, but of Spirit and Dick Tracy tales as well. It’s a great tradition, and the revelation of Weinstock’s disgusting mug plays out perfectly. Ginger Coffee is a wonderfully sexy femme fatale, but her alluring look is balanced by the fact that she’s really not all that likeable a person. The crime action is choreographed perfectly, and it’s a lot of fun. Dave Stewart’s muted colors bring a certain level of drama to bear, bringing out the noir leanings of the property and plot.
As I made my way through this comic, the first half of this story read a lot like a Batman story. From the villain’s twisted visage to the inclusion of corruption among the cops of Central City, it felt as though the Dark Knight would leap from out of the shadows at any point. But when the Spirit arrives, he’s anything but a grim avenger of the night. He’s a charming rogue, a standup guy who rushes in headfirst in danger. He doesn’t have all the angles covered. Cooke even portrays him as being a bit clueless; it’s obvious what Ginger is up to, but he’s the only person in the city who’s out of the loop. The Spirit smacks of being a regular guy, and I like that he’s no more together than the rest of us.
Cooke employs thinly disguised versions of Soledad O’Brien and CNN’s The Situation Room to take aim at flashy, around-the-clock broadcast news, and the satire really hits the mark. The book shows 24-hour news as the superficial, entertainment-based entity it is. Ginger Cooke’s report is about as far removed from truth as it can be. Her journalism isn’t about changing people’s lives, but rather about changing and elevating her own. The energy of the adventure and action sequences keep the message from getting too ham-fisted or preachy, making for a well-rounded, entertaining and informed read. 9/10