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Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Spurgeon on The Spirit -- Over at The Comics Reporter, Tom Spurgeon reviews the first hardcover collection of Darwyn Cooke Spirit stories. It's the best think-piece Spurgeon has done in some time, and think-pieces are his stock in trade, so click over and give it a look.

Cooke's Spirit is a temporal anomaly that demands just this depth of analysis; Cooke is fantastically talented and yet out of step with the current corporate superhero comics zeitgeist in profoundly fundamental ways. I've enjoyed the series to date in single-issue form, but probably not enough to invest in the hardcover. And I don't find myself lustfully drooling over it like I do the New Frontier Absolute Edition, which sooner or later I hope to find the cash to own. Most interestingly to me, the fact that Cooke is off the book after issue #12 comes as a relief, in the same way the end of the Millar/Hitch Ultimates did. I enjoyed it while it lasted, but it's time for it to be over, and I'm glad it is.

Which is a weird state of mind to be in for someone who loves excellent comics, and maybe points to fairly basic problems with each of the titles. In the case of The Ultimates, I think the party went on about 13 issues too long. With The Spirit, I think it was a noble but ultimately futile effort to bring Will Eisner's characters into a 21st century that only really has use for them as 20th century icons. I know I'll be re-reading DC's The Best of The Spirit, collecting many of the very best Eisner Spirit stories, far more often in the future than I will ever re-read Cooke's stuff. Cooke really should be pursuing his own vision, as Spurgeon seems to hint at, and hopefully now he will. Some icons, like Batman and Superman, are wide-open enough that Cooke's approach fits them like a glove. Eisner literally said everything that needed to be said about The Spirit before Darwyn Cooke was born. But it's no shame for Cooke to have tried and ultimately not really succeeded at making The Spirit his own. If Alan Moore couldn't do it when he took a stab at writing Eisner's creation, chances were probably pretty good no one else would ever really be able to either. But both Moore and Cooke made noble efforts, it was fun while it lasted, and again, it's probably better for all concerned if we just move on to something else now.

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Blogger Steely Dan said...

I really liked Cooke's "Spirit." I'm not someone who holds Eisner's original version of the character in reverence (I actually prefer Eisner's later, longer-form work), so I had no trouble reading it as an entirely new entity. As such, I enjoyed the hell out of it. It wasn't deep but it had an easy, likable charm. I think Darwyn Cooke is the best "mainstream" cartoonist working today and he has yet to disappoint.

Regarding your comments about "The Ultimates," I almost agree, except that I think it only went on for about six issues too long, not 13 as you say. I thought volume 1 of the sequel series was terrifically inventive as genre fiction. My problem with volume 2 of the sequel series was that it just seemed as if Millar had run out of steam. It seemed like the climax was largely a retread of the climax of the first "Ulitmates" series (in tone and pacing). I think it would have made for a more satisfying ending if, instead of the world being in peril again, the challenges that the characters faced were more psychological in nature (I would have preferred that the divinity of Thor and Loki were never conclusively revealed, for instance).

That said, I found the entire run by Hitch and Millar to be extremely entertaining. The fact that we can debate the success of "The Ultimates" and Cooke's "The Spirit"--the fact that these works actually encourage and stand up to such debate--tells me that these are exactly the kinds of entertainments that companies like DC and Marvel should be producing on a more regular basis. I think it says something that these two series were the only two super hero comix I bought in the past three years (and before that the only super hero series I bought was "The New Frontier"). Everything else these two companies are currently producing is worthless, impenetrable dreck. I have to believe that there's a market out there for people like me (and presumably you) who enjoy genre fiction as long as it is well-crafted and well-written. Instead, DC and Marvel seem to be writing off this entire audience. To me, it seems to be a complete failure of imagination within their respective marketing departments that they can't put this stuff out there in a way so that the audience who would probably love it (the same people who enjoyed "Batman Begins," "Superman Returns," and the "The X-Men" and "Spider-Man" movies) can actually find it. For all its faults, "The Ultimates" is head-and-shoulders above everything else Marvel produces, and yet the design of the collected books is virtually indistinguishable from every other collected volume the company releases. So when "The Ultimates" is released to Borders, it just gets stuck in with the rest of the Marvel crap and doesn't stand out at all as being the inventive genre fiction that it is. And as such, any potential new readers who might actually enjoy it, don't even know it exists.

03 November, 2007 09:57  

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