Cover of Cover of Batman: Year One

By Edward Douglas

Dec. 19, 2008

When you talk about the comic book characters who have been around the longest, the first ones that will come to mind are Superman, who first appeared in 1938, and Batman a year later. In both cases, you can probably list and discuss their movie and television incarnations, as well as the cartoons and comic books in which the two have appeared. Then there’s the case of Will Eisner’s The Spirit, a pulpy comic character created by legendary cartoonist Will Eisner for a Sunday comics insert in 1940 that’s only ventured off the comic pages once, in 1987, for a television movie.

The Spirit is the reincarnated alter ego of police officer Denny Colt, who was shot and killed on duty but then returned later as the indestructible crime fighter who works with Commissioner Dolan to take down Central City’s tougher criminal element. Eisner’s work was influenced by the early days of film noir, but it was also filled with humor and pathos and a never-ending supply of beautiful femme fatales to tempt and tease The Spirit. The character continued to appear in strips and comic books throughout the ’40s, ’50s and ’60s, and then was reprinted extensively after that, most recently in a series of hardbound archives from DC Comics, who also resuscitated the character with new stories by top comic book talent.

When it came time to give The Spirit his first big screen feature film, there really was only one man to call for the job, and that was Will Eisner’s close friend and frequent sparring partner Frank Miller, whose work during the ’80s and ’90s was as much influenced by Eisner as it was an antithesis to the virtues of The Spirit.

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