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I’ve never been familiar with Will Eisner’s Spirit. This isn’t for lack of interest, but time and bandwidth. There’s so much to dive into and enjoy, and I’m just really not terribly conversant. I’ve read some trades here and there, sampled some of the Darwyn Cooke material. And I enjoyed all of it, but somehow never found enough time to grab hold of the back catalogue in a meaningful way. But, if you’re interested in getting more of the Spirit in your diet, then you can’t ask for a better introduction than The Spirit – The Corpse-Makers #1 by Francesco Francavilla.
Francavilla dedicates the issue to “Will and Darwyn.” Will being, of course, Will Eisner, the character’s creator and legendary innovator in the comics medium. The man most often credited with championing and popularizing the graphic novel format, 2017 marks the 100th anniversary of Eisner’s birth. Darwyn refers to the recently departed Darwyn Cooke, writer/artist who counted among his many triumphs successfully reintroducing the Spirit to modern comic readers. Those are two awfully big pairs of shoes to fill, and luckily Francavilla, as both writer and artist of this issue, delivers satisfyingly atmospheric and engaging first issue bolstered by some fantastic visuals.
From the opening pages featuring a homeless man walking through a torrential downpour, Francavilla alters his approach ever so subtly to evoke touches of Eisner’s style. His bold layouts and masterful use of mood and atmosphere combine to create a beautiful book that flows effortlessly from scene scene at a perfectly controlled pace. Though the palette mainly features the blues and greys of a rain-soaked noir night, Francavilla expertly uses pops of yellows, oranges and reds to great effect. Even his lettering is right on point. From an artistic point of view, you aren’t going to find a more gorgeous book on the stands.
As for the story of The Spirit – The Corpse-Makers #1, Francavilla sets up an intriguing first issue that is almost entirely devoid of reliance on the Spirit mythos, and as such is totally new-reader friendly. You can know absolutely nothing about the Spirit and enjoy the book, and this approach means the book hits the ground running. It sets up a mystery right off the bat that has just enough oddness to differentiate the story from a straight-ahead crime story to a pulpier noir/super-hero book. Francavilla also ties in a central character to the ongoing story in a personal way by giving Ebony White, the Spirit’s sidekick (thankfully now mostly devoid of his incredibly racist beginnings back in Eisner’s day), a personal stake in the sinister goings-on. The issue itself is almost entirely devoted to simply establishing the mystery, along with effectively communicating the atmosphere and a sense of dread, but Francavilla succeeds almost entirely in those objectives.
I do think that dialogue is the area where the issue falls a bit short. There’s a bit of stiffness to it, at times leaning heavily on hard-boiled jargon but not feeling especially organic about it. It comes off as times as just the tiniest bit over-written, with transitions in conversations happening in a bit of a clunky way. This is a pretty small complaint though, and I include it only because I did notice it, even if it didn’t especially bother me.
All in all, The Spirit – The Corpse-Makers #1 is a heck of an opening chapter to what promises to be one of the best-looking series you’re going to see, and excels in its job of enticing readers to stick around for the rest of the series. If you’re looking to read your first Spirit story, you can’t ask for a better place to begin. 9.5/10
The Spirit – The Corpse-Makers #1 will be released on February 2, 2017.