Or – “Sure, One Has No Socks, But The Other Makes Up For It With A Great Belt…”

reviewbubble.jpgBatSpir2.jpgBatman-Tarzan. Aliens-Stormwatch. Punisher-Archie. The comic industry is known for weird “chocolate in my peanut butter moments.” Some of these are wondrous beasts where the two things combine into a greater whole, others leave the poor reader wondering who switched the chocolate and peanut butter for salsa and cheesecake. “Two great tastes that taste WEIRD together,” so sayeth the great philosopher Doug to his dad. So, when you take The Spirit, a character who is only a superhero because the syndicate required that Will Eisner draw a mask on him, and Batman, the quintessential superhero archetype, it’s weird. Yeah, they have many points in common: wacky foes, the dark streets of their respective cities, over-the-top femme fatales, older police commissioner mentors. But the basics of the characters are practically opposite. It’s like a Hollywood buddy movie: One’s a superhero masquerading as normal human, one’s a normal human masquerading as superhero. But where’s their common ground?

BatSpir1.jpgThe late Will Eisner was a study in contrasts, and so is his signature creation. The Spirit both is and isn’t a superhero, per se. He originated in comic STRIPS, rather than comic BOOKS, and the main thrust of his stories was always the human drama, no matter how wild the trappings. So, anybody who wants to set that character on a path to meet the Batman has to set his plot into motion indirectly. And when you talk about oblique paths to a point, you can’t go wrong with Jeph Loeb as your point man, dating all the way back to his work on the “Challengers of The Unknown” miniseries (go buy it in trade paperback and marvel at how, even though it’s fifteen years old, it feels more contemporary than some current titles). So, what could Jeph cook up to bring our boys off the rooftops of Central and Gotham and into each other’s storyarcs? How ’bout a friend of a friend story?


Commissioners Dolan and Gordon have more reason to interact than our main characters, and it’s simple to presume that they interacted previously in their police work. It’s a simple but brilliant device, used to great effect, as the old buddies reminisce about the story neither of them has ever told anyone… The story of how The Spirit met The Batman. Suddenly we flashback to an unspecified time period in the past, a kind of composite timeframe combining aspects of the 30’s, 40’s, 50’s and 60’s into a melange that implicitly says “Hey, you’ll get the gist, there’s no need to get too hung up on when it is.” The story proper starts on Central City’s Pier Sixteen, with Denny Colt, alias The Spirit, busting in on a meeting of some of his most fearsome adversaries: The Cossack. The Octopus. The Vulture. And… some guy even *I* don’t know. (It’s Carrion, whom I’m unfamiliar with.) The villains are gathering to buy black market passports outta the country, and sinister doin’s is afoot. Unfortunately, as per usual, Denny barely manages to get out alive, leaping to the giant “Pier Sixteen” sign. But the guy wires are split by stray slugs and… well, see for yourself.


I love this panel. One of the most amazing things about Will Eisner was the subtle and brilliant ways he worked the title into the art of the strip, and Darwyn Cooke has captured that flavor perfectly. That Denny is falling to his (nearly) inevitable death just makes it doubly awesome. Meanwhile, back in Gotham, Batman and a 13-year-old Robin are chasing down a plane carrying the giggling madman known only as The Joker. Robin takes the wheel (“HOLY TORPEDO!”) as the big Bat leaps, entering the rushing aircraft, and is quickly met by the stewardess. She lets him know that Joker killed the pilots and hijacked the plane, but as Batman prepares to find The Joker, the air hostess pulls a gun and shoots him POINTBLANK with some sort of gas cartridge. Batman falls, as the stewardess reveals herself as Schleicher heart-throb Harley Quinn… and the passengers?

Why, none other than Gotham’s finest criminal minds (and Croc). Something is obviously amiss, the worst menaces in Central AND Gotham have left town, yet Bats and Spirit don’t seem ready to celebrate. Strangely, though, Commissioners Dolan and Gordon are ready to party, both leaving town for the Policemen’s Benevolent Association’s Annual Law Enforcement Convention in Hawaii. Unfortunately, Mister Wayne and Mister Colt have uncovered evidence that all the criminals and scofflaws who’ve skipped town are also on their way to Hawaii. Worst of all? The migration of the crooks and the Commissioners’ convention may not be separate and distinct after all.


Is it wrong that the girl in the Black Canary suit is totally cute to me? Anyway, the bad news about our lady friends should be obvious to some, as the redhead is Pamela Isley, the dreaded Poison Ivy, and Jim Gordon’s filly is P’Gell, The Spirit’s notorious femme fatale. As an aside, I have no idea how to pronounced P’Gell, but I always hear Michael Dorn’s voiceover from those old Neutrogena commercials. “Neutrogena P’Gell. It works!” Be glad you don’t have MY mind.

A man in a Batman costume (so Gordon thinks) cuts in on Commissioner Gordon, and begins questioning P’Gell about what the hell she’s doing with his pal Jim. Meanwhile, The Spirit encounters a familiar young lady named Selena with a penchant for black leather. Catwoman and P’Gell try and scam one another’s hero boyfriends with dual stories of working for the FBI undercover (and the parallel storytelling here is beautifully done). Both men make a midnight rendezvous that ends up as a midnight massacre, a fifteen or so on two ambush that ends with both men leaping away from an explosion with some priceless “been there, done that” dialogue.(Batman: “MOVE!” Spirit: “You sure like telling other people what to do!”) Unfortunately, when all is said and done, our heroes lie unconscious, and The Ventriloquist steps forward to let Scarface pump both men full of lead! A cheer goes up from the assembled villains, as the heroes are dead, and Ventriloquist sends Cossack and Croc to get some bodybags. When everyone is out of earshot, the other shoe drops.


The Spirit is confused as to why Ventriloquist takes off his face to reveal a pre-teen in a domino mask, but that discussion is tabled as Croc and Cossack return. (Spirit: “You want the one on the left or on the right?”) The fight is left unshown, but obviously ain’t long, as Robin returns to his Ventrioquist disguise to figure out what the villainous plan is, but nobody’s talking. Spirit and Batman hold their hostages in a nearby lighthouse, but they refuse to spill the beans. Finally, Spirit takes the lead with his plan, whispering to Batman as the nervous villains watch. Batman’s response? “Which one dies first?” An excellent bluff from the Dark Knight. Spirit’s answer? “I don’t know… It’s kind of an ‘Eeeny meenie miney moe’ situation.” Each villain knows HIS guy, but both are leery of the other maskman, and with good reason.


That’s some lateral thinking right there. The Gordian Knot of Dolts finally cut, Bats and Spirit find out the plan, spearheaded by Spirit’s eternal foe The Octopus: Commissioner Dolan (mind-controlled by Ivy & P’Gell) will wear a bomb and blow up all the assembled cops, leaving the villains free to take over their cities. The heroes rush back to the convention with more awesome dialogue (Spirit, after Batman crashes the boat into shore rather than waste time docking: “If this is how you pilot a boat, I’d hate to see how you drive…”) The Octopus’ master plan goes off without a hitch, until the moment where Dolan is told to shoot Gordon and set off the bomb. Rather than a bullet, the gun shoots a flag that says “BANG!” Uh oh… That’s not good, is it? No one knows what’s happening until Gordon rips off his face to reveal what we all knew was coming… The Joker. “You all didn’t really think I was going to let some OCTOPUS steal all the glory? Not when I’M in the glory stealing business!”

Batman arrives just in time, but Joker has that covered as well, wheeling out Robin and the Octopus, tied to a dessert cart, and offers his special meal-ending treat, “Robin Yellow Breast with a side of Octopus… FLAMBE!” Batman starts to laugh at the wordplay, and the Joker is suddenly confused. “I don’t get it. The joke is Batman never laughs!” Truer words, Mista J…


Is that not the coolest image? I have to say I may use that business-suit-and-cowl motif someday, cause it’s an awesome visual. All the villains are captured, as the domino masked Batman takes down Harley, while The Spirit knocks down Joker with an old-fashioned haymaker to the gut. The Octopus (whose gimmick is he’s NEVER been caught, never even seen, only his three-striped gloves giving away his identity) is revealed to be the REAL Jim Gordon, the real Octopus having gotten away. Again. We flash forward again, as Gordon and Dolan finish their reminiscense, and Jim just has one last question… “What happened to all those rogues on the boat?” Neither Commissioner know, but we see what they don’t, as Batman and Spirit meet on a rooftop for the final wrap-up. The byplay between the talkative Spirit and the terse Batman is priceless, reminding me of Steve Buscemi and the big Swede in “Fargo.” “So, I guess this is the part where we tell each other how much we liked working with each other. Uh huh… You don’t talk much, do you?” Spirit asks what happened to the cruise ship full of evil, and Batman points to a red-and-blue-clad man CARRYING the boat overhead, on it’s way to the authorities. We fade out with The Spirit musing running against the full moon, a toneful and gorgeous full page splash…

This is an excellent book, especially for nostalgia fans. Obviously, the biggest obstacle was going to be introducing the very 1940’s concept of The Spirit to a wider audience, and it succeeded in that brilliantly. You really get a feel for Denny Colt, warts and all, a smart tough guy who gets by on wits, fists, and a snappy blue hat. Most of the people reading this knew Batman anyway, but he’s characterized beautifully as well. The “it happened a while ago, don’t sweat the year” ambiance works well, and Loeb’s dialogue is delicious, especially with The Spirit. I love Darwyn Cooke’s art, as it reminds me of Steve Rude and (ironically) Will Eisner. Heck, the only way this book would have been better was if Will had been able to be involved. Of course, with what we know about Will and his thoughts on superheroes, there’s a part of me that thinks he wouldn’t have been involved anyway. DC is apparently planning to bring back The Spirit with a flourish in ’07, and this is an auspicious start. As a “done in one,” it earns a darn-near perfect 4 and a half stars.


The Author

Matthew Peterson

Matthew Peterson

Once upon a time, there was a young nerd from the Midwest, who loved Matter-Eater Lad and the McKenzie Brothers... If pop culture were a maze, Matthew would be the Minotaur at its center. Were it a mall, he'd be the Food Court. Were it a parking lot, he’d be the distant Cart Corral where the weird kids gather to smoke, but that’s not important right now... Matthew enjoys body surfing (so long as the bodies are fresh), writing in the third person, and dark-eyed women. Amongst his weaponry are such diverse elements as: Fear! Surprise! Ruthless efficiency! An almost fanatical devotion to pop culture!

And a nice red uniform.

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  1. Stephen
    December 6, 2006 at 4:37 pm — Reply

    That’s the second review you’ve beat me to. Dang at this rate, the only thing left in my review pile will be (ugh) Flash #6…

    Oh well, at least you gave it a good rating ;)

  2. james deckert
    December 6, 2006 at 6:41 pm — Reply

    Stephen, you should have made a deal with Matthew before you welcomed him on board. If Batman is in the comic it’s yours.

  3. December 6, 2006 at 6:54 pm — Reply

    Actually, I’m glad Matthew did beat me to this review. Not that I would have changed much in the review. As for Batman being “mine”… well I do cover most of the mainstream bat titles, so it is good to get another perspective on the Bat-line.

    Plus I think Matthew just rocks! :D

  4. Matthew
    December 7, 2006 at 7:16 am — Reply

    Oh, by all means, Flash is all yours, man. :) And James’ rule usually does apply, as I avoid the contemporary Bat-books, figuring they’re more your purview than mine.

    But I do loves me some Spirit, and the shot of Denny laughing with the Bat-cowl on made it a moral imperative that I hit this one.

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