Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Spirit Femmes Fatales

My first encounter with The Spirit was in The Mammoth Book of Crime Comics in a story titled, "The Portier Fortune." I became an instant fan, learning what most comic followers already knew: Will Eisner is deserving of the overly used word “genius.” I just finished The Spirit Femmes Fatales which only reinforced my appreciation for Eisner’s work.
Denny Colt, a young criminologist, believed to have lost his life in a fight against crime, was buried in a state of suspended animation. He awoke one day in Wildwood Cemetery, determined to carry on his struggle... his true identity known only to Police Commissioner Dolan. He is feared by criminals of all stripes as the Spirit!
For a guy who’s supposed to be dead, the Spirit certainly has a lot of women troubles. The rogues’ gallery consists of Silk Satin, Madame Minx, Pantha Stalk, Powder Pouf, Lorelei Rox, Plaster of Paris, Dulcet Tone, Silken Floss M.D., Wild Rice, Saree, Nylon Rose and P’Gell...

“I am P’Gell and this is NOT a story for little boys!!” is how the best vixen of the bunch introduces her story, "Meet P’Gell." Just how seductive and alluring is the femme fatale? In "Portier Fortune," a father asks about sex of his newborn child, and then the baby responds, “P’Gell,” to which the doctor replies, “Then it’s a boy!!”

Ellen Dolan, the commissioner’s daughter, is the Spirit’s long suffering girlfriend, and she has her work cut out for her with competition from all these dames, in particular the sexy Silk Satin, a somewhat reformed criminal who still leans toward the other side of the law.

A few tender moments with Ellen and Silk aside, The Spirit is a laugh-out-loud comic. Who wouldn’t love the slapstick comedy in the style of The Three Stooges when Denny Colt and other characters get whacked over the head, booted in the rear or fall down a flight of stairs? Or the sharp wit, as when a man with a knife sticking through his shirt says to the Spirit, “Er, sorry to bother you, but this is the fourth time today this has happened! I’m beginning to suspect foul play.”? And not to mention, as with most comics, the plain absurdities? Our hero never takes off his mask even when he goes undercover in other disguises. He shows up in an operating room wearing a surgeon’s mask and leaving on his trademark eye mask. And though he appears to be killed over and over, he always returns in time to save the day.

One caveat, modern audiences may be surprised by stereotyped role of Ebony, the Spirit’s sidekick. A Wikipedia entry posted an explanation and defense of the character:
Eisner is sometimes criticized for his depiction of Ebony White, the Spirit's African American sidekick. He later admitted to consciously stereotyping the character, but said he tried to do so with "responsibility", and argued that "at the time humor consisted in our society of bad English and physical difference in identity." The character developed beyond the stereotype as the series progressed, and Eisner also introduced black characters (such as the plain-speaking Detective Grey) who defied popular stereotypes.
The Spirit Femmes Fatales hooked me and I will be diving into more of Will Eisner’s engrossing noir-inspired comic creation. After all, I know I must have missed half the fun as the original series matured over its twelve year run. Also I need to fill my vicarious thrills quota as he dates all those beautiful women and paints the town red. What a life!

15 comments:

Josh said...

this is also on my to read list. did you ever read the graphic novels of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen or Watchmen by chance?

David Cranmer said...

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is excellent. The League movie is terrible. However, I do have high hopes for the film version of Watchmen.

Barrie said...

Good for you, trying the two-sentence thing!

Chris said...

"I'm beginning to suspect foul play." LOL...Nice knife gag.

How do you like the Medeski, Martin and Wood you're listening to? I haven't heard that album yet.

Josh said...

yeah, I was a tad dissapointed with the movie version of LXG. As was the movie version of From Hell but i thought V for Vendetta was ok. The novels are far better than their movie conterparts. We can only hope they don't flub Watchmen

David Cranmer said...

Barrie, Two Sentence Tuesday is a lot of fun and because I'm always writing and reading it's not very hard throwing something together.

Chris, Medeski, Martin and Wood is a nice change of pace for MMW fans. Lots of experimental sounds and instruments used. It has a earthy sound that I like. It would not be the right place to start for first time listeners. Newcomers should try: Friday Afternoon in the Universe (1995), A Go Go (1998) – John Scofield album with MMW, Out Louder (again with Scofield)(2006), or Last Chance to Dance Trance (Perhaps)(1999) which is a greatest hits.

Josh, It may sound unbelievable but I have not watched V all the way through yet. What I've seen looks good though.

Charles Gramlich said...

Another example of my poor literary education. I've never read anything by Will Eisner. I've heard the name, of course. Mainly because I really stopped reading comics at all in high school and have only lately begun to read a few again.

Terrie Farley Moran said...

Charles is ahead of me, I've never even heard the name. Well, I have now. Thanks, David.

Terrie

David Cranmer said...

Charles, I'm right there with you. However, a graphic novel I picked up a few years ago opened my eyes to the fact that they have some really great stories out there, and now I'm playing catch-up.

Terrie, no problemo :)

RReynolds said...

I remember this comic fondly from my youth. I doubt the Ebony character will be featured in the movie because it was WAY over the top. The white characters were also quite stereotypical but they were at least in human form.

Chris said...

A Go Go is one of my favorite albums ever. I'm a huge fan of John Scofield's guitar playing and songwriting. That's a really good album. Do you have Sco's Still Warm? That's another good one. I like the newest one, too, This Meets That. Hell, there isn't one I really dislike. Uberjam is a lot of fun, too.

David Cranmer said...

RReynolds, I agree about the Ebony character unless it is a major overhaul it won't be in the movie.

Chris, I had This Meets That in my hand last Friday when I bought MMW instead. Scofiled is quite amazing and when he gets together with MMW it's electrifying. I do not have Still Warm but at some point I'm sure I'll own them all.

Merelyme said...

i love the names of the femmes fatales. so which one is your favorite?

David Cranmer said...

Merelyme, P'Gell by far. Quite the classic femme fatale and very funny... Scarlett Johansson should be interesting to watch as Silken Floss in the upcoming film.

Barbara Martin said...

I have to ditto Terrie's comment by admitting I had never heard of this author. I have heard of femmes fatales before, but that was such a long time ago. Perhaps it's time for me to get reacquainted.