Believe it or not, I tend to be a pretty busy dude. But when the stormclouds part and freetime appears, one of my favorite pastimes is diving into the discount comic boxes at the local shops! The demand for non-key back issues has dipped dramatically over the years, and so when folks (or other comic shops) dump entire collections, a lot of premiere stuff gets shuffled into the dollar or fifty cent bins. So welcome to…
IT CAME FROM THE DOLLAR BOX!!!
It’s cathartic for me to pass the time just flipping through the bins. I try not to think about all of the issues I paid full price for as I flip through box after box, but I do remember the stories I read or wanted to read. Lots of 90’s Image comics or New Warriors or What Ifs or X-men offshoot books flood the bins, but there’s quite a few buried treasures mixed in alongside.
Within the last calendar year, I’ve found a ton of interesting finds. Do you remember when Todd McFarlane was drawing the Incredible Hulk and they crossed over with X-Factor? Found that in the buck bin. Todd McFarlane drawing Iceman? Yes, please. DC’s Wednesday Comics event? Found the whole run in the dollar bin. That cover to Quasar that Stew shouted about on our podcast? “Spacey cape, pregnant belly, yellow wristbands, you *%9*#^$*!” he proclaimed. Found that issue in the discount bin a few weeks later. Chip Zdarsky’s self-published Prison Funnies from 2001? Found that. Kinda wish I didn’t. So sometimes it’s a mix of sentimentality that catches my eye, sometimes it’s an issue that I think there’s value, and sometimes it’s something that might actually be an unacknowledged gem.
That last category is what I’m going to let you in on today, as I review Batman/The Spirit #1 (2007), by Jeph Loeb and Darwyn Cooke, storytellers, with J. Bone on inks, Dave Stewart on colors, and Comicraft handling the letters.
This was a book that slipped under my radar, as it came out around the time of DC’s 52 and Marvel’s groundwork for Civil War and I must have been distracted elsewhere. I was surprised to see this discounted, but I’ve actually seen it multiple times so I know it wasn’t a fluke. The only reason I suspect is that The Spirit hasn’t really seemed to catch on with modern audiences, despite how many times varying publishers have tried. This Batman fellow seems pretty evergreen, though.
If you’re down with the names making your comics, you know that list has serious talent within. Loeb, Cooke, and Dave Stewart could all sell books based on their names alone, let alone all at the same time.
Jeph Loeb is a master of cutting to the quick with a character and what makes them work. His work with Tim Sale across Marvel and DC especially demonstrates he knows what makes his characters tick, and he can exploit that for really satisfying stories.
Darwyn Cooke is an acquired taste apparently, best known for DC’s New Frontier, his Parker graphic novels, and for his work in animation–particularly Batman Beyond. He’s got a simplified retro style of cartooning that really works for me. Cooke tragically passed away a few years ago, but he was lauded by his peers in the industry that recognized his talent.
Dave Stewart is the other half of the Eurythmics with Annie Lennox–wait, I mean, he’s a baseball player for the Oakland Athletics who tore it up in R.B.I. 3–wait, he’s actually a really great colorist whose work you have seen on the likes of Hellboy, The Umbrella Academy, Captain America and a host of other Eisner-Award winning projects. Those other guys are Dave Stewarts, too.
Onto the book itself. Thanks to Cooke’s art, this whole book read like an unproduced episode of the great Batman: The Animated Series show. It follows all the tropes of a great crossover, too. The impetus involves Commissioner Gordon of Gotham and Commissioner Dolan of Central City attending the Policeman’s Benevolent Association’s Annual Law Enforcement Convention.
Flimsy but believable reason to cross universes: check.
The Octopus and the Joker each have arranged for all of Gotham and Central City’s biggest rogues to be on hand to help take out the best that the esteemed police forces have to offer.
Villain team-up: check.
Of course, the Spirit rogues end up tinkering with Gordon and the Bat-foes end up messing with Dolan, leading to moments where the audience knows what’s happening, but it’s perfectly believable these adept detectives would not. Poison Ivy’s dancing with Dolan, meanwhilte the Spirit’s femme fatale P’Gell has Gordon wrapped around her finger. Then, she flirts with Batman! And Catwoman shows up to flirt with the Spirit!
Cross Vixen-isation: check.
Then, we have the Batman/Spirit meet up and fight. Check. Than, they join together to try to save the day. Of course, Loeb and Cooke are master storytellers, so there are twists! Surprise guests! Then twists on those twists! Then, all hope is lost…but wait! Another twist! But you don’t out-twist the Batman and Spirit! Twist again, my friends! Then one of the bad guys twists his way to escaping, but our heroes twist yet again to contain the rest of the baddies!
Man, oh man, was this story fun to read. I’ve covered both of these characters, ironically enough, in crossovers with the Green Hornet. They both worked perfectly together here. Unlike the Batman/Green Hornet crossover (which was perfect for what it intended to be), this story is a quick, timeless piece that can’t quite be pigeon-holed into any specific period. Sure, you have a Batman and teenaged Robin, but you also have the zany lunacy of the Joker and Harley Quinn (with classic “Mistah J” dialogue straight out of B:TAS) along with the more updated Catwoman look. It’s very much like the Animated Series, but it’s not the Animated Series–it’s just different enough that it doesn’t feel like they’re playing the greatest hits. Or maybe they are; they’re just doing that by cherry-picking the best versions of all these characters. It’s simultaneously harkening back to a more classic time than B:TAS, yet somehow being more modern in its execution.
This done in one story also had far more heart and fun than the Spirit/Green Hornet crossover. It never gets too bogged down in the specifics. You can read and enjoy this book if you don’t know the history of the Spirit (which I shamefully do not. It’s only my list. I’ve picked up a number of Eisner’s original work on the character, just never followed through for more than an issue or two at a time). I know just enough to appreciate the homage as the “Pier Six” sign crumbles down to spell out Spirit in his introductory splash page.
Everything else is easily picked up via parallel storytelling and context clues.
Final Grade: A+ This book would be worth it for the Cooke art alone, but that does a disservice to the absolute fun of this series. Loeb, Cooke, and co. manage to take the best versions of these characters and present them in this timeless tale. I’m not sure how readily available this one is because of the nature of company crossovers, but I highly recommend picking this one up if you ever see it. It’s not only worth more than a dollar, it’s worth more than its original $5 cover price! If you love timeless Batman stories, even if you’re not familiar at all with the Spirit, pick this one up and you will not regret it.
Until next time, I’ll be digging through the dollar bins looking for my next treasure!