Will Eisner’s The Spirit at Fiction House

« Our story opens on a rainy night on Central City’s waterfront… »

Continuing our chronicle of The Spirit’s wanderings from harbour to harbour over the decades, we make land today at pulp and comic book producer Fiction House, whose “Big Six” were the blandly-named but action-packed Fight Comics (86 issues, 1940–1954), Jumbo Comics (167 issues, 1938–1953), Jungle Comics (163 issues, 1940–1954), Planet Comics (73 issues, 1940–1953), Rangers Comics* (69 issues, 1941–1953) and Wings Comics (124 issues, 1940–1954). Compared to these, The Spirit’s five-issue stay was but a blip. Still, since FH’s art director was none other than Eisner’s old partner Samuel Maxwell “Jerry” Iger (1903-1990), this particular match is unsurprising.

Of course, it wasn’t common knowledge at the time, but these issues comprise little else but what came to be known as “the post-Eisner Spirit”, inarguably inferior work with the occasional highlight, generally a Jules Feiffer script let down by the visuals.

According to Eisner, interviewed in 1990 by Tom Heintjes: « Looking back, I have to say that it’s a blemish on my career that I allowed The Spirit to continue through this period, because I compromised the character just because I was busy with other things. That’s not to say that these are all bad stories, but they just don’t have the consistent outlook they had when I was directly involved. » « I look at these stories and I want to cringe – again, not because they’re bad, but because only the merest essence of the character is retained. »

If such is the case,  then it’s no small mercy that Will didn’t live to witness Frank Miller‘s masterwork of desecration.

This is The Spirit no. 1 (Spring, 1952), featuring The Case of the Counterfeit Killer (Sept. 16, 1951), cover-featured The Curse of Claymore Castle (Nov. 4, 1951), The Plot of the Perfect Crime (Oct. 28, 1951), and Panic on Pier 8 (Aug. 19, 1951), each scripted by Feiffer. Cover artist unknown, but it’s a considerable improvement over the actual story.
This is The Spirit no. 2 (Summer, 1952), reprinting The Amazing Affair of the First Man on Mars (Jan. 27, 1952), Contraband Queen (May 20, 1951), The Case of the Baleful Buddha (Nov. 18, 1951), and The $50,000 Flim-Flam (Apr. 15, 1951), the final three benefiting from some Eisner involvement. Again, cover artist unknown., but isn’t that gorgeously coloured?
Ah, we’re getting more Eisner-ish, though not quite all the way. This is The Spirit no. 3 (1952), featuring The Walking Corpse (Mar. 9, 1952), It Kills by Dark (Feb. 24, 1952), The League of Liars (Nov. 25, 1951), and A Man Named Nero (Feb. 3, 1952). The first three are scripted by Feiffer, and the fourth is undermined; I wouldn’t brag about that one either.
This is The Spirit no. 4 (1953), featuring The Last Prowl of Mephisto (Apr. 1, 1951), scripted and illustrated by a heavily-assisted and pressed for time Eisner; Design For Doomsday (Jan. 13, 1952), The Sword and the Savage (Sept. 2, 1951), and The Great Galactic Mystery (Apr. 20, 1952), these last three scripted by Feiffer. And another nearly-Eisner cover… he never would have made it this busy, I think.
This is The Spirit no. 5 (1954), cover-featuring Dragnet for Johnny Buffalo (Apr. 8, 1951), and also The Target-Man in 16-A (July 22, 1951), Damsels in Distress (a relative oldie from August 3, 1947), and The Loot of Robinson Crusoe (July 8, 1951), scripts a toss-up or a collaboration between Feiffer and Eisner. Now this cover I can buy as the genuine Eisner article: it’s a characteristic composition for him, and it’s sloppy in all the right places. The Spirit’s sidekick in this instance is Walkalong Haggerty, who saves his hide in “Dragnet..

So concludes our masked crimefighter’s passage at Fiction House. Fortunately, the publisher’s art department and production values were top-notch, so accommodations were quite cozy. Next time out, we’ll see how The Spirit would fare at the hands of Harvey Comics and (separately) at those of that nefarious rascal, Israel Waldman, in the swinging Sixties.


*Fiction House’s Rangers Comics featured the excellent “The Secret Files of Dr. Drew“, which ran in issues 47 to 60 (1949-51); the feature was the combined work of several of Eisner’s top Spirit alumni, namely writer Marilyn Mercer, penciller-inker Jerry Grandenetti, and letterer Abe Kanegson. The first ten (of fourteen) episodes just about out-Eisnered Eisner, until he protested and put an end to that gorgeous nonsense. This lot was lovingly restored and collected by Michael “Mr. Monster” Terry Gilbert (2014, Dark Horse). If you ask me, it’s the sole reprint of vintage colour material bearing the Dark Horse brand worth a damn… because Gilbert handled the work himself.

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