Recently, I read the collection The Best of The Spirit, a series of stories cherrypicked by DC Comics after Will Eisner’s death showcasing the revolutionary work he did on his groundbreaking comic book newspaper supplement, The Spirit, the adventures of a masked crimefighter, from 1940-1952. All stand-alone, each tale is a master exercise in comics writing, penciling and composition.
But for Vintage SciFi Not-a-Challenge Month, curated by the Little Red Reviewer, I’m gonna focus on one story in particular, 1949’s “Visitor,” which sees the Spirit, nominally an urban crimefighter, cross wits with a woman who claims to be an invader from Mars.
The story begins with the Spirit and Police Commissioner Dolan investigating a bank in the aftermath of a robbery that was interrupted by a gigantic explosion, killing one of the robbers and disintegrating the other one, as well as the teller, Ms. Cosmek. Arriving at Cosmek’s house on a desolate beach, the Spirit finds the surviving robber tied up. Ms. Cosmek, it turns out, was behind the explosion because, as she tells the Spirit, she’s a spy sent from Mars, but doesn’t want to leave because she loves the Earth, as all emotions are banned on Mars.
Is Cosmek lying or not? Well, there’s chatter from a radio purporting to be from her Martian superiors and a scene with another character said to be another Martian agent at the end seems to underscore this. But ultimately, Eisner leaves things to the reader’s imagination.
This is, put it simply, a classic bit of SF mixed into an urban setting. In an essay about Will Eisner reprinted in his book collection Heroes and Villains, the journalist and critic David Hajdu derided the final years of the strip, when Eisner was detached and in a more supervisory role, as full of “loopy science-fiction stories.” But if they included stuff as exciting and dynamic as this story, I’ll take it.
The Best of the Spirit, incidentally, is an excellent book and possibly the best glimpse you’ll get into such a pivotal comic character. DC has been reprinting the strip in Archive Editions for several years, but they’re quite expensive. Go with this book instead. It’s terrific and full of mind-bendingly wonderful comics, plus it has a wonderful appreciation written by Neil Gaiman. So what more incentive do you need?