Wednesday, January 12, 2011

'Batman/Spirit' is a team-up for the ages

Batman/Spirit (DC Comics, 2006)
Writer: Jeph Loeb
Artist: Darwyn Cooke and J. Bone
Rating: Nine of Ten Stars

When police commisioners from all across America converge on Hawaii for their annual convention, the mysterious criminal mastermind known only as Octopus organizes a "convention" of his own. He the most dangerous criminals from around the world and both Gotham City and Central City to Hawaii so they can kill all the top law dogs of the United States with one single bomb. Good thing Batman and the Spirit happen by to save the day!

"Batman/Spirit" was a comic book that was inevitible once DC Comics acquired the publishing rights for the late Will Eisner's signature series, "The Spirit". It was also a great bit of foreshadowing of the great things that Darwyn Cooke (whose work I had previously praised in the masterful graphic novel "Catwoman: Selina's Big Score") would do in the early issues of DC Comics' new monthly The Spirit comic from the late 2000s.

"Batman/Spirit" is a fun little story in the mold of traditional superhero team-ups: The heroes are brought together when villains from their respective "rogues galleries" team up for a grand masterplan. There's some misunderstanding that leads to the heroes fighting each other at first, but that is soon cleared up, and they get on with the business of busting the bad guys.

In this story, The Spirit and Batman do indeed end up working together (and Robin helps out, too), but the running gag of Spirit refusing to believe Batman is real ("he's just something the Gotham City P.D. made up to scare criminals") is a highlight of the tale... and a great way to keep the two "universes" seperate despite their cross-over here. Other highlights are the seduction scenes, as a femme fatale from the Spirit (P'Gell) uses her charms on Commisioner Gordon, while Batman foe Poison Ivy turns her feminine wiles toward Commisioner Dolan, all in an effort to set up the masterplan.

Other villians who get their turn in the spotlight are the Joker and Harley Quinn (here more in their 'Batman Animated Series' personas than the comic book titles), Catwoman (who cons the Spirit into thinking she's undercover with the FBI), Killer Croc and the Cossak (who become the common ground for the Spirit and Batman when they are subjected to "extreme" interrogation techniques). Just about every major Batman and Spirit villian get a smalll apparance, and alll either get a dramatic moment of a nicely done laugh line.

The way the story resolves itself is also clever and funny. It's even one of the few times where a deus ex machina ending seems satisfying and wholly appropriate.

Fans of Will Eisner's "The Spirit" will get a kick out of this hilarious comic book, and lovers of the more lighthearted Batman of the animated series or the comics from the 1970s and 1980s will find an atmosphere that will inspire nostalgia. And every reader who likes a good superhero team-up romp will find this title a worthy of their time and money.