I write this review just days after the death of Will Eisner. I came to be fan of his work rather recently (4 years ago or so), specifically because DC Comics had begun archiving his most famous creation, the Spirit.
I'm not sure if Eisner was at his pinnacle here, simply because once Eisner came back to the series after WW II, the quality of the series continued to go up. Each volume has been better than the last. I suppose when the series is completely archived, I'll know for sure. As it stands, what is collected in the volume is just great.
Eisner was obviously continuing to play around with the medium proper, as well as the weekly seven-page format. In this volume, Eisner creates six stories comprising an extended continuing arc. Three stories are dedicated to the Spirit's "final" battle with the arch-nemesis, the Octopus. A master criminal, the Octopus's face was never seen (save for one brief glimpse of his eyes), only his gloved hands, which were more than capable of communicating his evil. While the Spirit triumphs (although not completely, as the epilogue suggests), the battle leaves him blind. Thus follows another three stories as the Spirit attempts to go about his crime-fighting without his sight. The third story, "Into the Light", is one of the greatest Spirit stories ever, as Eisner allows an unusual amount of internal monologue from the Spirit, as he sinks deeper into despair.
While Eisner was in the Army, his various substitutes on the series allowed many of his most famous concepts and characters to go dormant. When Eisner returned, he brought those ideas out in full force, as well as adding new ones. He dusted off the year-end "Christmas Spirit" stories, brought back Spirit ally Satin, and pulled back the focus off of pure crime stories. He also added new femme fatale P'Gell (see volume 13), a basically amoral female foil for the Spirit who played an interesting ongoing role in the Spirit's adventures, including uneasy ally. In this volume, Eisner introduced another supporting character, Patrolman Sam Klink, who at first seeks to show-up the Spirit in the crime-fighting biz, but eventually becomes his staunchest ally.
Conceptually, Eisner also introduced "the Halloween Spirit" series, as well as "The Spirit's Favorite Fairy Tales for Juvenile Delinquents", little parodies of fairy tales that incorporate unsavory characters in familiar roles. These are clever little stories, with nifty twists on old favorites, incorporating elements of hard-boiled fiction, nifty satire, and a dose of comedy reminiscent of the Warner Brothers "Merry Melody" cartoons.
Finally, Eisner was noticeably more satirical in this volume. The most obvious one is "Li'l Adam" a parody of the comic strip biz, as someone tries to murder Al Slapp (read "Li'l Abner" creator Al Capp). Was it one of his rivals (all dopplegangers for famous strip creators)? A second one, also quite funny, is "U.F.O", an alien invasion story written in response to the supposed landing at Roswell, N.M., as well as a being a jab at the hubris of celebrity, personified by Awsome Bells, a clever parody of Orson Welles. Eisner could be satirical, but never quite so bitingly.
We've lost a national treasure, and I'm glad to see people are recognizing it. Do yourself a favor and get this series, as well as his graphic novels. All are worth it.