Will Eisner’s Spirit debuted more than 70 years ago in an innovative format that combined the storytelling format of newsstand comic books with the distribution and frequency of newspaper comic strips.
Called – appropriately enough – “The Spirit Section,” Will Eisner’s masked gumshoe headlined a 16-page, tabloid-sized newsprint comic that appeared in 20 Sunday newspapers from 1940 to 1952. It was a revolutionary move that enabled Eisner – and his many assistants – to perfect the techniques he picked up from the fledgling comic-book field and create material aimed for more mature audiences.
(Another plus: Eisner retained full ownership of the characters he created …)
The early Spirit Sections were rounded out by back-up features Lady Luck (created by Eisner, but artist Klaus Nordling’s version is considered definitive) and Mr. Mystic, a Mandrake-style adventure co-authored by Eisner and Bob Powell.
Mr. Mystic’s origin was typical of the era. An adventurer named “Ken” (no surname required, apparently) gained his powers in Tibet after receiving a tattoo of a powerful, magic symbol on his forehead.
Powell initially drew the stories based upon Eisner’s scripts, but he eventually took over the strip in its entirety until the artist was drafted to fight in World War II. Although Powell’s art on Mr. Mystic was widely hailed by peers, the character itself never achieved much popularity.
Unlike The Spirit and Lady Luck, the crusading magician’s adventures were never reprinted as Quality Comics features.
Mr. Mystic ended its run in 1944, by which time Fred Guardineer had taken over the strip.
The following story is credited to “W. Morgan Thomas” (a pseudonym used before by Eisner for Sheena, Queen Of The Jungle) and Powell. Since the “Shadowman” character bears a striking similarity to one of Powell’s most famous creations, The Man In Black, I suspect the artist’s involvement in this particular adventure extends beyond pencilling and inking duties.
This story was originally published in the March 30, 1941 edition of The Spirit Section.