The Spirit's Sidekick

An early incarnation of the Spirit’s sidekick has been the center of controversy for many years. Here’s a look at the past issue the character faced.

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Whether you agree with Frank Miller’s interpretation of the character, see eye to eye with the film’s similarity to his Sin City’s, or believe he butchered Eisner’s masterpiece, The Spirit has dealt with serious issues. The Spirit is considered to be one of the first comics with serious adult tones, creating a road for mainstream comics.

In the series’ living city, its inhabitants were always occupied with things. Whether they were criminals wanting to thieve, or female fatales in New York- style tenants, the people always had drama to deal with. According to Eisner, it “gave [him] an adult audience.” He managed to fill the pages with dramatic stories that were crime-noir dramas that had adventure, love stories, mystery and sometimes horror, and of course its noted humor.

One of the comedic elements that Eisner tried to inhibit was through The Spirit’s sidekick. Ebony White, an African-American citizen growing up in the harsh city, would constantly aid the masked hero. Not necessarily a sidekick like Robin or Bucky who would help the hero fight, but more of an Alfred/Jarvis assistant who would help in tough situations and drive him around in a taxi.

The character’s appearance and characterization was the target for criticism during the strip’s early run. During the American pre-Civil Rights movement, the characterization of the African-American individual was done with heightened stereotypical elements. The common blackface and stereotypes were the archetype of American media racism at its peak.

The character’s name is a racial pun in itself. Ebony meaning very dark and White as surname named the lonely loyal sidekick. The loyal assistant was once given a heavy negative stereotypical accent, which was the heart of its controversy. He could basically be described as a big-lipped saucer-eyed typical dark (blackface) comedic servant.

Eisner stated in an interview with TIME magazine (2003) “The only excuse I have for [that portrayal] is that at the time humor consisted in our society of bad English and physical difference in identity.” Beginning as one of the many racist stereotypes of mainstream 20th century United States, the character has evolved. Eisner later included a black detective who was smarter and more articulate.

Will Eisner remains as very influential genius master of the comic book genre. His ingenuity resided in different age but it has influenced many of today’s writers. Past the infamous Jim Crow era, racial characterization as evolved into more tolerable and appropriate means. But our society’s unconscious minds still might see past racial equality and look things from a once though long gone perspective. As Eisner said, “Over the years literary and film work has helped develop stereotypes for our society.”


QUIZ: How Well do you Know Frank Miller?

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