A rightly-praised feature of Darwyn Cooke’s revival of The Spirit has been his rehabilitation of Ebony White. In his later life, Will Eisner regretted that, when he created Ebony in 1940, he conformed to the contemporary stereotypes established by Stepin Fetchit and Amos & Andy. In appearance, voice and disposition, Ebony represented the racial prejudices of his age.
Of course, Ebony had hidden depths, and frequently proved himself both resourceful and invaluable to the Spirit. But even so, when we read reprints of the original Spirit sections, we have to make embarrassed allowances for the times in which they were produced.
Cooke’s version of Ebony is drawn in the same style as the Spirit himself, with no racial caricature. His speech patterns are much the same as anyone else in Central City, and his relationship with the Spirit is one of easy familiarity, not subservience.
And so, our tolerant, inclusive society progresses. It is no longer acceptable to present members of ethnic minorities as stereotypical caricatures, as representatives of popular beliefs about their race, rather than as individuals. Comic books treat everyone as worthy of respect.
Meet Hussein Hussein …
Of course, Hussein has hidden depths, and has proved himself resourceful and … But we’ve been down this road before, haven’t we?
The Spirit “The Black Queen” by Will Eisner, The Spirit section for 16 June 1940, reprinted in The Spirit Archives Volume 1, DC Comics, 2000
The Spirit “The Maneater” by Darwyn Cooke with J Bone (inks), Dave Stewart (colour), Jared Fletcher (letters) and Scott Dunbier (editor), The Spirit issue 2, DC Comics, March 2007
The Spirit “Hard Like Satin” by Darwyn Cooke with J Bone (inks), Dave Stewart (colour), Jared Fletcher (letters) and Scott Dunbier (editor), The Spirit issue 4, DC Comics, May 2007