Thursday, September 16, 2021

The Golden Bookshelf:

The Complete Wraith

Modeled after Eisner’s The Spirit, the Wraith is a crime-fighting dog of the 80s indie comics era. His adventures are now available in trade paperback form thanks to Mu Press.

Writer/Artist Michael T. Gilbert is best known for his long-running humor-horror feature, Mr. Monster. But back in the 1970s, Gilbert was a star in the earliest days of independent comics with a funny-animal detective strip “The Wraith,” lovingly modeled on Will Eisner’s The Spirit. Now the complete career of this canine crimefighter has been collected for posterity in a trade paperback originally issued by Mu Press in 1998.

The Wraith is literally a crime hound. He’s a dog in a trench coat and fedora, turned loose on a seamy underworld of rats, vermin and other predators. The stories follow the structure and conventions of 1940s crime comics and film noir, filtered through a late-60s underground comic sensibility. There’s a fair amount of sex, risqué humor and stylistic experimentation in the Wraith, but with much greater artistic and narrative discipline than is often seen in true undergrounds.

The stories collected in the Complete Wraith edition are obviously the work of an artist-in-progress and don’t have the coherence of the later Mr. Monster tales. The experiments don’t always work; the jokes aren’t always funny. The crowded panels can be a little tough on the eye. Interestingly, Gilbert was a devote of Eisner when the Grandmaster was still in relative eclipse as a stylistic influence. Eisner homage in the mid-70s was retro before it was cool—which today looks cooler than ever.

This ambitious but slightly unfinished look typified the “ground-level” comics where the Wraith and others like him appeared, such as Star*Reach, Quack, Slow Death and Strange Brew. Nevertheless, those books yielded a bumper-crop of talent such as Dave Sim, Jim Starlin and Howard Chaykin in addition to Gilbert. Gilbert’s chapter introductions in the Complete Wraith evoke this era of comics history which is currently poorly represented on the bookshelves. For those who remember, The Complete Wraith is a welcome treat. For those who don’t, it’s definitely a fun, if quirky, read.

 

 

Black Hole

Mu Publishing , 1998

Writer & Artist: Michael T. Gilbert

100 pages, b/w, $ 12.95

 

 

 


Rob Salkowitz is a Seattle-based writer and authority on all manner of aging newsprint. You can e-mail your comments and queries to Rob at rob_comics@yahoo.com. Use "ComicBase" as the subject line.

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