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Article by Mikel Midnight

(first appearing on The Sequential Tart website)

Will Eisner's strip "The Spirit" ran from June 2, 1940 as an enclosure with the Sunday paper and ran weekly through September 28, 1952. Decades later it stands as one of the shining lights of comics' Golden Age, and is one of the small number which can be read in this day and still seem as fresh and new as the day they were first published. And any discussion ofthe series inevitably leads to a discussion of the Spirit's women. All were varied blends of Bette Davis, Veronica Lake, Marlene Dietrich, Joan Crawford, and chief among them, Lauren Bacall. They were glamorous and deadly, but never generic. Eisner's women were as distinct from each other as they were from any other women who have graced the comics page -- unlike many other cartoonists' characters, you can see one of Eisner's women in black & white and with a different haircut and immediately recognise her. Here we'll be looking at four of the most prominent: Ellen Dolan, Silk Satin, Sand Saref, and P'Gell.

Ellen Dolan

Ellen Dolan's first appearance was in the second Spirit tale, dated 9 June 1940. The Spirit literally bumps into her and her fiance, Homer Creap, whilst sharing a taxi which is being driven by Ebony White. In this story Ellen is visiting her father the Police Commissioner and whilst at Police headquarters frees the villainous Dr. Cobra, the man responsible for creating the Spirit! Dr. Cobra knocks out Ellen before the Spirit comes to the rescue and saves the day, as well as giving Ellen Dolan causeto postpone her marriage to Homer!

From becoming someone who is prone to fainting when confronted with murder or monsters, Ellen becomes more inquisitive - and it is more likely that she will be the one doing the punching rather than being knocked out herself! She became more forthright and it was not untypical for her to tie up the Spirit or have a downright blazing argument with him if it would help her. And despite the Spirit's hesitations to commit, their relationship developed into a strong one over the years. On many occasions while lapsing into unconsciousness he would mutter "Ellen... " much to her delight and the annoyance of her competition.

However, up until 1950 Ellen's role was as a supporting character, she rarely got the chance to have a story to herself, unlike her father and the Spirit's assistants, who very often would get a story to themselves. But, with the November 12, 1950 section, Ellen finds herself becoming a candidate for mayor of Central City.

After appearing in successful interviews on television and radio for her candidacy, The Spirit is furious and demands that she withdraws - of course this prompts Ellen to put even more effort into becoming mayor, with such comments as, "Most men practice equality like a little boy practicing on the piano, one hour a day and then forget all about it!" The Spirit goes off to support her nearest rival, Mike Poltax (a rather apt name!) on the Prosperity Party ticket, but it looks unlikely that Poltax will win. To help matters, Poltax arranges for Ellen to be kidnapped, but the Spirit finds out and calls the police before he is himself shot. Recovering in a hospital with Ellen by his bedside, The Spirit learns that Ellen has won by a landslide and is now mayor! It made no difference to their relationship, and Ellen did quite well at the job.

Silk Satin

Silk Satin (nee Sylvia Satin aka Black Satin) was the next
recurring woman character who entered The Spirit's life, and probably the only serious competition to Ellen for the Spirit's affections. She first appeared in March 16, 1941 leading a gang of jewel thieves. She had a penchant for wearing suits and wearing her hair short, and was introduced to the reader when she strode into a room demanding a clean razor and hot water to pluck a bullet from her arm. She captures the Spirit but refrains from killing him, and later frees him to betray her gang... driving their getaway car off a bridge, but escaped from drowning herself in a manner reminiscent of the first Catwoman story.

As time went on, Satin revealed herself to be one of the least static characters in the series. Unlike her feline counterpart, she eventually reformed and aided the war effort working as a spy for the British government, and later the United Nations; after a period of meritorious service her criminal record was destroyed. She eventually moved to Scotland and worked as an investigator for the insurance company Croyd's of Glasgow. She frequently fought alongside the Spirit, assisting him and oftimes competing with him to solve a case. The dynamics of these shared adventures are like few others in comics, as the two frequently attempt to gain the upper hand by the end of the adventure, and the reader would often never know until the final pages who had come out on top ... and it was Satin as often as not. Of all the women of the series she was most like The Spirit, and the two shared many tender moments.

In January 4, 1946 the Spirit strip confronted the problem of European war orphans, as a group of German children led by a young girl named Hildie, sneak into the country and pair up with American gangsters. The Spirit and his cast work to establish a program to aid their integration into American society. A few weeks later Satin reappears (having been absent from the series for two years) and saves the Spirit's life when he is investigating a murder case, only to be captured herself along with The Spirit, Ellen and Hildie ... which led to the revelation that Hildie is Satin's daughter! After explaining how she spent years attempting to get to Germany to save her, she takes the girl back to Scotland after they are reunited.

Sand Saref

Sand Saref first appeared in January 8, 1950 in one of the most oft-reprinted Spirit stories. She was the Spirit's childhood sweetheart who turned to crime: "I first met Sand when I was a kid in the slums of Central City's lower east side. I remember letting her hang around all the time, even though her father was a cop ... and my father was a has-been fighter. It was the friendship of us kids that drew the two men together. Officer Saref was a square, brave cop ... and he took it upon himself to look after my poor father, who was a patsy for the petty crooks that infested our neighborhood. But one day [Officer Saref interrupted a heist The Spirit's father was on, which resulted in the officer being fatally shot]. The crooks fled, leaving my poor, bewildered father standing over the corpse of his good friend. He did the only thing his punch-battered brain could tell him. He killed himself on the spot. ... Alone now, Sand was caught in the undertow of slum life .... " As the years passed she reached Europe and achieved an international background. She returned to Central City involved in a conspiracy to smuggle germ warfare weapons, with the aim of selling out her partners and retiring from the game ... but the plan goes awry and she flees town after an emotional reunion with The Spirit. She appeared several times after that, always involved in some criminal scheme. There was still always a lingering attraction between her and The Spirit, but it was more nostalgia than anything else, and she was on the wrong side of the law.

P'Gell

The most infamous of the Spirit's femme fatales introduced herself to the reader on Oct 10, 1946, draped across a couch with a suggestive pose, her exotic garb with its plunging neckline revealing her figure: "I am P'Gell ... and this is not a story for little boys!" The story told of her marriage to the renegade Nazi, Hans Dammt, with whom she had escaped to Turkey, and promptly had killed for half of a $1,00,000 reward ... she ended the story by marrying Emil Petit, who had arranged the assassination and who had received the other half of the reward. She continually attempted to seduce the Spirit to the life of crime ("Oh brother, what a man! If only you were a crook, what a team we'd make!"), but her heart was never in it. The Spirit viewed her allure with more amusement than ardour; the two were almost friends.

Originally seen in foreign locales in the Middle East and South America, P'Gell eventually emigrated to Central City (The Spirit's base of operations) to mingle with the regular supporting cast. She did briefly manage to attempt a respectable life, of a sort, marrying a gentleman named Mr. Raymond and becoming headmistress of an exclusive girls' school ("Can you think of a better background for advising young girls on the rough road of life?"). After he inevitably joined the ranks of the deceased, she even became custodian of Mr. Raymond's daughter Saree, who assisted her in her various schemes.

P'Gell proceeded through a series of similar encounters, each time profiting from the arrangement, but eventually returned to her old criminal ways; by May 21, 1951 she married shipping magnate Ellis Murdoch in the tale of "The 7th Husband." The two embarked on a gun-running career selling contraband "atomic rifles" to Asian warlord King Kwang; by the end, to no surprise, Ellis is killed. "Ah well," smirked P'Gell, "I still have my assets!"

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