C’mon. Batman isn’t real. It’s just something the Gotham City P.D. made up to scare crooks.
--The Spirit.

You know the hero. He has no superpowers, but he wears a mask and can outfight an army of thugs. He inhabits a world heavily influenced by pulp fiction and B movies. He operates at night and has a reputation intended to strike fear into the hearts of evildoers. He has formed an alliance with the commissioner of police in his battle against bizarre villains who seem to have wandered out of a disturbed child’s nightmare.

He, is, of course, the Spirit. But, come to think of it, the description also suits the Batman.

It took decades, but in autumn of 2006 the comic world’s most famous shadow-prowling masked crimefighters finally met in a twisted tale that captures the spirit of the late Will Eisner’s loopier work.

Title: Batman / The Spirit: Crime Convention

Writer: Jeph Loeb
Artwork: Darwyn Cooke.

Commissioners Gordon and Dolan meet and recall the rather tall tale-- now it can be told!-- of the time the Spirit met the Batman in Hawaii and saved the lives of both Gotham’s and Central City’s top cops while facing down two Rogues Galleries worth of villains.

This comic has been waiting to happen, and it lives up to its premise. The story plays with the conventions of comics, the clichés of crossovers, the odd habits and appearances of the villains, the stylizations of the comic-book world. Hardline Batman fans will, of course, have to ignore regular continuity; this comic occurs in a world of its own. Even the era in which these events take place remains uncertain: Robin is thirteen and still in the short-pants outfit, but Catwoman wears her twenty-first century costume and engages in some very un-Catwoman-like behavior. The vehicles, technology, and fashion blend the present with elements from the 1940s through to the 1960s.

The plot concerns an Octopus-orchestrated alliance of the heroes’ most famous villains, who plan to kill the super-doers and then wreck havoc at an international police convention. Deceptions, disguises, counter-plotting, and double-crosses occur on every page. The impossibly convoluted story is part of the fun here, but it does make for an awkward read. Certain confusing elements, such as the twist-filled conclusion, have been intended as parody. Others are just awkward. Robin, for example, appears and disappears as the story requires, and only once does this really make sense.

Loeb and Cooke, however, keep the tale amusing, filling it with gags, in-jokes, and comic lines. The Spirit complains about Batman’s driving. Cossack’s tendency to refer to himself in the third person annoys Carrion. Killer Croc eyes Carrion’s pet vulture, Julia, hungrily noting that "vultures are prac-ti-cally chicken." Julia loses control on a boat filled with dead bodies; Carrion apologizes, noting that "it's like she's at an all you can eat buffet." Catwoman asks the Spirit where he got his tie, so that she can tell her friends not to shop there.

Darwyn Cooke captures a sense of Will Eisner’s style, without engaging in slavish imitation. He’s less comfortable with Batman. It’s little surprise Cooke has been selected to work on DC’s Spirit series, an arrangement apparently made with Eisner before he died.

Batman / The Spirit: Crime Convention may have a few gaps between its frame story prologue and its deus ex machina epilogue, but the storytellers assume readers can fill those gaps. It’s a fair assumption; only a comic book fan would be reading Batman meets the Spirit, and that audience will find in it much to enjoy.

A sample of this comic may be found here.