The Spirit: "The Killer"

The Spirit
By Will Eisner
"The Killer"
December 8, 1946

Many readers have sampled detective stories, which may be used to study
crime and the criminal mind. Could any of us, seated on a train pick out
the murderer seated nearby? This man in particular. Is he kind,
respectable, and honest? No. He's a murderer. Peer past his placid
profile, through the intricate maze of his brain, and reach a particular
moment in his memory.

It was in 1942 that the seed had been planted, nurtured, and ripe for
harvest this very year. Henry's only packed six boxes at noon, and
Mister James is angry with him. His brother-in-law wants another loan,
and if he tells Mary about it, Henry's head will get kicked in. At home,
the wife sees that her hapless husband still brings in the same amount of
money. Henry's been at the same job since the age of ten, and he's
getting tired of being pushed around. He tells them that he's about to
leave town, only the army's beat him to it, and sent him his notice.
Now, it's the Sergeant who's upset that Henry's hasn't finished packing
yet, and remind him that they're shipping out tonight.

One night in Europe, the Sarge wants Henry to hurry up with the supplies
-- especially since there's a raid on. Not only is Henry late again, but
it's now too late for the Sarge. With his death, Henry has become the
Chief of Partisan Group No. 67. The private is the proud possessor of
boxes of bullets, and they, the Partisans of Zone 67 swear their undying
loyalty to Hanry. His name transcends mountains, his bravery is the
stuff of legend, and his fame grew. On V-E Day, Henry learns that he's
been discharged, and he's surprised that it's happened so... so... soon.

Back home, Henry hasn't found another position, and is back packing boxes
for Mister James. The former soldier is nothing but a punk shipping
clerk to his boss. The punk decides that he's had enough and smashes a
box over his boss's head. As he walks along the snow and steps aboard a
train, Henry revels in his wartime memories. Trigg and his crooked crony
see their chance in ditching their gun into the "joik's" pocket. The
memories fade when Henry realizes that he's stuck in the same old rut for
the rest of his life. He'll be pushed... but what's this in his pocket?
As his fingers find the gun, a odd smile appears on Henry's face, and he
strides away from the train station.

We are now viewing events through Henry's eyes. The wife isn't surprised
to see her soldier husband again. If she is to maintain the style to
which she's become accustomed, he better get back to work. The phone
rings, and Sheldon gets word that the Spirit is onto their black market
scheme. The brother steps out to meet Trigg at the hideout, while May
tells Henry to get the big sedan. She sees the dope standing there for a
moment, and then the gun goes off. Trigg and his crony are working over
the Spirit at the hideout. They want to know who told the masked man
about their racket.

Even while he's being pummeled, the Spirit knows that the two thugs won't
beat the rap. Sheldon leaves Trigg with the Spirit, but the masked man
tells the thug that his partner is taking a powder. The trusting Trigg
looks out the window, and is slammed against it by his bound captive.
Sheldon sees that the Spirit has used the broken glass to free himself.
Around the corner, he finds Henry waiting for him. May isn't with her
husband, and the last thing Sheldon sees is dat rod being pointed at him.
Trigg is tied and the Spirit tells Henry that tonight's killings are

They are still seated when the train pulls into the Courthouse Square.
Dolan has been waiting for them, meeting every train since he got the
phone call. They found May's dead body and her husband has got a lot of
explaining to do. The Spirit points out that Henry's helped the state
and there are things that only a jury can decide. Dolan wants to know
why Henry shot May, but he may never know the reason. The passengers on
the train see the convict with the veteran's button. Some wonder how a
fellow like that could go wrong, especially since he's back home, and
shouldn't have time to get into trouble. Some things we may never know.

This story was reprinted in The Best Of The Spirit (2005).

In his yellow suit, Henry bears a striking resemblance to Dick Tracy's
fellow crime-fighter, Sam Ketchum.

Although he considered packing it in, Henry's work habits got him started
on a military career.

The shipping clerk knew just when to shape up or ship out.

Jim Starlin paid homage to this story in Warlock #13 - 14 (June - Aug,
1976) with "Wildwood Hospital" and the Star-Thief.

Trigg wasn't too quick on the draw when he thought that his partner was
taking it on the lam.

As pointed out by the Spirit in the story, there are "human" juries.

There are also "human injuries, too.

Steve Chung
"The Review"