The Spirit: "Life Below"

The Spirit
By Will Eisner
"Life Below"
February 22, 1948

A city has life... Its breadth, its manmade pulse reaches into the
ground... where a different sort of life exists apart from those who
dwell in the buildings above...

December 26th, 1947: "Tattler Jeeks" is concerned that "The Worm" will
come back from the dead, and prevent him from disclosing the location of
the missing bank money. Commissioner Dolan is confident that nothing
could possibly happen at the police headquarters courtyard, but "Tattler"
knows that the Woim is gonna come back fer him. Dolan recalls how the
Worm was shot many months ago, how the police saw him fall down into a
sewer, and the body must have floated out to sea. The courtyard is
completely surrounded, and the Commissioner is confident that not even a
fly could get in. But a Woim could. The rain starts to fall, as Dolan
calls for a staff car to take them to the cells. "Tattler" is to be
taken to Cell Block #10 for fingerprinting, and the rain continues to
fall. "Tattler" hears the voice of Th' Woim, but where is it comin from?
"Tattler" is about to get his... BANG BANG BANG Dolan demands to find
out where the shots came from, with Clancy and Berry aware that a
shooting has just taken place under their very noses. There is no sign
of the shooter and no windows facing the courtyard. The Spirit knows
that the shots came from below, and when the Commissioner turns to look
for him, Denny Colt is gone. The day has begun, with the temperature
starting to drop, and the rain has become snow. Clancy and Berry twirl
their batons and continue on their beat.

Down below... the Spirit loses his grip on the wall, and he splashes down
to the lair of the Worm. He was correct in reasoning that "Tattler" was
shot by him from the sewer drain in the courtyard. The Worm will have
his day in court, but only if he is caught. As he starts after his
quarry, the Spirit feels a bite on his right leg, and pulls a different
kind of rat from the brackish water. Down below... it's the world of the
Worm, with the pipes and catacombs serving as the backdrop. The only law
is the law of survival and the judge and the jury is death. The Worm is
confident that for the Spirit, the tables have toined. A bilge pump
sends the masked man on his way down, where he receives a warm welcome
from the residents.

He knows them all. Knife Schnitzel...Croaker... and Shadow. The police
believe them dead, but they've been staying down below. They miss the
fresh air, the trees, and the sights. It's now Winter on the upper
world, and he asks Swiper how long he's been here. It's been six long,
wet, slimy, smelly years for Swiper, and the years haven't been kind to
him. If he were to return and serve his time, Swiper would be able to
live as a free man after two years. Missing the green grass, he implores
the Spirit to take him back. There are those who aren't willing to go.
They know that the masked man works with the law, and if one of them
goes... the police will come down after them. The rats must be fed, and
a toasted masked crime fighter is on the main menu. They swarm all over
him, and as they strive to leave their mark upon the Spirit, the Worm
decides to go up the wall. He is not going up alone.

Even as his hands are bound, the Worm is confident that the Spirit will
not be able to find his way out, but Swiper knows the way back to the
manhole. He tells the Worm that he longs to see the sun once again. As
Swiper leads the way, the others hang back, and watch. After a time,
they find their way to the manhole, but Swiper is too weak to open it.
It's up to the Spirit to push it open. Swiper can't wait to breathe the
fresh air and feel the sunshine once more. The Spirit continues to push
at the manhole cover... harder. Much snow has fallen by midnight of the
26th of December, 1947. Central City is now under twenty-five point
eight inches of snow. The railroads aren't running, power is gone, and
vehicles have been abandoned along the streets. The entire city is
shrouded in snow, and a two and a half ton truck is atop of the manhole
cover. This is why the sewer cover won't so much as budge.

As the Spirit catches his breath from the hopeless task, Swiper starts
beating at the manhole cover. This is his last chance, and he strikes
his head against the stubborn piece of metal until he is no more. To the
Worm, it looks like he's knocked himself out for nothing, but the Spirit
knows otherwise. With Swiper dead, the Worm tries to lose the Spirit in
the tunnels, but it is the masked man who sees that the water main is
cracking. He pulls the Worm out of the way in time. Although saved from
drowning, the two of them must sit and wait. The Worm is freezing to
death, and the masked man knows that it was the melting ice from a heavy
snowfall which caused the water main to burst. On the surface, Klink
tells Dolan about the two water mains that burst, and how stranded
citizens have been sent to the police dormitories. The Commissioner is
among those who can't get home, either.

The morning of the 27th finds Central City recovering, and the snow being
removed by heavy machinery. Life begins anew, and things which were
buried below have begun to move once more. A slumbering Dolan receives a
visitor, but the Commissioner won't be seeing the Spirit until his friend
has taken a bath. Two days later, the rain comes, and melts the snow.
All is as it was on the surface... and below.

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

The splash page finds life below leaning upon the logo of the Spirit for
support, and for shelter.

Commissioner Dolan was courting disaster in the courtyard, for the Worm
had returned, and Tattler never got to tell his tale.

The Spirit takes a fall, but rises to the occasion.

You can only push a man so far, and each man has their own breaking

Swiper traded a life of crime for a life below, and his chance for a
return was swiped from him.

Temperatures and tempers drop, when come soft rains, and life begins

Steve Chung