John mops up some filth. Artist: Will Eisner.


Medium: Comic books
Published by: Eclipse
First Appeared: 1983
Creator: Will Eisner
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For a guy who goes back to 1948, John Law sure did take his time about appearing before the public — especially considering he had as strong a cartoonist as Will Eisner (Blackhawk, Hawks of the Seas) behind him. Originally intended for publication under Eisner's …

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… own imprint, John was shelved before publication when the line folded, and remained in limbo until Eclipse Enterprises (Zot!, DNAgents) pulled him out more than a third of a century later.

Actually, he wasn't completely gone during that time. Tho they weren't an exact match, John was similar enough to Eisner's successful newspaper comic The Spirit, for his unpublished stories to be adapted into that series. All that was neeeded was to add a mask, delete the pipe he smoked, change his boss into Commissioner Dolan (while altering references to his being a member of the regular police force), and redraw his sidekick, Nubbin the Shoeshine Boy, as one of The Spirit's juvenile associates. Even his girlfriend, Sand Serif, fit right in as a hitherto-unseen femme fatale along the lines of P'Gell and Thorne Strand. Most of his stories were converted and published as part of The Spirit's series.

But something was "lost in translation". Tho similar, the two characters weren't identical; so there were a few points where the conversion wasn't perfectly smooth. Also, Spirit stories just then were limited to seven pages, whereas John's, intended for the more expansive comic book format, sometimes had to be cut to fit. The average reader didn't notice, but some of the more careful ones did.

Editor/publisher Cat Yronwode of Eclipse was such a reader. She arranged with Eisner to salvage the original John Law, and publish it as a oneshot comic book, part of her line. Other Eisner properties, such as Mr. Mystic, were also published by Eclipse.

As seen there, John wasn't the least bit related to John Law. Scientective, who appeared in the back pages of Quality's Smash Comics (Midnight, Bozo the Robot) in 1939 and '40. Nor did he have anything to do with Tarantula's secret identity. He was a tough plainclothes cop in a town called Crossroads.

With Eclipse having alerted readers to John's existence, he's been kept in print despite the publisher's demise. In 2004, a collection titled John Law: Dead Man Walking was published by IDW (Grimjack, Jon Sable). In addition to reprints by Eisner, this book featured new material by Gary Chaloner (Red Kelso, Jackaroo), starring John, Mr. Mystic or Lady Luck.

It's a good thing John was adaptable into The Spirit. Others, which did manage to have an issue each published in the abortive line, Baseball Comics (starring Rube Rooky) and Kewpies (an attempted revival of a recently defunct commercial franchise) weren't so salvageable.


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Text ©2008-10 Donald D. Markstein. Art © Will Eisner Estate.