Will Eisner’s John Law Detective (comicbook review).
Let’s lay some dates on the table. ‘The Spirit’ was created in 1940 and ‘John Law Detective’ in 1948. The latter was created, according to cat yronwode in her two page piece here, when creator Bill Eisner decided to set up his own publishing company and failed so ‘John Law Detective’, which was to be a main component, was shelved. The only thing that made a transition to the Spirit was Sand Saref, who looks like a young Bette Davis. Less an outright villain but capable of helping out when needed.
Eisner wrote and drew three John Law stories and looking them up, they’ve been reprinted at least three times over the years, although this 1983 Eclipse Comics special is the first time.
I’m going to let you read the stories for yourself so this is more about analysis. Although Eisner never meant there to be comparisons to the Spirit, there are certain similarities. The Spirit had an aid of sorts in the character of Ebony White, whereas Law had Nubbin, the shoeshine boy. Police Chief Bunyan also looks like Eisner himself, as did Police Commissioner Dolan in ‘The Spirit’. I doubt if Eisner realised how closely he matched off pairings because he forgot all about John Law as a failed experiment until yronwode dug them up during her research of Eisner’s work. When you consider that the 1940s America had most professions and even those not in suits and fedoras, its hardly surprising that both characters were drawn the same way.
As these three stories were Eisner finding his way with the characters, they can hardly be representative of where he might have taken them. John Law is practically a secondary character in the tales coming in to finish things off so we don’t really see him doing much detective work.
I suspect the Eisner completists have all three releases but if you have to only pick one, this might be your better bet.
(pub: Eclipse Comics, 1983. 36 page comicbook. Price: look around, you can easily pull one for about £ 5.00 (UK))