Sunday, November 23, 2008

Now, That's the Spirit

While I do wish the best to Frank Miller's movie version of THE SPIRIT, opening next month, I must say that the ads so far have not filled me with confidence. Yes, Miller was creator Will Eisner's friend, and his disciple, and much of Miller's comic book work has been, er, spiritually attuned to Eisner's. One of my favorite recollections of the Golden Apple Comics store in Hollywood is of the mid-1980's Saturday afternoon when I saw Miller -- who just weeks before had been feted at the same store for the release of THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS, with lines stretching out the door as fans waited hours for his autograph -- slipping into the store without fanfare, and buying the latest issue of Kitchen Sink Press's reprint of THE SPIRIT.

But those ads. The most recent features the Spirit's arch-foe, the Octopus. Eisner's Octopus was a criminal mastermind whose true face was never seen, who stood behind curtains or went about in disguise, his only distinguishing feature his gloves with three fat vertical lines on the back. In the latest ad, Samuel L. Jackson, as the Octopus, has the gloves; but he also has outrageous mascara, and platform boots, and, well, a pimp coat. Stuff like this makes me suspect that the SPIRIT movie might meet the same fate as SPEED RACER.

For those who'd like to see the true Spirit, I recommend picking up one of the two inexpensive reprints DC Comics has put out recently. DC, which obtained the rights to the Spirit from Eisner shortly before he passed away, has certainly done right by the property; it has reprinted the entire 1940's-1950's run of the comic in expensive color hardcovers; it has an ongoing Spirit series, currently written by veteran cartoonist Sergio Aragones and his collaborator Mark Evanier; and it continues to put out reasonably-priced collections of the best of the original run. A couple of weeks ago, it put out a wonderful trade paperback of femme fatale stories from the series (or rather a selection from those stories, since more femme fatales appeared in the Spirit than could be contained in a single volume); and the comic shown above, released this past week, showcases four stories that contain elements that will be highlighted in the movie.

Specifically, the SPIRIT SPECIAL features 1948's "Sign of the Octopus," a tale of the villain in all his sinister glory (a particularly brutal splash page has vignette after vignette of the Octopus's gloved hands beating the hero in the head with a cane and with brass knuckles); 1949's "Black Alley," an incredibly atmospheric tale of a hitman hired to kill the Spirit; and 1950's two part "Sand Saref" story.

The "Sand Saref" story is remarkable, not only for the fantastic storytelling and art, but also because it is one of the few SPIRIT strips to depict a character from the hero's past -- an odd point, since the story was originally not meant to be a SPIRIT story at all. It was prepared as a story for the first issue of JOHN LAW, a comic book that Eisner tried but failed to sell; the art and story were then retouched to turn eyepatch-wearing cop John Law into mask-wearing vigilante the Spirit.

I'm still hoping that the movie can capture the Spirit as well as these reprints do.

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