Though he's long been unstinting in acknowledging the influence of comic art pioneer Will Eisner on his own work, I'm more than a little doubtful about the wisdom of Frank Miller's tackling Eisner's most famous creation, The Spirit, in a movie.
True, you can see elements of Eisner's landmark urban crime-fighter in Miller comic works like his version of Daredevil and his Sin City graphic novels – the atmospheric Welles-ian visual flourishes; the love for his city setting and the vibrant cast that lives within it; the string of provocative femme-fatales; the sometimes brutal violence that could rear suddenly and devastatingly – but another element of Eisner's storytelling, the sense of humor that could go from wryly ironic to willfully silly, has never seemed a part of Miller's repertoire. So for me, one of the big questions about the upcoming Spirit film is simply this: will Miller be able to capture that essential aspect of The Spirit in his movie tribute?
We know, based on his Sin City co-director credit with Robert Rodriguez, that Miller has experience successfully recreating comic book visuals onscreen (more appealingly than, say, Warren Beatty managed with his eyesore version of Dick Tracy). But can he manage the winking wit and comedy of our dashing city hero's adventures in Central City? As a longtime lover of Denny Colt, a.k.a. the Spirit, I remain skeptical. Miller's sense of comic irony has always seemed more sledge hammery than deft to this reader.
So it's with fannish interest that I recently took a dip into Miller's current "Spirit" blog, which is partly designed to relieve the worries of nerdy neurotics like myself. There, I found a loving tribute to Eisner the Man (who Miller admiringly calls a "tough son of a bitch"), a discussion of the changes made in the movie (the Spirit's problematic spear carrier Ebony, a stereotypical forties era black caricature, is out; Colt love interest Ellen Dolan has been toughened up considerably), talk about maintaining the distinctive visual look of Eisner's character without that trademark old-color-printing blue suit and a consideration of the pluses and minuses of CGI.
Miller's take on the use of computer generated imagery ("I note a swift and steady draining out of my own belief in 'human' characters as they turn, in long shot, to inhuman 'bendies' like Spider-Man smashed into New York building after New York building in Sam Raimi’s otherwise admirable epic.") strikes me as wise, and I can't really argue with his character decisions. But aside from a passing reference to the series' "wit," blogger Miller hasn't yet weighed in the comic and satiric elements that were so much a part of Eisner's "Spirit" stories. Which means, of course, that this nerdy neurotic's worries about the forthcoming Spirit movie haven't been fully addressed yet. I'll keep checking out Miller's promo blog in the months before the movie's Christmas release, though – and keeping my fingers crossed that Miller is ultimately able to show us all of Eisner's wonderful, multi-colored comic creation.