Spirit Stories You Should Read Before The Movie

Mike Gold

ComicMix's award-winning and spectacularly shy editor-in-chief Mike Gold also performs the weekly two-hour Weird Sounds Inside The Gold Mind ass-kicking rock, blues and blather radio show on The Point, www.getthepointradio.com and on iNetRadio, www.iNetRadio.com (search: Hit Oldies) every Sunday at 7:00 PM Eastern, rebroadcast three times during the week – check www.getthepointradio.com above for times and on-demand streaming information.

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28 Responses

  1. mike weber says:

    I've read eight of your ten – haven't read 8 or 9 – and i'd agree with most of them – particularly the first two. Until Alan Moore wrote "Last Night I Dreamed of Dr Cobra" (New Adventures of the Spirit #3), one of those two would have been a strong centendor for "Best Spirit Story Ever" in my book ("Gerhard Schnobble" was the story Eisner himself cited in an interview as his own favourite).Of course, i suspect that, in place of one or the other of the two i haven't read (even if i *had* read them, that is), i might have included "Haircut" {whatever the actual title is} – the one about the little nebbishy barber reminiscing as he cuts his friend's hair…

    • Mike Gold says:

      Yep, "Haircut" is absolutely great. I'm right there with you.I didn't include any of the Spirit stories that were produced without Will's editorial involvement. For one thing, I haven't read them all. For another, I feel newcomers should be directed to the "real" stuff before they see other people's interpretations of / tributes to the series.But that Joe Kubert cover last month knocked me loopy.

      • mike weber says:

        Oh. i wasn't saying that Moore's story should have been on the list – simply that it immediately became my favourite "Spirit" story as soon as i read it.I remember being absolutely knocked for a loop by "Ten Minutes" and "Haircut" in the Harvey books – i was seventeen, as i recall – and immeidtaly visualised "Ten Minutes" as a short film…

  2. MARK WHEATLEY says:

    I had my assistant doing a lot of scanning this week. So he had down-time while the computer chugged away. When he started working with me he mentioned that he had studied and learned from the several HOW TO books that Will Eisner wrote and I told him then that I thought those books were a good foundation of a comic book education. But then I discover he had never read any of Eisner's SPIRIT stories – he just read the HOW TO books. So I randomly grabbed a handful of SPIRIT comics (several of the old WARREN issues) and told him to read and LEARN. Several hours later he told me he was having a hard time studying the technique of the comics because he kept getting sucked into the stories. Which, of course, was my point.And for my money – any SPIRIT movie should look like CITIZEN KANE.

    • Mike Gold says:

      I wonder… perhaps the only way to bring Will Eisner's vision and storytelling just might be through animation. I have no doubt we will be seeing Frank Miller's vision of Will's work, and that might be interesting. But Will's Central City was both dark and colorful, sexy and funny, high impact in story and smooth in storytelling. I don't expect to see that on the screen. I don't know if Hollywood would get it, and if they don't they're not going to pony up the $60,000,000 or so needed to make the movie.

      • MARK WHEATLEY says:

        It might not be obvious – but there are a number of films that already have brought Eisner storytelling style to the screen. CITIZEN KANE is one – but you are right – that ignores a good deal of the humor and other aspects of Will's style. I think JOE'S APARTMENT is a fun film that uses a number of Will's techniques to good advantage. There are others – but I can't think of them right now.

      • Glenn Hauman says:

        Funny you should mention an animated version… Brad Bird and John Lassiter were trying to do one before their days at Pixar. See: http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/herocomplex/2008/

    • mike weber says:

      Well, back in the day – whe he and i were both a lot younger – i thought that James Garner would make a great Spirit.I once heard Harlan Ellison describing in detail how the "Spirit" TV movie that he and William Friedkin (i think) were working on would have opened, and it was about as close to an Esiner splash page dne in (more or less) real life as i have ever been able to imagine – a character reads a newspaper headlined "Spirit still missing" tears it up and throws the shreds off a bridge, the camera follows them down to the water, where they gradually form the words "The Spirit"just as an apparent corpse in blue suit and fedora floats into the shot, face down…

      • Mike Gold says:

        James Garner and Lee J. Cobb. Would have been absolutely perfect, both in visuals and in their natural approach to the respective characters. And they would have put that tongue-in-cheek humor across, too ("tongue firmly planted in cheek, Jules Feiffer said).

  3. Tyson Durst says:

    I honestly haven't heard a single good thing about this movie. AICN has compared it to Battlefield Earth which doesn't help. I really hope that's not the case although I'm not really interested in seeing the movie, based on what I've seen. Might rent it at some point.The worst thing that could happen is potential readers may never pick up a Spirit comic by anybody because of a negative experience watching the movie adaptation, a phenomenon that I've seen described in relation to previous movie adaptation disasters, assuming the negative buzz is confirmed.

  4. Miles Vorkosigan says:

    Mark, I've read most of those ten, and a lot more besides. And, for my money, anybody who has a deep love for the characters needs to stay the hell away from this movie. Honestly, I don't know what Frank was thinking. This isn't The Spirit. I'm really not sure what it is. As much as I fantasize over Eva Mendes and Paz Vega, I really don't want to see them in this. Sam Jackson is a great actor, but this seems to be a waste of his talents. I'll go back and watch episodes of Studio 60 for Sarah Paulson. From the plot as I've deciphered it, there seems to be some immortality serum or something such that The Octopus has concocted, and The Spirit has it. I don't recall anything like that in the comics. Frank said that he would be making his version of the character, and from what I can tell, he's done just that. But if he thinks for one second that this mutant bastard child of his is The Spirit, or that Will would approve, then he's gone seriously off his axis.

    • Mike Gold says:

      Matt Raub, ComicMix's ace movie critic, saw the movie last week and was at the big press conference. I won't pull the rug out from under him — read his magic words online — but the conversation we had (Matt, Adriane Nash and me) was fascinating. So regard this as a plug — for the review.

    • mike weber says:

      Sounds as if Frank has taken a cue from the "New Adventures" comic, in which Dr Cobra's liquid that put Denny Colt into suspended animation in the origin was also an immortality serum (of sorts).

  5. Miles Vorkosigan says:

    Nashville Public Library has four volumes of the Archives: 3, 4, 7 and 15, all checked out right now, all with holds on first returned. I had a bunch of these at one time, but you can only carry so much stuff on a Greyhound. I'm hoping my former landlord kept them.

  6. Miles Vorkosigan says:

    Mike, the two reviews on AICN are, how do I put this, fairly negative.Here. Read.***Fatboy Roberts, a radio personality up in Portland or Seattle or maybe Boseman or Eureka – one of those Northwest towns, I forget which – says there are things in Frank Miller’s Christmas Day release “The Spirit” that work just fine.Here’s Fatboy:Frank Miller has become a man of reduction. Spare dialog. Sparse layouts. Black/White. Stark lines cutting figures out of granite on a comics page. Sin City. The Dark Knight Returns. Ronin. 300. Heralded as Comics’ Dashiell Hammett by way of Will Eisner, Miller's colleague. Friend. Mentor. So in keeping with the spirit of Miller’s most recent work, here’s a reductionist, starkly worded review of his adaptation of Eisner’s “The Spirit.”Things That Worked:The score was okay. It was pretty much Danny Elfman’s “Batman.” I think I heard the Batman Theme at least 5 times in it’s entirety. I guess that’s kinda cool. In a stupid way. There’s a misstep, though, when a key moment at the end is scored with what sounds like the Duracell chimes.He made all the pretty girls look really pretty. Except for maybe Jaime King. She looked like Galadriel tripped and faceplanted into a bedazzler. But Sarah Paulson, Eva Mendes, Scarlett Johannsen? Smokin hot. No question.There’s a headfoot. It’s kinda funky.Who knew a thespian of Louis Lombardi's unique talents could effectively play a headfoot? He gleans maybe 2 intentional laughs out of the script. That’s better than Samuel L. Jackson did.Arthur the Cat nails his role as a meowing cat.Things That Didn’t Work:Everything fucking else.This is not a movie that is so bad it’s good. This is a movie that veers towards that threshold, but is such a failure it can’t even achieve that level of incompetence. It's a limp dick being flogged for 90 minutes and having nothing but a rash to show for it. There isn’t a single 10 minute stretch of this movie that displays any sort of tonal coherence. Not a single performance seems to be in tune with any other performance, and those performances are sometimes out of step with themselves depending on which takes Miller is crazy gluing together. It’s ugly, it’s annoying, and it’s embarrassing.I’d tell you why the plot doesn’t work but I’ve already forgotten it. I’d highlight some of the particularly horrible parts, but aside from Spirit straightfacedly seducing a woman by quoting Elmer Fudd, anything Eva Mendes does onscreen, and Miller’s inexplicable need to shoehorn in Nazi iconography, I can’t discern individual moments of badness. It runs together like the heated contents of your local diner’s greasetrap. Samuel L. Jackson is trying, but the script is failing him utterly. Gabriel Macht is trying, but there’s nothing to him. I don’t think Scarlett Johannsen is really even trying, honestly.This is embarrassing because it lays bare the engine that propels Frank Miller, and it is an engine fueled by infantile stupidity. He put so much of his personality, his fetishes, his foibles, into every inch of the frame, and I was embarrassed at the resultant mess. It was like the socially awkward uber-nerd in drama class trying to be edgy and funny and quirky all at the same time in the same monologue up in front of the class, and stuttering, stammering and spitting all over himself in an increasingly annoying and loud act of desperate attention whoring. The movie is constantly begging the viewer to tell it “you’re cool.” “Look at me! Look at this ass! Look at these stiletto heels! Ho Boy look at all this Nazi stuff! Nazis! Look, I’m melting a kitty cat under a nazi flag! Here’s Hitler! I’m shooting the hero with a bunch of huge guns! Look at me look at me look at me!”Frank Miller is creatively bankrupt and artistically empty. This is a work so bad it calls all his previous good work into question. That’s not an overstatement, or fanboy overreaction. A movie this personal, this crammed full of unmistakable Millerisms, that fails this hard, makes one look back at all his other work and question whether the praise came from a place of severe misunderstanding on the critics’ part. If we’d known this was all there was behind Miller’s cranky glare, would we have judged him a success? Did we project a whole bunch of substance onto those works? Substance that this movie would have us believe Miller himself wouldn’t recognize if it shot him in the chest with 8 barrels?He can’t make a movie. He can’t write one, he can’t direct one. He can barely make comic books anymore. He saved up all his creative goodwill to do this movie. He had a bank full of chips after Sin City, and cashed them in to realize his vision of his friend’s world. This was his dream. And this is what he did with it. He had his chance, he got his stage, he fixed his spotlight, and he showed us nothing. Less than nothing, honestly, because nothing is understandable. I can wrap my head around the concept of nothing. But what he shone the light on is befuddling, stupid, inept, pointless and sad. I still don’t really get what any of this movie is supposed to do, what it was supposed to make me feel, how it was supposed to grab me. It has all the grip of a quadriplegic. It’s 90 excruciating, interminable minutes that go nowhere, and succeed at almost nothing. Its successes seem accidental. This movie makes the case that Frank Miller is a man who has spent all his life surrounded by creative people, and hasn’t learned a goddamn thing from any of them.Lasting Effects of This Movie:From now on, I will hear Dan Lauria’s line readings from this movie whenever I read All-Star Batman and Robin. Regardless of character. Joker. Robin. Black Canary. Doesn’t matter. They’re all Goddamned Dan Goddamned Lauria.That’s it.Fatboy RobertsAfternoons, 101.1 KUFO-FMfatboy@kufo.com http://www.cortandfatboy.com And for more perspective, here's "El Spirito" on "The Spirit":Listen. This is not the worst movie of all time. There are so many movies out there, so many bad ones, that to call THIS one the very worst is full blown bullshit. Worse than Battlefield Earth? Really? No, this movie is outrageously dumb, but I refuse to admit that people who enjoy stupid shit aren't gonna love this thing. Coming from a comics perspective, I was insulted by Miller's desecration of Eisner's material (especially considering his own words, that comic book films tend to succeed most when they stick closely to source material). And yes, every shot of the film feels like Miller was thinking, "Robert taught me how to do that!"It's a bad movie. Definitely. But it has enough moments to make you laugh, slap your forehead, let out squeals of "holy shit did that really happen" and "holy shit this movie is so hilariously awful." That crowd of moviegoer will love this thing. Worse than Gigli? Not a chance. This is a shitty movie for the shitty movie lover. But yes, if you're expecting more than that, you will be fantastically disappointed.If you use this, call me El Spirito. ***Miles

  7. Paul1963 says:

    The question is, is it better than the 1987 TV pilot with Sam J. Jones as the Spirit and Nana Visitor as Ellen Dolan? The one Eisner said made his toes curl?Well, maybe we can get someone else to do a better Spirit film a couple of years down the road. Someone who can do noir right.

    • Miles Vorkosigan says:

      I think it's apples vs. oranges bad. I didn't get to see the '87 version; my tv at home was dead, and although I could watch tv, they discharged me from the hospital the same day that the Spirit of '87 was on. As far as I know, they never reran it.

    • Mike Gold says:

      Damn. I forgot Nana Visitor was in it. I'm a big fan of hers, although her track record on comics-spawn isn't very good. She also starred in the Global Frequency pilot, which was great.

      • Brian K. Morris says:

        I still have my eye-scratched VHS of The Spirit telefilm and it (and star Sam J. Jones) has what the Millerized version seems to lack: heart and warmth. Also, Gary Walberg made a darned credible Dolan as did Laura Robinson as P'GelOne thing I'm getting from my comic-casual friends are recommendations for GOOD spirit stories. It seems they can't believe the source material could be as rotten as the film. This column should steer them right. :)

  8. Paul1963 says:

    Oh, yeah, on a related note:Eisner brought back the Octopus off and on for twelve years and never once showed us his face. And there's Sam Jackson glaring out at us from one of the nine zillion posters and the ads in all the DC comics this month. Well done, fellows, very well done indeed.

  9. Miles Vorkosigan says:

    And that was the first thing that annoyed me. Look, I love Sam, he's a great guy and a wonderful actor. But he's all wrong for this. What it seems to me that Frank tried to do is mash all twelve years of the strip into one story, skim off the cream, and put that on film. But he got all style and no real substance, and then he polluted the style by adding his own touches to it. And we've seen what the results are. I'll post Roger Ebert's review as soon as I see it.

  10. Miles Vorkosigan says:

    One star.That's all Roger gave it.***"The Spirit" is mannered to the point of madness. There is not a trace of human emotion in it. To call the characters cardboard is to insult a useful packing material. The movie is all style — style without substance, style whirling in a senseless void. The film's hero is an ex-cop reincarnated as an immortal enforcer; for all the personality he exhibits, we would welcome Elmer Fudd.The movie was written, directed and fabricated largely on computers by Frank Miller, whose "300" and "Sin City" showed a similar elevation of the graphic novel into fantastical style shows. But they had characters, stories, a sense of fun. "The Spirit" is all setups and posing, muscles and cleavage, hats and ruby lips, nasty wounds and snarly dialogue, and males and females who relate to one another like participants in a blood oath.The Spirit (Gabriel Macht) narrates his own story with all the introspection of a pro wrestler describing his packaging. The Octopus (Samuel L. Jackson) heroically overacts, devouring the scenery as if following instructions from Gladstone, the British prime minister who attributed his success to chewing each bite 32 times.The Spirit encounters a childhood girlfriend, Sand Saref (Eva Mendes), pronounced like the typographical attribute, who made good on her vow of blowing off Central City and making diamonds her best friend. The Octopus has an enigmatic collaborator named Silken Floss (Scarlett Johansson), pronounced like your dentist.These people come and go in a dank, desolate city, where always it's winter and no one's in love, and their duty is to engage in impossible combat with no outcome, because The Octopus and The Spirit apparently cannot slay each other, for reasons we know in a certainty approaching dread will be explained with a melodramatic, insane flashback. In one battle in a muddy pond, they pound each other with porcelain commodes and rusty anchors, and The Spirit hits The Octopus in the face as hard as he can 21 times. Then they get on with the movie.The Octopus later finds it necessary to bind The Spirit to a chair so that his body can be sliced into butcher's cuts and mailed to far-off ZIP codes. To supervise this task, he stands in front of a swastika, attired in full Nazi fetishwear, whether because he is a Nazi or just likes to dress up, I am not sure. A monocle appears in his eye. Since he doesn't wear it in any other scene, I assume it is in homage to Erich von Stroheim, who wasn't a Nazi but played one in the movies.The objective of Sand Saref is to obtain a precious vial containing the blood of Heracles or Hercules; she alternates freely between the Greek and Roman names. This blood will confer immortality. Fat lot of good it did for Heracles or Hercules. Still, maybe there's something to it. At one point, The Spirit takes three bullets in the forehead, leans forward and shakes them out. At another, he is skewered by a broadsword. Why, oh why, does he never die, he asks himself. And we ask it of him.I know I will be pilloried if I dare end this review without mentioning the name of the artist who created the original comic books. I would hate for that to happen. Will Eisner. ***I had a feeling that he'd react this way. I reacted this way, and I haven't even seen it.Miles

  11. Mike Gold says:

    At the risk of sounding redundant, Roger knows his classic (small c) comics creators, backwards and forwards. Always has.

    • Miles Vorkosigan says:

      Someone else, I don't remember who, said that there was nothing in this movie that couldn't have been improved by the recasting of one role; The Spirit himself. Had Bruce Campbell played him, the movie would have been a hundred times better. Still would have been shit, but at least it would've been a better, more enjoyable grade of shit.Everybody so far has panned it except for whichever whore wrote the reviews that they're using in the ads, and, oddly enough, Elvis Mitchell, who seems to think it was fun. I didn't think Mitchell liked anything.Miles

      • Mike Gold says:

        Elvis Mitchell is, at the least, a friend of comics people. I've had lunch with him, Denys Cowan, Dwayne McDuffie and/or MOTU on a few occasions, although not lately. Nice guy, fascinating conversationalist.

        • Miles Vorkosigan says:

          Hm. Well, he did seem to be willing to give it a fair chance. I guess you can get a rep as a movie hater if you watch too many crappy ones and get too vocal about it. I've only known maybe three movie critics; Ebert, Ron Wynn, and Don La Badie are the ones I've had the closest contact with, and Ron is the one I know best. If Elvis is a friend to comics folk, that's good enough for me. Harry Knowles finally saw The Spirit, along with his wife and a couple of dozen others. He said his dad, Jay, was furious about what had been done. One of the others with him loved it. No breakdown on who else thought what.I might take a chance on it if I had the money and the wheels. I don't. My Christmas money went to the electric company. Miles