Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Spirit: I miss Will Eisner

Elsewhere: I reviewed Incognito #3 at Comics Bulletin. Also, I wrote about last week's Dollhouse at The Factual Opinion.

Links: It turns out that "Veronique Tanaka", the creator of the graphic novel Metronome, was fictional, with the actual author being Bryan Talbot. How about that. I was interested in that book before, but now I feel like I should try to seek it out.

I found this article by Paul Gravett, about Italian cartoonist Gianni DeLuca's adaptation of Hamlet, to be rather fascinating, with some incredible examples of the book's artwork and lots of examples of other works that use similar techniques.

A blog called Awesome Engine is doing a series of posts on Go Nagai's Violence Jack, and it's pretty interesting stuff. I don't think I've read anything by Nagai, but the examples here are pretty nuts, full of post-apocalyptic violence in the manner of Kazuo Umezu.

Online comics: Evan Dorkin has a short comic up at TCM's Lost Scenes site, imagining a bit from 2000 Maniacs, and the latest MySpace Dark Horse Presents has a comic by Farel Dalrymple. Good readin'.

Okay, here's some babble about a stupid movie:

The Spirit
Directed by Frank Miller

What was Frank Miller thinking? Actually, that's not the question, since it's pretty obvious that Miller was making this movie solely for himself; rather, we should ask why anybody would sink millions of dollars into his ridiculous vision. It obviously wasn't a good decision, since the movie bombed big-time, but that's something for the bean-counters to worry about; we can just bask in the resulting stupidity and try to figure out what the hell is going on.

The thing is, Miller is a terrible choice to adapt anything by Will Eisner. The former's comics are pretty much completely bereft of the latter's humanity; trying to create a mash-up of the two styles is near-impossible, and now we have the evidence to prove it. Miller has taken Eisner's characters and setting and removed most anything resembling Eisner's original creation, transporting them to the world of Sin City while trying to retain a distractingly broad sense of humor. It doesn't work at all, but it's a hell of a crazy thing to witness.

The tone of the movie is all over the place, veering from the grim-and-grittiness of The Dark Knight Returns (or, more appropriately, All-Star Batman and Robin) to over-the-top silliness, often in the same scene. Gabriel Macht, playing the title character, gives lots of Batman-esque voiceover narration (or just talks to the camera) about how Central City is his lover, and his mother, and his obsession, and, I dunno, his snuggly teddy bear. He's so serious about his mission to fight crime (which, other than a single mugger, seems to consist only of Samuel L. Jackson's Octopus), but then he'll start mugging and acting clumsy, in an apparent attempt to reference those Eisner-drawn images of the character shrugging or rolling his eyes. An early fight scene with Jackson sees him spit out lines like "I'm going to kill you all kinds of dead!" and spend thirty straight seconds repeatedly punching his adversary in the face, and then he gets whacked in the crotch by a giant wrench or bonked on the head with a toilet. It's downright whiplash-inducing.

Miller does try to cram in a lot of Eisner creations, including a bunch of sexy dames, but other than Eva Mendes as Sand Saref, most of them seem like window dressing. Sarah Paulson's Ellen Dolan is the good girl. Scarlett Johansson's Silken Floss is the bad girl, Jackson's sidekick. And beyond that, it's little more than cameos, with Jaime King playing Lorelai Rox as a sort of spectre of death rather than a siren-ish criminal, and Paz Vega nonsensically dancing around for one scene as Plaster of Paris (which is a terrible character name, even if Eisner came up with it). And don't forget Stana Katic as rookie cop Morgenstern, who manages to make a uniform and flak jacket look like a leather catsuit. They're all just there to look hot though. Mendes does try to make her performance fit the varying tone of the film, even though she's a pretty poor actress. And in an odd twist, a photocopy of her ass ends up being a pretty key prop. That was just one moment that made me wonder what the hell I was watching.

And hell, the plot itself is pretty bonkers, somehow mixing in mad science and mythology with the crime aspects of the original stories. The Spirit is now more of a superhero, with a regenerative healing ability that he shares with his nemesis, the Octopus, who is a mad scientist that gave him his powers and also shares them. And they're busy fighting over a vase containing the blood of Heracles, which will grant immortality. I guess this is Miller's attempt to do something a bit more comic-booky than his usual hardboiled violence? Like most of the movie, it really doesn't work.

Really, the only thing that does work is Samuel L. Jackson, who throws himself into his character, giving a strange, cartoony performance that seems to be the only thing actually keyed into Miller's "vision". He shouts and cackles like a madman, he changes into a series of ridiculous costumes, he obsesses over eggs for some reason, he violently murders his army of cloned henchmen (all played by Louis Lombardi) whenever he gets upset. It's hilarious to watch, but like the rest of the movie, it can be a bit much.

I suppose a word could be said about the look of the movie, but if you've seen any commercials, you know what to expect; it's basically Sin City, with possibly a bit more (virtual) urban backdrops. It can be pretty distracting, with the occasional cut to white-on-black silhouettes, or spot color highlighting the bright red of the Spirit's tie or the bright white of the soles of his sneakers (I don't know why that would be worth highlighting either). There are a few images that are meant to be homages to Eisner, like sewer grates or curved lampposts, but it's really all Miller, all the time.

So, I don't know, I really can't recommend this movie, at least not without a multitude of caveats. It's certainly a unique work, and the majority of the appeal is seeing what ridiculous, moronic thing Miller will do next. If that sounds like a good time to you, then by all means, see it. But don't expect it to be good.