12.30.2008

Just saw Frank Miller's THE SPIRIT at the movies.

As a comics fan, I'd be remiss if I didn't go see The Spirit, Frank Miller's film adaptation of the influential series by legend Will Eisner - I was there. Of course I realize the film has not performed quite as anticipated and hasn't been met with glowing reviews.

An industry guy (even if only self proclaimed) I couldn't help but separate the comics industry references from the story itself. This seems to be the thing to do in Hollywood, ever since the Spider-Man movie of 2002: to affectionately name minor characters or small locales in comics-related films after comics industry people (even TV's Smallville named a small bridge in the first season, Loeb Bridge after Jeff Loeb as his comics series, Superman for All Seasons was a big influence on the TV show's take on the early life of Clark Kent).

The Spirit contains several insider references, and a surprise industry cameo - and I'm not talking about Stan Lee. The first comics industry reference is the appearance of Frank Miller himself, cameoing as a beat cop, Liebowitz. It took me a minute, but then a local fence played by actor Richard Portnow, was named Donenfeld. And those two were two of the biggest names comics history: Harry Donenfeld and Jack Liebowitz.

Now, if you've read one of my favorites novels, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon or the brilliant non-fiction book about the history of American comics, Men of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters and the Birth of the Comic Book by Gerard Jones, as I have, you'd know these two names intimately.

Donenfeld and Liebowitz are the historic partners of National Allied Publications (later DC Comics), which famously bought the rights to Superman from Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster for a pittance, as was standard at the time, but in this case - they made millions and built an empire. In The Spirit movie they were a schluby cop and a mover of stolen goods... interesting to say the least.

My favorite cameo of the film, aside from Miller himself, was the appearance of current President of DC Comics, Paul Levitz. I've met him a few times, he's a hell of a nice guy and does a great job at DC (he's been there over 20 years). I guess this cameo was a way of him blessing the project (I think his one line is a Superman sort of joke, "You'll believe a man can't fly," or something like that at a point in the film when the Spirit gets caught by his trench coat on a building's gargoyle horn). I thought the cameo was great, as Levitz is not the historical showman that Stan Lee is (nor does he try to be), but his small appearance in The Spirit was noticed by this comics fan, I mean insider.

There was also, of course, in the last scene, the delivery truck that Silken Floss (Scarlett Johansson) drives away in, clearly labeled as... Ditko's (referring to Steve Ditko, legendary co-creator of Spider-Man along with Stan Lee and legendary reclusive Marvel and later DC Comics artist. Little references thrown here and there, a standard place in Hollywood script writing these days.

I realize this isn't much of a movie review, although I never claimed it was going to be. This was more of an observational post about a comics-related movie. Maybe I'll come back and post about the name dropping in The Dark Knight, Iron-Man, and other recent comic book films... but that's for another day.

What did I think of the movie? I liked it but thought it was just ok. I wished I liked it more. I saw a hell of a lot of Sin City in there. And there was plenty of other things to talk about, but this was the angle I chose to discuss. It is what stuck out to me the most, so there it is. I also realized once again, what an influence Eisner was on Miller. In that sense I thought it was nice that he handled the direction of the film.


Happy New Year everyone! Here is to wishing that 2009 is an amazing one.

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