I’ve noticed a trend: We do a post about the upcoming movie version of The Spirit, and commenters complain that we’re too negative about it. Is it a ploy to bury Frank Miller’s directing career, you ask? Why are we hating so much on a movie that we’ve not seen, and judging it on solely on the trailers and interviews and pre-release hype that we’re supposed to be excited about? Well, speaking solely for myself, the reason that I’m afraid of the Spirit movie is because of why I love the Spirit comics.
At its best, The Spirit newspaper strip was about so much more than crime fighters in masks and smart suits and femme fatales: It was all about groundbreaking look and storytelling that slowly but surely turned away from the genre stereotypes towards something that was both larger in scope and smaller in execution. It’s not just that the strips were good in and of themselves – although they are, or else they wouldn’t be worth reading more than half a century after they were created – but that there was an added thrill that came from watching Eisner and his studio creators stretching the boundaries and expectations of the entire medium on a weekly basis. As Alex has already mentioned, the splash pages brought influences from outside of comics to bear, redefining not only the way that comics could look, but the way that creators thought about the way that comics could look… but just as importantly as the visuals, the writing of the series evolved throughout the strip’s initial 12-year run, outgrowing its pulp origins to become something more Runyonesque and humanist; as the series went on, stories would center on characters as more than just stereotypes or plot devices but as individuals in their own right (This focus on the little guy continued in Eisner’s later work on books like The Dreamer, The Building and Invisible People).