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“The Spirit” Producers Write Comics Arc

by  in Comic News Comment
“The Spirit” Producers Write Comics Arc
“The Spirit” #26 on sale in February

In February, Michael Uslan, most recognizable to the current generation of comics fans as the producer of every Batman feature film dating back to Tim Burton’s 1989 summer blockbuster, teams up with F.J. DeSanto to begin a three-issue arc on Will Eisner’s “The Spirit” to be published DC Comics.

Uslan, recently announced as a Guest of Honor for New York Comic Con 2009, also serves as a producer on “The Spirit,” directed by Frank Miller, while DeSanto is a co-producer on the movie, as well.

Titled “Choices,” the three-issue story beginning in “The Spirit” #26 develops original back-stories for three of Denny Colt’s most famous femme fatales — Silken Floss, Lorelei Rox and Plaster of Paris – as legendary writer and author Will Eisner, who created “The Spirit” in 1940, never truly established origins for the characters.

Uslan told CBR News he approached DC Executive Editor Dan DiDio and Senior Editor Joey Cavalieri about the possibility of producing a story arc for “The Spirit” that would be supportive of the film in so far as it would deal with the classic characters that appear in Miller’s screen adaptation.

“By doing so, the story arc helps bridge the comics and the movie,” explained Uslan.

DeSanto added, “I look at it as playing in this comic world of The Spirit. In my mind, you can separate the two out. If you see the movie, you’ll get something from this story but it doesn’t infringe on it and vice versa. We have a little more leeway in the comic, as opposed to the movie.”

Silken Floss, Lorelei and Plaster of Paris are played by Scarlett Johansson, Jaime King and Paz Vega respectively. The headlining (and head-turning) actresses alone inspired Uslan to pursue the script. “The movie is filled with the most beautiful, gorgeous, sexy women in Hollywood. And four of them are Silken Floss, Plaster of Paris, Lorelei and, of course Ellen Dolan,” he explained. “And these characters, beside Ellen Dolan, the femme fatales have not been used in a long, long time and as we went back and looked at Will’s original work, Silken Floss never had a back-story. She really never had anything in front of her. The first thing Scarlett did when she met Frank to discuss the role was say, ‘Silken has no origin. She has no back-story here, who is she? I need to know this.’ And she and Frank worked up their own back-story to help her character. So that was something that needed defining in the comics that could be a great bridge from the comics to the movie.”

Uslan & DeSanto’s arc focuses on the female characters spotlighted in Frank Miller’s “The Spirit” feature film

Uslan continued, “In the original Plaster of Paris story that Will did back in ’47, there were real hints that there was a prequel to this relationship whereby he knew Inspector Guillotine. And there was some kind of connection between The Spirit and Paris. And we wanted to explore that prequel to find out who she was and how she got involved with an international jewel thief. And became the person she became.

“And of course, there is Lorelei, a character who has always entranced me. And I use that word, specifically. She’s this modern day siren, who could lure west side truckers off the highway to their doom. And who is she? Is she supernatural? Is she a siren? Is she mythological? Is there something else to her? There was so much richness to that character, that needed to be explored, that hadn’t been explored since Will. So this was a golden opportunity. And the glue for all of these was the Octopus and he weaves his way throughout this story arc. It was just a fascinating way to tie it all together and make it a much more rich experience for people who read the comics, as well as see the movie.”

DeSanto said the way to deliver a re-imagining, or better yet **pre**-imagining, of an Eisner femme fatale was already demonstrated to perfection by Darwyn Cooke, during his run on 2006-2007 run on DC’s re-launch of “The Spirit.” “The best example of what we’re doing is Darwyn’s Sand Saref story that he ended his run on, which I think was amazing,” offered DeSanto. “It set the bar in terms of the best way of presenting Eisner’s characters in a new light.”

Cooke left the series he re-launched in 2006 with issue #12 earlier this year, a story that featured a re-telling of Sand Seref’s first encounter with Denny Colt.

Due to the characters’ having little or no history, scripting the arc proved not too difficult as there was plenty of “wiggle room.” That said, the situation also added to the pressure, as one doesn’t get to develop characters created by Eisner very often. And when one does, one doesn’t want to screw up. “How do you do this in such a way to justify it at a level worthy of the property and Eisner’s creation?” DeSanto remarked. “That was the trick and the balance. How do you make it respectful, while making it contemporary and interesting to a current audience and I think we’ve got that blend there. And hopefully, what people will find, is something that is part of The Spirit canon.”

Uslan & DeSanto’s arc focuses on the female characters spotlighted in Frank Miller’s “The Spirit” feature film

DeSanto said he and Uslan didn’t necessarily project what Johansson, King or Vega were doing on screen upon the comic book project, but admitted the two are undeniably tied. “It’s not so much that as it is knowing how that character is going to be presented in the film. And how do you do it in a way where the character exists in the current Spirit comic book universe without infringing on the movie?” explained DeSanto. “But in my mind, it was modernizing the Eisner characters to fit into the current universe but knowing how not to mess around with what’s in the movie and making it so, if you see the movie and read the comic, you can enhance the experience.”

Michaewl Uslan, who donated his more than 30,000-issue comic book collection to his alma mater Indiana University, notably wrote “The Shadow,” “Batman” and “Detective Comics” in the 1970s. But this is first-ever chance to write “The Spirit.” “It’s a pretty daunting and challenging task when you have to follow in the footsteps of your idol, the greatest graphic storyteller in history,” he said. “With Frank Miller, of course, being a close second. And Darwyn Cooke, you can’t get anything more intimating than that. Darwyn’s work was sensational. So F.J. and I sat down and we analyzed Will’s work and Darwyn’s work and knowing exactly what Frank was doing in the movie and how he was doing it. We were looking for a little bit more serious version of The Spirit but still with the sense of humor. But a little more serious, a little bit more Hitchcock, less cartoony.

“And with some really, really interesting and powerful characters, who are both layered and textured. We included the humor. We wanted all of Will’s signatures, like the cool logo. An underlying theme, making some sort of commentary on the society and we did that in each of our three stories. Making sure we had the right type of Spirit violence.”

Uslan & DeSanto’s are admirers of Darwyn Cooke’s run on “The Spirit,” now available in collected editions

Uslan loves The Spirit so much, he said it’s hard to pinpoint what he enjoys most about the character. “First off, he’s a Frank Capra figure come to life. It’s all about humanity,” Uslan explained. “It’s all about a guy who is the ultimate middle-class superhero. It’s about the guy who doesn’t have Bruce Wayne’s money, someone who can’t afford a Spirit mobile and has to use mass transit to get around the city. He is a guy who is fully aware of the absurdity of his situation. He knows he’s a real guy in a real city in a real world, trying to be some kind of comic-booky hero and it sounds cool and effective but he ends up getting the crap beat out of him, left and right.

“And the women are really attracted to him and he plays off of that. And he never knows from one case to another, if he is going to wind up dead or in bed at the end of the story.”

For DeSanto, he likes that The Spirit is a typical New Yorker, even though he’s from the fictitious Central City. “The most appealing aspect of The Spirit is that it’s never about a guy going on these crazy journeys or all over, it was about a guy who wanted to protect his neighborhood,” he said. “And I think being a New Yorker and having this affinity for Central City, I can relate to Will’s passion for this city and that love affair. He doesn’t have powers and he doesn’t have gadgets. He just has two fists and a really sharp intellect. It gets him into a lot of messes but it also gets him out of them and that’s what I love about him most.”

Uslan can’t believe the pages he has received so far from artist Justiniano (“52,” “Countdown to Mystery”). “This guy is talented beyond belief. He has a cinematic style. He has a style that evokes Eisner but is very contemporary,” gushed Uslan. “It’s a beautiful style geared to a more serious interpretation of The Spirit as opposed to a cartoony interpretation. I am just flipping out with what he is doing.”

Will Eisner’s work on “The Spirit” is available in numerous collected editions

And the new guy doing covers ain’t too bad either. “How exciting is that to have your covers done by Brian Bolland? I think Will would be very proud,” Uslan said.

With “The Spirit” coming to theaters across North America on Christmas Day, producer Michael Uslan has been in the holiday spirit for some time. “What Frank has done with the movie is he has created this Frank Miller/Will Eisner hybrid that completely captures the spirit of The Spirit of Will Eisner and has all of the humor and all of the femme fatales and all of the violence of the Eisner tone coupled with sensitivities of Frank Miller, which will make a 16-year-old, or a 29-year-old, or a 39-year-old who has never read a Spirit story in his life sit there and go, ‘Oh man, this is cool.’ We are all so excited. We can’t wait to share this with everybody.

“[The film] is creatively daring. It pushes the envelope. It looks unlike any movie ever seen before. And Frank had such a great palette of color to work with and technology that he just used to the max. And the performances he got from the actors were wonderful.”

For now, Uslan and DeSanto are on “The Spirit” for only three issues, but Uslan said he never likes to guess what the future will hold because you just never know. “We’ll take it one day at a time. I am going to be very interested to see how everybody reacts to our three-parter, which is going to be very different from the past dozen or so issues that have come before,” said Uslan, speaking of issues #14-25, written by Sergio Aagones and Mark Evanier. “We are hoping anyone who is fans of Will, fans of Frank, fans of Darwyn, will like what we’ve done. We’ve certainly gone at it with great love and affection for the character and the material.”

“The Spirit” 26 goes on sale in February from DC Comics.

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