the_spirit_002.jpg (Regular DHD readers know I don’t do geek. But frequent LA Weekly film reviewer and comic book expert Luke Y Thompson does. He spends all year waiting for Comic-Con and this time he’s covering it for me. Here’s his latest report.)

SPIRIT Panel
“Will Eisner and Frank Miller.” That’s all the SPIRIT panel moderator had to say to elicit loud cheers from a jam-packed Hall H crowd. While Hollywood-ites may recognize Miller’s name from SIN CITY, Eisner, despite being so iconic in the comic world that the annual comic-book awards are named after him, is probably less familiar. And no, he’s not Michael’s brother. Eisner is the creator of The Spirit, about a murdered detective who returns from the dead as a justice-seeking crimefighter and ladies’ man. He was also a close friend of Millers until the day he died; Miller characterizes their friendship as “a 25-year argument.” His voice quavering as he remembered his friend, and his face full of character lines straight out of one of his own drawings, Miller came to the table with a dark beverage likely containing alcohol, caffeine, or both. He told the crowd that when he was offered the chance to make a movie version of Eisner’s signature character, he dropped everything else he was doing, including several unfinished comic book projects.

Then we watched the current theatrical trailer of SPIRIT, full of various gorgeous babes (among them Scarlett Johansson, Eva Mendes, and Jaime King), Samuel L. Jackson in crazy outfits that include a samurai and a Nazi, and SIN CITY-esque black and white backdrops. Online, there has been much heated debate about the look of the film, with fans saying it looks nothing like Eisner’s work and everything like Miller’s. Here, there was no evidence of such controversy, as the audience yelled their approval. Miller did address the issue obliquely, though, saying that Eisner didn’t want an overly literal interpretation and would have been pleased to see Frank do it in his own style. Who’s to say, but since Miller knew the guy for a quarter-century, he probably knows best.

In the comics, arch-villain Octopus was only ever seen as a pair of gloves. For the movie, Miller needed more, saying the actor who played him “had to scare the crap out of everybody; to be big enough and mean enough to fill out those gloves.”

Right on cue, out comes Samuel L. Jackson, standing on his chair to show of his “BadMoFoKos!” T-shirt. Says Miller, of Sam the man: “He didn’t audition; he sent me body bags!” Every day on set, they decided that Octopus needed bigger and bigger guns, so eventually they started tying guns together to make bigger weapons; arms so huge they had to be held up with wires. “When he holds them, he looks like a Transformer robot,” said Miller. Of his director, Jackson says “He’s totally without ego, which is very different from most directors.” Jackson’s favorite action figure of himself is Mace Windu, because it comes in all sizes and varieties. He says the first movie he did that had toys based on it was JURASSIC PARK, but they didn’t make a figure of him.

A fan yells out “Nick Fury!” referencing Jackson’s post-credits cameo in IRON MAN. “When I was a kid, Nick Fury was a white guy!” the actor noted. “It’s so interesting that he finally evolved intom something that made sense to me. You too can grow up to be a black man!”

Miller and his producer say there’s something for everybody in the movie: guns for the guys, jewelry for the ladies. the women are specifically designed to represent popular male fantasy types: the good girl, the belly dancer, the dominatrix, etc. They say Scarlett Johansson shows a new comedic side.

We were shown a sequence in which Eva Mendes’ character flees by diving underwater, leading to what will likely become a catchphrase: “Shut up and bleed!” All the underwater stuff was faked with a new hi-tech camera that shoots in super slo-mo. “Filming underwater: the technical term for it is ‘a fucking nightmare'” says Miller. The fakery doesn’t quite look real yet, but it’s better than the fake swimming by Mickey Rourke in SIN CITY.

For the lead role, Miller was determined to cast an unknown, like Christopher Reeve was when he became Superman. “They make many good male actors in hollywood, but very few who can play heroes.” He chose Gabriel Macht after the actor improvised a scene in which he talks up the virtues of a woman to a friend right after having been severely beaten.

Finally, we got to watch a fight scene between Macht and Jackson in a sewage canal, with the two cartoonishly clobbering each other with bigger and more absurd weapons. Definitely a Miller scene rather than an Eisner, and as sure-fire a geek pleaser as it gets.