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The Spirit

The Spirit
by yo go re

After Sin City and 300 struck it big, it seemed Frank Miller was golden in Hollywood. He had the clout to make pretty much whatever he wanted - unfortunately, what he wanted to make was The Spirit.

Who is... The Spirit? From his eerie headquarters under Wildwood Cemetery, masked criminologist Denny Colt - believed by many to be dead - secretly fights crime as The Spirit! From his home in Central City to the far-flung corners of the world and beyond, The Spirit attracts the most seductive and dangerous femmes fatale and wages a neverending war against streetwise crooks, criminal masterminds and otherworldly beings... with only quick wits, sharp humour and his two gloved fists.

The Spirit is a real classic, even if most people have never heard of him. The character was introduced in 1940, just two years behind Superman, so he's been around the block a few times. He's the creation of Will Eisner, one of the masters of the comicbook form, and is also a forebear of the Marvel-style hero, a normal guy thrown into weird circumstances. The Spirit, even at its worst, is visually innovative and rife with wild possibilities - and Frank Miller managed to capture precisely zero of that.

Frank Miller didn't make Will Eisner's The Spirit - he made Frank Miller's Will Eisner's The Spirit. The movie is Sin City-lite, using all the same visual tricks and the same drained palette. The Spirit has never been a black and white comic, but the movie was, and the toy follows suit. The use of blacks is done very well, with most things a matte black, saving the gloss for his gloves, belt and the soles of his shoes to keep him from being an indistinct mess, but it's still fundamentally wrong. At least his tie is a bright red, as it should be, and there are fine silver apps on his buckles.

The Spirit is played in the film by completely unknown actor Gabriel Macht. If you were hoping this was going to be your big break, Gabe, well, sorry for your luck. The figure has a decent enough likeness, hidden away beneath the brim of that fedora and behind the domino mask. The mask, incidentally, was a concession on Eisner's part: he was creating this police detective character, when the publisher called and asked if he wore a costume; Eisner quickly drew a mask on him and said sure, he wears a costume.

Mezco has delivered a nice sculpt, but like everything else about this figure, it suffers by being too true to the movie. The Spirit is, like Hellboy, a hero who gets beaten up with regularity, and so he's always got a rather rumpled look to him. The film version, however, seems meticulously tailored, with just a few slight wrinkles in his shirt. His tie shoots out to the side a la Hartigan, another symptom of how this movie is just Miller ripping off his own highlights, standing in his own shadow.

One thing we can say in the figure's favor is that the articulation is good - after Sand Saref, that was kind of up in the air. The head is a ball-and-socket joint, allowing you to twist Denny's head however you like, to give his pose some personality. The shoulders are balljoints, and they're aided by swivels in the middle of the biceps, with hinged elbows and swivel/hinge wrists below that. There's no sort of torso joint, just a swivel waist, but the hips are the post-hinge style that was so unique when ToyBiz introduced it and are so familiar now that Mattel uses it on everything. The thighs swivel and the knees are hinged, like you'd expect, but the ankles are swivels: they move side to side, but not up and down. Weird.

The Spirit has a few accessories, which I assume come from the film. Even if they don't, they're generic enough to suit this hero of the city: a crowbar and a manhole cover. The manhole cover is detailed differently on both sides, and light enough that the figure can hold it one-handed. The crowbar is appropriately simple, and fits in his right hand. The set includes a cream-colored tabby cat, becaue if there's one thing you can say about the Spirit, it's that he's constantly surrounded by pussy. And since he's not really a "gadget" guy, we get an alternate set of closed hands, perfect for punching out anyone who gets in his way.

Something that would have been very nice to see? Well, one of the features The Spirit comics are known for is a unique sort of graphic design that worked the character's name/title of the comic into the scenery. Some of the movie postes did a bit of this, but the toy lacks it. It would have been really awesome if we'd gotten some kind of clever display base or even a cardboard backdrop to duplicate that kind of thing. Remember the neat base that McFarlane Toys' Sin City Marv toy came with? A cutout of the character's shadow? Something like that, with "The Spirit" spelled out cleverly, would have been a big selling point.

Counting the non-removable hat, The Spirit stands just under 7" tall. So he's not quite in a 7" scale, and he's not quite in a 6" scale - too big for comic toys, too small for movie toys. Still, he's not so small that he'll look out of place with your other movie toys. Hell, stage your own Spirit/Hellboy crossover! Big Red likes kittens, too: see how much they have in common?

Will Eisner's The Spirit, as a comic, was all about innovation and things we'd never seen before - Frank Miller's The Spirit, as a movie, was only things we'd seen before, and that's why it fails. Despite Miller's insistence that he was going to remain true to the heart and soul of the material, it's like he'd never even looked at Eisner's work. This wasn't The Spirit, this was a different corner of Sin City, filled with all the pseudo-noir dialogue cliches that Miller loves so much. The figure turned out well (though I wish Mezco had done a blue repaint, even as a con exclusive), it's just that the movie was a waste of the property; in other words, the body is willing, but The Spirit is weak.

-- 06/28/09


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