TV Review: The Comic Book Greats: Episode 11 – Spotlight on Will Eisner (1992)

Released: 1992
Created by: Stan Lee
Directed by: Rick Stawinski
Music by: Rick Stawinski, Rob Stawinski
Cast: Stan Lee (host), Will Eisner

Excelsior Productions, Stabur Home Video, 50 Minutes

Review:

Well, this is the penultimate episode of The Comic Book Greats (omitting the “best of” compilation) and it has been a nice journey getting to this point. But looking at all the volumes and who is featured on each, I was really anticipating getting to this one, which sees Stan Lee sit down with the great Will Eisner.

When I started reviewing this series, all the episodes were available on YouTube. As I worked my way through them, I noticed that this one had been pulled down. But luckily, after being patient, someone else re-uploaded it. So that saved me a bunch of money from having to track down the original VHS tape and having to borrow a working VCR, as my last one died some time ago.

This episode was worth being patient for, though. Stan Lee and Will Eisner talked about a great deal of things and even had some really good, friendly debates about the aspects of storytelling and meaning in art as a whole.

Like most of the episodes, the first half was a sit down interview at a table. Then, about midway through, Stan and Will went to the art table and continued conversing as Eisner did some cool sketches, one of which was a damn good piece of his most famous creation, The Spirit.

This was another stellar episode and one of my favorite ones of the lot.

Next up is the final episode, which features Stan Lee sitting down with Whilce Portacio.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: other episodes in The Comic Book Greats video series.

Documentary Review: Comic Book Confidential (1988)

Release Date: September 10th, 1988 (Toronto Film Festival)
Directed by: Ron Mann
Written by: Charles Lippincott, Ron Mann
Music by: various
Cast: Jack Kirby, Stan Lee, Frank Miller, Sue Coe, Robert Crumb, Will Eisner, Al Feldstein, William M. Gaines, Harvey Kurtzman, Harvey Pekar

Sphinx Productions, Cinecom Pictures, 90 Minutes

Review:

This might be the best documentary on comic book history ever made, even if it is thirty years old and might feel a bit dated now.

I first found this as a kid around 1990 or so. A guy that used to work at my local video store gave me his personal copy to borrow and I had to copy it, which I did and then enjoyed for years until the tape warped to shit. I then got it again via a torrent site but finally, all these years later, I now own an actual copy of it.

I was inspired to watch this again, after checking out the commentary done by Ed Piskor and Jim Rugg on their Cartoonist Kayfabe channel on YouTube. Everyone that’s into comics should check them out, by the way. It’s one of my favorite channels to watch at the moment and I’ve thought about writing about it, as well as a few other channels I enjoy.

Anyway, I love everything about this documentary. All the interviews are pretty engaging and pull you in. It spends time on a bunch of comic book creators from the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s. Everyone gets their time to talk about their work and their creative style.

This also has great music sprinkled throughout and fantastic editing techniques that still look great and that more documentary filmmakers could benefit from using. Creatively, the execution of this documentary felt ahead of its time and honestly, that’s probably why it sucked me in when I was eleven years-old.

Comic Book Confidential also came out in a time when I was drawing my own comic books. This, along with The Comic Book Greats video series, which I’ve also been reviewing episode by episode, were great resources for me as a kid that was trying his hand at the comic book medium.

The highlights for me were seeing Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Will Eisner and Harvey Kurtzman talking about their craft. This also made me a fan of the work of Frank Miller, Harvey Pekar and Robert Crumb. It was also my introduction to Sue Coe, who a lot of my straightedge and vegan friends in my teen years were hardcore fans of.

Comic Book Confidential is, hands down, a must own or at the very least, a must see documentary for long-time fans of the comic book medium. Solid, through and through, and its also a fun and interesting experience.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: other comic book documentaries reviewed on this site: In Search of Steve Ditko, The Image Revolution and Chris Claremont’s X-Men just to name a few.

Film Review: The Spirit (2008)

Also known as: Will Eisner’s The Spirit (poster title)
Release Date: December 25th, 2018
Directed by: Frank Miller
Written by: Frank Miller
Based on: The Spirit by Will Eisner
Music by: David Newman
Cast: Gabriel Macht, Eva Mendes, Sarah Paulson, Dan Lauria, Paz Vega, Jaime King, Scarlett Johansson, Samuel L. Jackson

OddLot Entertainment, Lionsgate, 103 Minutes

Review:

“I’m gonna kill you all kinds of dead.” – The Spirit

I really wanted to like this. I really did. But alas, it was as bad as everyone has said. That doesn’t mean it’s all bad but even the positives couldn’t save it. I’ll explain.

To start, I really liked the visuals for the most part. It’s very similar in style to Sin City. In fact, it feels like a spinoff of it, even though it has no real connection to it, other than the visual style and the director, Frank Miller, who directed some of the scenes in Sin City. However, in the previous film, Miller also played third fiddle behind all-stars Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino.

The opening to this movie was really strong. The scenes of The Spirit running from rooftop to rooftop during the credits was fantastic. Initially, I also liked the score. It did, however, sound like it was trying really hard to channel the feel of Danny Elfman’s work on the 1989 Batman score.

That being said, the score did end up being a problem for me, though.

While it started off cloning Elfman, it was inconsistent throughout the picture. It would get jazzy at times, like it was trying to accent the noir look of the picture and then it seemed like it was mimicking Ennio Morricone’s spaghetti western scores, primarily those used in the Sergio Leone films of the ’60s. The score just had multiple personality disorder and none of it seemed wholly originally, it just seemed like homages to other things that don’t necessarily fit well together.

Then there is the plot itself. I do like the origin story of The Spirit and how it ties to the villain, The Octopus. But apart from that, everything else seemed overly stylized, ridiculously hokey and nothing was fluid. The film felt like a bunch of scenes sewn together without any regard for pacing or a consistent tone.

Humor was used a lot in this movie and most of it just doesn’t work. Everyone feels like a caricature and therefore, is lacking any real depth. Without depth, you don’t care about them, can’t relate to them and don’t even find them to be all that interesting. Sure, The Octopus changes his look in nearly every scene and he usually looks cool but when doesn’t Samuel Jackson look cool? Also, when doesn’t Scarlett Johansson look stunning? Here, she always looks great but she delivers her lines like she’s dead. I don’t blame her for that, I blame Miller’s script and his direction.

The only actor I actually liked in this was Dan Lauria. His role here felt tailor made for his personality. But I’ve always loved Lauria since The Wonder Years and I thought it was cool seeing him essentially play the Commissioner Gordon of this movie, even if he felt more like Harvey Bullock.

The Spirit lures you in with its credit sequence and its overall look but after about twenty minutes, you grow tired and bored of it. The humor is bizarre, the tone is confusing, the music is distracting and the actors deliver their lines like they’re in a film that should be lampooned on Mystery Science Theater 3000.

It’s no wonder why there was never a sequel to this, even if the ending leaves things open for one.

Rating: 4.75/10
Pairs well with: the Sin City and 300 films.