NEW YORK — A cry is heard. A woman is in trouble. With a start, a masked hero runs though the city, hopping over rooftops and into the fray, his bright-red tie flapping a colorful rebuke to the stark darkness of the evening, a place where even the shadows have shadows. He stops. "My city screams," he says.
And somewhere, some joker in the back, watching the first trailer for "The Spirit," which premiered at New York Comic Con and can now be seen exclusively on MTVNews.com, is screaming too: "Who are you?" he cries.
In a world full of superheroes and comic crossovers, "The Spirit" is something of an unknown property to most modern fans, a hero unlike anything that came before — or since — insists director Frank Miller, who has made the job of bringing the iconic crime fighter to the big screen the "bulk of his professional life for the last couple years," he said.
So, for the uninitiated, just who is the Spirit?
"There's no way of telling you [about 'The Spirit'] without telling you a bit about [creator] Will Eisner and his time," Miller said. "He didn't really have any knowledge of Superman or Batman, because they were just being created too. When he was hired to do an adventure strip, he drew from sources like Zorro and the Shadow and the Scarlet Pimpernel."
Indeed, the Spirit is something of an anomaly among even other heroes, a true throwback to the stars of earlier fiction who stood for truth and justice without superpowers or super-gadgets. Forget cowls or full-body costumes: The Spirit is a vigilante who dispenses justice with a simple domino mask and blue business suit as his only cloaks of anonymity, who begins life as a crime fighter after he's presumed dead at the story's beginning.
Fans looking for more information on the alter ego of Detective Denny Colt best read up now, Miller cautioned, calling his adaptation less an origin story than it is a stand-alone adventure.
"[At the start of the film,] the Spirit has been patrolling lower Manhattan for three years, but he doesn't really know who he is or why he came back to life," Miller said of the flick's setup. "So there is [something] of an origin story, but mostly it's a story about his own self-discovery."
And that suits Eisner's vision just fine, since his "Spirit" stories were always first and foremost about adventure, even when they dabbled in genres as disparate as film noir, mystery, horror and romance.
It's that last genre that Miller admitted to having particular fun with in his big-screen story, calling the story of "The Spirit" the story of several love triangles — most prominently between Colt (Gabriel Macht), Sand Saref (Eva Mendes) and Dr. Ellen Dolan (Sarah Paulson).
"The bulk of the story is based on Sand Saref. Will Eisner and I shared two absolute passions," Miller cracked. "One was New York City and the other was beautiful women."
No kidding. In addition to Paulson and Mendes, the film also includes appearances by Jamie King, Paz Vega and Scarlett Johansson.
But above all the ladies, there is a love that keeps the Spirit rooted, which is his first-and-only true romance. And she's in every shot of the movie, Miller said: "One of his lovers is the city itself."
"The Spirit" is scheduled for release in 2009.
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