Written as a series pilot by Steven E. de Sousa (Die Hard, Commando, Bad Dreams, The Running Man, The Return of Captain Invincible, Street Fighter) and directed by Michael Schultz (Cooley High, Car Wash, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band, The Last Dragon, Krush Groove, Disorderlies) this was a try at turning the Will Eisner newspaper strip into something viewers could see every week.
This has been released by the Warner Archive, but for years it was on convention tables and a lost film of sorts. It aired at a time when comic books weren’t in movies and on TV all the time. Batman was still years away.
The show looks great! It’s as close as a low budget TV show can get to capturing Eisner. de Sousa told Den of Geek, “We did this three or four years before Dick Tracy, but we made some of the same exact choices — only first! Whenever we designed things like costumes and locations, they would be your basic Crayola box of colors. So there’s one blue, one red, and one green.”
The look of the comic showing up was no accident, as he also related “Will Eisner was one of the first artists to approach comics with a conscious cinematic look, starting with The Spirit. So, wherever it was possible, we totally did panel for panel some famous moments from the comic. When the Spirit first meets Dolan, that sequence was shot almost exactly like the scene in the original Eisner comic.”
Sam J. Jones makes a terrific Spirit and Nana Visitor feels like she is Ellen Dolan stepping out of the comic page. Despite its $2.5 million or less budget, it somehow works better — and is so much more fun — than the Frank Miller The Spirit movie.