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NEW YORK (Reuters) - A maniacal villain seeking immortality, a bevy of deadly beauties and snowy streetscapes under the watchful eye of a shadowy, masked hero: this must be a job for -- Frank Miller.
Miller, 51, an icon of the comic book world credited with bringing the genre to a wider audience, has returned to the big screen with his cinematic adaptation of the 1940s serial comic "The Spirit," about a crime fighter who comes back from the grave to protect the city he loves.
Miller won box office success with 2005's "Sin City," based on his graphic novel, which he co-directed with Robert Rodriguez; and director Zack Snyder's adaptation of his graphic novel version of the ancient battle of Thermopylae in "300."
With "The Spirit," starring Gabriel Macht as the hero pitted against Samuel Jackson as "the Octopus" and his sidekick played by Scarlett Johansson, Miller tackles a classic of the comic book world created by his long-time friend and mentor, Will Eisner, who died in 2005.
"It started with an argument," Miller told Reuters of his relationship with Eisner. "And he and I argued for 25 years. It was a loving argument -- it was a Bronx Jew versus an Irish Catholic."
Eisner helped create the comic book format with "The Spirit" in the 1940s, but he has added a few modern amenities -- such as a conspicuous cellphone -- to a tale with a film noir-influenced look.
"I also wanted New York City to look as good as it could, with the vintage cars, old buildings, sewer grates and men with hats," he said, tipping his own trademark fedora.
The Spirit finds his crime fighting complicated by his long-lost love, Sand Saref, played by Eva Mendes; his former fiance, Ellen, played by Sarah Paulson; and knife-wielding dancer Plaster of Paris, played by Paz Vega.
It was at the memorial for Eisner that Miller was first approached to turn the "The Spirit" into a feature film -- but it was a project he initially didn't want.
"I walked away for about three minutes, (but) at the doorway turned around and stopped and said 'No one else touches this.' From then on it was my project," he said.
Miller's "The Spirit" seeks to keep the blend of mysticism, crime drama and romance that characterized the original comic, with a fair dose of comedy to lighten the brutal fight sequences.
"If a guy can actually take a nine-foot (2.7-meter) lug wrench to his crotch, there's something funny about that," he says of one memorable scene. "At the same time it's very serious, when it gets serious."
Still, adapting a classic hero made famous by a legendary comic writer did not go over well among all the comic fans who have snapped up reprints of "The Spirit."
How to keep the aficionados happy while making a major motion picture?
"I just do a really good movie and drag them along. The comics fans split between the ones who are just genuinely skeptical and want it to go badly, and the much larger group who worry for me and hope that I don't screw it up," he said.
Editing by Michelle Nichols and Todd Eastham