For more, check out part 1 HERE!
Big in the ’90s- Spawn, Spawn, Spawn!:
-The biggest solo star in Image Comics history, and a near-superstar in his own right, was Spawn- Todd McFarlane’s contribution to Image. Spawn kind of got a “test-run” in Marvel when Todd wrote a Spider-Man issue featuring a scary-looking, brooding Morbius living in the sewers of New York City, being served by an army of deranged, mutated-looking hobos, and Todd took that idea right to Image. Spawn himself seems to be a combination of all the “Toyetic” things in McFarlane’s six-shooter- he swiped Venom’s costume and facial markings, threw on a big, flowing cape like Dr. Strange’s, and gave him pointy gloves, a dessicated face, and made him from HELLLLLLLLL! It’s the most edgelord-y, silly thing possible, but to ’90s teens, this was mature, awesome, and kewl.
-Spawn, at least, was one of the few major black heroes of the time, and had a kick-ass origin story: He was Al Simmons, a CIA soldier who was murdered by his own bosses and sent to Hell for his misdeeds on Earth- desperate to see his wife just one more time, he sold his soul to Malebolgia, a Lord of Hell, in order to win back time on Earth. Returning as a literal Hellspawn, Al was horrified to learn that five years had passed- his beloved wife had remarried to an old friend of his, having a daughter named Cyan. Despondent, Al fled to the alleys of New York City, ruling over an army of deformed homeless people because that’s just the darkest, most edgelord-y thing ever. There, he is is tormented by his Hellish guardian, a hideous clown who turns into the monstrous Violator- a constant “devil on the shoulder” source of dark comedy, and also physical threat. Spawn is also told that when he uses up all of his “Necroplasm” (which fuels his powers), he will return to Hell, and be expected to help lead their armies to storm the gates of Heaven.
-The comic was… dark. It was violent. Perversely hormorous at times (it tells a Christmas story, and on a panel mentioning Rudloph’s red nose, features Spawn bloodying a guy’s schnozz). Todd did his best to make every page as shaded in darkness as humanly possible. The villains were either putrid-looking deformed freaks or giant steroid monsters- Todd had started a toyline around the same time, and made everyone as “Toyetic” as possible. It was filled with dark, introspective narration, Spawn’s miserable self-flagellation, and shots of him brutalizing the street criminals in NYC. It was kind of made for ’90s males- insecure in their masculinity, they could revel in this miserable, mutated guy killing hapless gangsters and pedophiles or whatever.
Spawn Moves On:
- Spawn was actually a pretty big deal- the comic was a smash hit, though it experienced a sales slump around #25 and took a few years to recover. It was definitely Image’s most popular title during its first 5-6 years. Todd’s declared intention was to ensure that Spawn had the kind of name-value afforded heroes like Spider-Man and Batman- he said that he wanted it so “even your grandmother knows who Spawn is”. Spawn got a movie almost immediately, back when that was VERY rare for superheroes- it was, however, not very good, and largely unmemorable aside from John Leguizamo being funny as the Clown/Violator. There was a LOT of CGI that is now exceptionally dated and terrible- a warning against over-relying on it. He got his own HBO TV series, which featured a lot of blood, edgelord use of the word “fuck”, and enough nudity that I got in shit for watching it with my siblings when my mom came in and saw cartoon boobs, lol. The show was really a lot of nonsense, however, despite Keith David voicing the main character in his best “manly growl”.
-In the comics, Spawn frequently fights Violator, kills crooks, and deals with the mentorship of Cogliostro. He is hunted by the “Warrior Angel” Angela, fights the cyborg mob-enforcer Overt-Kill, and deals with crime-boss Jason Wynn. There’s a sense of Garth Ennis-style “Make the bad guys into perverse sickos, the kill them messily”, as Spawn fights pedos, the KKK, and other lowlifes, but he also fights the forces of Heaven & Hell alike. His costume slowly evolved during fights with the Redeemer, giving him new powers. He ultimately revealed his identity to his old friend Terry. Finally, he and Angela invade Hell- she dies fighting Malebolgia, but Spawn takes his head in return. Todd, once the hottest artist in the industry, largely stepped away from the book to manage his creative empire, stepping in only rarely.
-So I’ve only read the early Spawn stuff, but I’ve heard from friends of friends that the “Spawn invades Hell and they learn what this is all about” stuff is actually pretty good- take that for what you will. Spawn is tempted by evil after fighting Heaven’s agents for so long, but his willpower and interaction with the “Greenworld” (a more natural space between Heaven & Hell) softens him. The ’90s excess still seems to be around, but as Spawn is the only book other than Savage Dragon still being published by Image, and still makes Todd money, there’s obviously something there- a combination of marketing and giving the readers that are left what they want.
-With Malebolgia dead, Spawn learns that he has been given Hell’s throne by the demon Mammon- initially refusing, he is convinced to take it by Cogliostro and decides to turn Hell into paradise. However, Cog reveals his true identity- he is the biblical Cain, the first denizen of Hell, who played the long game! He wanted to take over Hell, and wanted to use a Hellspawn to do it- he dethrones Al, but gives him his human form back as a parting gift. Al regains the suit but remains weaker due to his human form, and Mammon becomes the new big villain- he’s a member of the Forgotten (an angelic order who took no sides between Heaven & Hell), and now the Forgotten hunt Al. He eventually gains a newer, more angelic suit after a thing in the Garden of Eden, then finds the Earth destroyed by the Four Horsemen, and battles both Satan AND God, destroying all of their armies- this stops Armageddon, but gets him killed by Satan & God, who then fight alone on Earth. Al returns to life with the power of one called “The Mother” and resurrects everyone with the knowledge of what happened, then closed the doors of Heaven, Hell and Earth- God & Satan were left trapped on their own little world.
-Al was given the option to return to human form again, but asked to remain a Hellspawn after learning that as a human, he’d beaten his wife- he figured he was always a monster, and deserved to be one. From there, the comic undergoes even more stories, as Mammon reappears, he allies with some girl named Nyx, and more. It turns out that his unborn daughter is meant to be the “Ultimate Hellspawn”, and Mammon revives her and bonds her with the Spawn uniform- called Morana, she prepares to consume Al & Wanda’s souls, but she is stopped by Cyan, who I guess can time travel now (I assume this makes more sense if you read all 300 issues and not just Wikipedia). Ultimately, Mammon & Morana are sealed away.
-Above all else, Spawn remains a fairly solid seller- it recent re-entered the Top 100 for the first time in ages, making it the longest-running independent comic book series of all time.
Next: A retrospective on Todd MacFarlane!