Last Updated on January 12, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2337
AUTHOR: McFarlane, Todd; Carlton, Will; Gaiman, Neil; Grossberg, Andrew; Hine, David; Holguin, Brian; Miller, Frank; Moore, Alan; Morrison, Grant; Niles, Steve; Orzechowski, Tom; Simons, Julia
ARTIST: Todd McFarlane (illustrator); Tony Daniel (penciller); Angel Medina (penciller); Marc Silvestri (penciller); Greg Capullo (penciller and cover artist); Kevin Conrad (inker); Allen Martinez (inker); Danny Miki (inker); Victor Olazaba (inker); Dan Panosian (inker); Mark Pennington (inker); Billy Tan (inker); Art Thibert (inker); Todd Broeker (colorist); Brian Haberlin (colorist); Dan Kemp (colorist); Steve Oliff (colorist); Reuben Rude (colorist); J. D. Smith (colorist); Quinn Supplee (colorist); Roy Young (colorist); Tom Orzechowski (letterer); Brent Ashe (cover artist); Ashley Wood (cover artist)
PUBLISHER: Image Comics
FIRST SERIAL PUBLICATION: 1992-
FIRST BOOK PUBLICATION: 1995-2001
First conceived by a teenage Todd McFarlane while drawing a cover for a comics fanzine, Spawn made his official debut years later as one of the initial title characters of Image Comics. Founded by McFarlane and six other comics professionals as an alternative to the established major comic book publishers, Image Comics became a publishing sensation of the early to mid-1990’s, partly as a result of Spawn’s early success. Guest writers and artists were invited to work on the title, often top talent stolen from the major comic book houses, with such well-known writers as Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, and Dave Sim contributing to some of the early issues. The issues written by Gaiman and Sim, “Angela” and “Crossing Over” respectively, were omitted from Volume 1 of the Spawn Collection for copyright reasons. After the success of the first volume, five more volumes of Spawn Collection were released from 2005 to 2008. Spawn: Origins Collection, Volumes 1-12, were released from 2009 to 2011.
McFarlane created Spawn while he was in high school and introduced the character to the public in 1992. In the earliest issues of Spawn, former soldier Al Simmons comes to realize that after being killed, he made a deal with the devil to see his beloved wife, Wanda, one more time, and has thus been returned to Earth as a living, scarred, superpowered corpse. He has no solid recollection of how he was killed or how he returned, but over time, he slowly regains his memories in bits and pieces.
As the series progresses, Simmons, now known as Spawn, continues to adjust to his new existence. He discovers that every time he uses his powers, he shortens his new life span on Earth. If his power is completely used up, he will trigger Armageddon and become a general in the devil’s army. Although Spawn fights against his deal with the devil, he quickly learns that he must use his powers judiciously in order to stay on Earth.
The devil, Malebolgia, with the help of his minion Clown/Violator, constantly throws challenges and manipulations in Spawn’s way, putting him in situations in which he is forced to kill and thereby increase Malebolgia’s army. Throughout the series, Clown/Violator’s manipulation of Spawn is increasingly motivated by his desire to elevate his demon brethren to the same status as Spawn.
One of Clown/Violator’s manipulations involves Jason Wynn, the head of a secret government agency and the man who ordered Simmons’s death. Spawn’s actions have started to cause Wynn some credibility problems, and as these difficulties mount, Clown offers to help him if he will target Spawn and his family.
As Spawn is in the process of learning how to use his abilities, more is revealed about the war between God and the devil. Eventually, Spawn starts to interact directly with his best friend Terry, now married to Wanda, and the detectives Sam and Twitch. Due to this interaction, Spawn learns that Terry is not a traitor, as he had originally thought, and saves Terry’s life because of his love for Wanda. Terry and Spawn then unite to go after Jason Wynn.
Later, Sam and Twitch investigate Spawn’s involvement in what is happening in the city. This story line takes place at the same time that Spawn is trying to destroy Jason Wynn, whom he blames for his death as Al Simmons. After Twitch is shot, Spawn heals him, and because of Sam’s vow to do anything in exchange for saving Twitch’s life, the two are then forced to become Spawn’s servants. With their help, Spawn is able to defeat the murderous spirit of a pedophile whom he had killed previously. The detectives also begin to discover more of Spawn’s connection to their cases.
Later in the series, Spawn kills the monster that Malebolgia intends to use to start Armageddon prematurely, with the assistance of an angel and the elemental energy of Earth. Spawn then kills Malebolgia and is offered the throne of the netherworld in his place. He rejects the offer, electing to remain on Earth instead.
•Spawn: Origins Collection, Volume 1 (2009). Collects issues 1-6. Features the introduction of key players in the series, including Spawn, Malebolgia, and the Violator.
•Spawn: Origins Collection, Volume 2 (2009). Collects issues 7-8 and 11-14. Includes stories by Moore and Frank Miller.
•Spawn: Origins Collection, Volume 3 (2009). Collects issues 15-20. Features stories by Grant Morrison.
•Spawn: Origins Collection, Volume 4 (2010). Collects issues 21-26. Introduces new characters, such as the Curse and Tremor. Includes the Christmas issue.
•Spawn: Origins Collection, Volume 5 (2010). Collects issues 27-32. Spawn has a new costume and fights numerous villains, including the Redeemer.
•Spawn: Origins Collection, Volume 6 (2010). Collects issues 33-38. Terry Fitzgerald joins with Jason Wynn. Features stories about the Clown, the Freak, and Cy-Gor.
•Spawn: Origins Collection, Volume 7 (2010). Collects issues 39-44. Features stories about Cy-Gor, the Curse, and Sam and Twitch.
•Spawn: Origins Collection, Volume 8 (2010). Collects issues 45-50. Spawn uses worms to power his suit even though Cog warns him not to. He is sent back to Hell after his suit changes and he expends too much energy saving Terry.
•Spawn: Origins Collection, Volume 9 (2011). Collects issues 51-56. Spawn is tortured in Hell. Includes a crossover with The Savage Dragon.
•Spawn: Origins Collection, Volume 10 (2011). Collects issues 57-62. Cy-Gor finally catches up to Spawn, and a battle ensues.
•Spawn: Origins Collection, Volume 11 (2011). Collects issues 63-68. Spawn and Terry team up to combat Jason Wynn. Also features the return of the Freak.
•Spawn: Origins Collection, Volume 12 (2011). Collects issues 69-74. Sam and Twitch face their end unless Spawn can save them.
•Spawn, a.k.a. Al Simmons, is the protagonist, a muscular black man with a charred face. He wears a black, red, and white neural parasite costume, and has only fragmented memories and little to no control over his emotions and powers. Spawn must find his place in the world and decide whether or not to use his powers to fight crime.
•Clown, a.k.a. Violator, is usually portrayed as a short, obese clown. In his real form, he is a demon with buglike red eyes and razor-sharp claws. A minion of Malebolgia and a violent troublemaker, he tries to manipulate Spawn into following Malebolgia’s plans.
•Malebolgia, the psychological antagonist, is a potbellied yellowish-beige interpretation of the devil. He makes Faustian pacts with those who enter his realm and uses them to build an army of doomed souls. He manipulates Simmons into becoming Spawn, then puts challenges in Spawn’s way.
•Jason Wynn, the key human antagonist, is a barrel-chested middle-aged man with black hair and a trimmed beard. He acts as a high-ranking government official while making covert extragovernmental deals to benefit his goals. Wynn attempts to attack Spawn through his loved ones.
•Wanda Blake, the key supporting character, is a slim, attractive black woman. Simmons’s former wife, she is now married to Terry Fitzgerald, with whom she has a daughter, Cyan. She is the prize in Malebolgia’s Faustian pact with Simmons.
•Terry Fitzgerald, a supporting character, is a black man usually depicted with a goatee. He is married to Wanda and is father to Cyan. He is also Spawn’s best friend. Terry helps Spawn take down Jason Wynn’s corrupt security organization.
•Sam Burke, a detective, is an overweight white man with dark hair. He is sloppy, single, and a chain-smoker. His partner is Twitch Williams. During the series, he is forced to help Spawn.
•Twitch Williams, also a detective, is a short, skinny white man with a mustache and glasses. He is a family man and an expert marksman. As Sam Burke’s partner, he, too, helps Spawn.
Greg Capullo and McFarlane establish a visual consistency in the first twenty issues of Spawn. Although their styles are slightly different, they still complement each other well, partly because McFarlane does the inking over Capullo’s work. McFarlane, who was the sole illustrator for the first few issues, has a somewhat cartoonish style reminiscent of an action strip, even though he depicts some graphic violence. Capullo’s illustrations introduced a sense of realism, a trait later maintained by new penciller Angel Medina, whose solid grasp of human anatomy helps him draw realistic characters.
Captions are overused, describing actions that are already sufficiently displayed by the art. Word balloons are used in an experimental way to express sound effects, as when Sam Burke is sloppily eating his food; the sound effects are inside the word balloons, an atypical technique in comic books at that time. This experimental approach is evident in panel design as well, with splash pages and overlapping panels being common.
The use of bold colors against darker backgrounds keeps the coloring in the same palette, although it gets darker depending on the tone of the story. This coloring is also used in the volume covers featuring Spawn, which represent in an abstract way his experiences within the interior pages. The pages usually depict alleyways and the insides of buildings, mostly at nighttime, which makes the environment feel more insulated.
The main themes in Spawn are religion, power, and love. Religion plays the biggest part in the series, as theological ideas are almost constantly being explored, particularly with regard to what happens to a person after death. This religious theme is examined throughout the series.
Power is explored in both the supernatural and the human realms. The power of God and the devil is demonstrated in a supernatural war, one in which souls are the ammunition. The worship of, and quest for, power and money is personified by Jason Wynn. Power is also evident when the angels seem to hold back in the fight with the devil’s army. The lack of power is expressed several times, particularly when Terry gets cancer and Twitch gets shot.
Love, and its power to consume or transform a person, is another strong theme in the series. It is first displayed when Spawn is desperate to see his wife one more time. He is transformed when he saves Terry’s life to spare Wanda. Sam and Twitch showcase another kind of love, that of close friends and colleagues.
McFarlane’s personal distaste, at the time, for how Marvel Comics and DC Comics treated their creators can be read as the subtext of Spawn’s early issues. Marvel and DC might represent the two supernatural powers, God and Malebolgia, in the war of souls, with humans standing in the place of the creators.
Spawn is a typical Modern Age comic, especially with regard to its status as a creator-owned project, and it influenced attempts from well-established companies like DC Comics to create grimmer, more violent superhero titles like Gunfire (1994-1995). As the series developed, McFarlane became a better writer, at least in terms of consistency. While he moved away from direct involvement in the comics industry and his creation over time, he continues to control the plotting of the Spawn series.
The creation of Spawn paved the way for independent company Image Comics to compete with Marvel and DC. Its first issue sold 1.8 million copies, a record at the time for sales of an independent title. Spawn is the first American comic book series to be adapted into a mature-rated animated television series, and it created a new phenomenon in which readers became fans of the creator as much as the character. McFarlane used his growing fame to start a collectible-figure company featuring Spawn action figures, thereby gaining another source of revenue. As the series has aged, however, critical reception has changed; despite earning numerous awards in its first few years, it has not been nominated for any in its later incarnation.
- Spawn. Directed by Mark Dippé. New Line Cinema, 1997. This film adaptation stars Michael Jai White as Al Simmons/Spawn and John Leguizamo as Clown/Violator. The film differs from the novel in that plotlines and characters are removed to streamline the story and build to a climactic confrontation. McFarlane was involved with the production as executive producer. The theatrical release of this film was originally rated PG-13, but when it was released on home video, an additional R-rated version was distributed. The film signaled the peak of popularity for Spawn, which it ultimately could not maintain.
- Todd McFarlane’s Spawn. Directed by John Hays, et al. Home Box Office, 1997-1999. This series starred Keith David as Al Simmons/Spawn and Dominique Jennings as Wanda Blake. The series differs from the novel in its inclusion of additional characters and expanded story lines. McFarlane acted as an executive producer and writer. The series won Emmy Awards for Outstanding Achievement in Animation in 1998 and Outstanding Animated Program (for Programming More than One Hour) in 1999.
- Johns, Geoff, et al. Blackest Night (2010).
- Lapham, David, et al. The Spectre: Tales of the Unexpected (2007).
- Niles, Steve, et al. Simon Dark: What Simon Does (2008).
- Khoury, George. Image Comics: The Road to Independence. Raleigh, N.C.: TwoMorrows, 2007.
- Sim, Dave. “The Creator’s Bill of Rights: A Letter, or Two, from Dave Sim.” Ya Can’t Erase Ink, May 12-18, 2005. http://albert.nickerson.tripod.com/creatorsbillofrightssim3.html.
- Wein, Len. Gunfire, Issue 0. New York: DC Comics, 1994.
SpawnCritical Survey of Graphic Novels: Heroes & Superheroes, First Edition Bart H. Beaty Stephen Weiner 2012 Salem Press