I sat down really excited to crack open another Spawn issue again, it’s been years and years since I’ve truly visited the character. I remember fondly as a kid pouring over images of the coolest looking super hero I’d ever seen; the cape, the chains, the black, white and red and the fact that this good guy was a general from hell itself?! Damn Spawn was cool. I don’t even think I read the books I bought then, just pined over the illustrations, like nothing I had ever seen before. I remember sneaking the issues in to show my friends at summer camp, hidden under my various Teen Titians and Superman issues, “did you seen that demon’s head explode, and when he used his chains to chop that other guy in half?” and all rendered in such awesome detail! I couldn’t get enough. I used to draw and play a crap ton of imaginary games as a kid, this would later go on to become an unhealthy obsession with video games, cartoons and graphic novels, all of which I would spend money on well after it was responsible to. If it hadn’t been for Dragon Ball Z and Spawn, I may not be that man today… thanks?
I quickly remembered just why it was that I hadn’t read Spawn in so long; Spawn is a hell of a bleak book, it always was and always has been. I could never quite put my finger on it but even when something directly dark wasn’t happening a feeling of hopelessness pervaded the comic that I couldn’t get past and it bothered me. I can recall The Crow making me feel the same way when I’d catch it on the TV when I was younger. I had forgotten exactly how that feeling went and I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised when I revisited Todd McFarlane’s work. See the thing was, when I was starting to actually read comics, really get into the stories, I was around the pre-teen age. I wanted the blood, the cursing, the gritty characters and the dismemberment, but I didn’t want to be an adult as much as I thought I did. Spawn was an adult comic, set in an adult world and with themes like rape, true evil, chaos and loneliness; this was not the “adult” stuff that I wanted.
But now, as a young adult I felt differently, I know the world McFarlane paints isn’t the real world. I know he paints a sort of Donovan Gray alternate reality, one that is bleak and morbid as hell but one that fits our characters, makes them more interesting. The world becomes a character itself and are both the adversary and constant companion of the characters populating it. For the first time I could really appreciate it all and it was really neat stuff. One panel in particular shows Spawn, but not even him, the silhouette of a man. It’s just his capes and chains, blowing ridiculously large off the tip of a spire of a gothic building. The art is heavily atmospheric and distorted all blurriness and warped and unnatural Grey-greens and black and orange; it looks dark as hell and nasty and devoid of life. Spawn looks more like a twisted natural occurrence than a man. I got the strangest chills, it wasn’t that this issue is particularly stellar or anything like that, it was just like seeing an old neighbor I used to know that would offer weird sage advice that I never fully grasped but who I always thought was cool and had the right idea. Seeing this panel was like seeing the guy again years later and getting to sit down and have a beer with him, two adults, like I’d finally made it... somewhere, and it felt really cool.
Speaking of the art this is Spawn done differently than the stuff I grew up with, McFarlane steps aside and focuses on his story and lets Szymon Kudranski and Fco Plascencia take on the illustrating and coloring. The result is a much heavier feeling Spawn that really makes you feel bogged down and despairing, like swimming through a wonderful and kind of evil stew. It’s all hazy reds and greens and greys and it’s all really great and very Spawn, albeit an even more mature one than I was used to. Some of the characters facially randomly appear ugly on and off and then go back to looking very proportional again which bothered me a bit but outside of that everything is fantastic.
The story is a pretty basic affair with some cool themes thrown in in which the new Hellspawn is approached by the Vatican who is vying for his endorsement after, as plain old Jim Downing, he’s tricked into pulling some rather extraordinary stunts on television. The idea that people see Jim, the new Hellspawn's, actions as possible being the work of god is gleefully ironic and a cool concept, as is the idea of having Jim in the public spotlight as Jim by day and out as a defunct general of hell fighting devils by night. McFarlane writes a moody and dank affair here, full of devil clowns and zombie wrist cutting girls and it’s all very Spawn. At the same time one that focuses more on characters and plot and atmosphere and it all feels new and yet familiar, but still very good. I’m glad I gave this character, this world, another chance.
Writer: Todd McFarlane
Artist: Szymon Kudranski
Colorist: Fco Plascencia
Publisher: Image Comics
Release Date: 4/3/13