Or – “A Milestone Achievement… Wait, That Was The OTHER Company. Let’s Call It An Anniversary, Instead.”
For all the abuse that I occasionally heap on Spawn, even I have to admit that the allure of the early issues is pretty obvious. The colors are bright, the art is entirely unlike anything seen in comics before (even Todd’s previous work for Marvel & DC) and the good vs. evil plot appeals on a very primal level. Thanks to the buying habits of my boss and the plenitude of early Image books, I’ve had a lot of time to look at and write copy for the first 25 issues of Spawn in recent months, and it’s given me a greater appreciation for what Todd was doing in those early years. Now, the book has officially done something that no other Image title has pulled off, hitting 200 issues and holding steady as the only regularly published original Image book, though Savage Dragon isn’t all that far behind. So what IS up with the Hellspawn these days?
Writer: Todd McFarlane/Robert Kirkman/Johathan David Goff
Artist: Todd McFarlane/Michale Golden/Szymaon Kudranski/Danny Miki/Jonathan Glapion
Cover Artist: Greg Capullo/David Finch/Jim Lee/Rob Liefeld/Todd McFarland/Marc Silvestri/Ashley Wood
Letterer: Tom Orzechowski
Coloris: FCO Plascencia
Publisher: Image Comics
Previously, on Spawn: Al Simmons was, by all accounts, a conflicted man. A vicious, amoral killer to some, yet still a devoted husband and father, he even made a deal with a literal lord of hades to return to Earth and protect his family. As with most deals with most devils, it goes sour, leaving him a freakish mess in a red-and-black costume, cursed to wander back alleys and fight with creatures like Malebolgia and the Violator. He eventually found himself the ruler of hell, and his curse consumed him to the point where he nearly killed the very family that made him come back in the first place, and Al finally killed himself to save innocents. Enter Jim Downing… Awakening from a mysterious coma, Jim finds himself possessed of the necroplasmic powers that Al fought so hard to destroy, and has been caught up in the same games of cosmic deceit and death. Worst of all, it seems that Al isn’t dead at all, as his descent after his “suicide” led him to become bonded to another, more powerful Spawny-suit and to return as the infinitely powerful and flat-out evil Omega Spawn. Now, Jim has been confronted by The Clown (Violator’s extremely disturbing psuedo-human form) and The Freak (a murderous psychopath who clearly isn’t exactly what he seems) and is being forced to choose between pure evil and pure, unadulterated evil. So, his choice is “Or Death?”
We open with a flashback sequence, as The Clown expositions his way through an explanation of what happened to Al after he blew his head off, seemingly killing both himself and the Spawn suit. His soul was sent back to Hell, and a chunk of him was somehow bonded to another suit, amplified into greater naughtiness, and sent out as Omega Spawn. The story isn’t clear on one point for me, though, implying that this is the first Omega Spawn while characters talk as though they already know what an Omega can and can’t do. Clown ends by wondering what happened to THE REST of Simmons soul, which I think may be our MacGuffin. The story shifts into the present day (skipping over the as-yet-incomplete Image United crossover in so doing) as Jim Downing considers whether he belives the disgusting Clown or the equally disgusting Freak has the truth about what is happening to and around him. A fight ensues, as Freak reveals that Omega Spawn is working with/for him, and Spawn is knocked out, while Violator uses the remainder of his dwindling power to battle the Omega. There is a LOT of dialogue in this issue, packing each panel with musings on good and evil and explanations of what is going on and super-villain soliloquies. I find myself both hyper-aware of and mostly cool with this, though, which may be the biases of 1993 talking, as I think part of my didn’t expect a Spawn book to have a lot of writing in it. (This, by the way, is my prejudice, and not a snide comment on this issue.)
Jim ends up in his mind, conversing with someone unseen, until the shadowy green personage steps forth and reveals itself to be (I think)the missing chunks of Al Simmons. In the real world, Violator continues fighting Omega Spawn, heavily outgunned, when Jim’s costume rises up off his body like a ghost to attack. I will say this: The art in this section is pretty amazing, double page spreads of zappy kablammicus and such, with a particularly beautiful shot of Spawn’s empty costumerising up and blasting Omega Spawn innaface with green energies. (Green is the color of evil, apparently, as well as the color of the leaves and the not-easy-being shade.) With the big threat out of the way, Clown attacks The Freak, only to find that Freak is a long-missing member of Spawn’s Rogue’s Gallery (one who has been presumed dead for nearly 100 issues, I think.) Clown is quickly outsmarted, and The Freak takes his leave, while Jim and Al have a long, long LOOOONG conversation about what it is that makes Jim special. Al makes like Yoda, all cryptic expectations and warnings, then leaves, which may or may not coincide with the defeat of Omega Spawn by Jim’s pants. When he awakens, the Clown is the only one standing, and Clowny & Spawny (attorneys at law) set out into the night with a new, cryptic mission. The book’s new artist debuts in the epilogue, and I have to say that I kind of like his moody work, resembling David Lloyd’s art in many ways.
So, what’s the overall verdict from a non-fan who hasn’t been reading in probably 150 issues or more? Not bad, actually. McFarlane seems to be handling the majority of the figure work in the main story (although three other artists are credits with breakdowns or assistance alongside him) and I found the reveal that the minor villain was actually Malebolgia to be kind of neat, even as I wonder how it all works, given that Mal and The Freak seemed to exist simultaneously earlier in the book’s run. The end of the psychic conversation between old Spawn and new Spawn did get mired down in excessive dialogue and the mystery of what in the world Al Simmons really wants Jim to do was pretty soundly beaten into the ground by the end. Still, it’s a nearly 60 page comics for $3.99, it was accessible for me without a lot of backstory or explanation, the art was interesting and clean, and even the parts of the book where the wheels threatened to come off were better than what my condescending hipster brain wants to snottily claim Spawn is about. I’m probably not going to pick it up on a monthly basis because of this issue, but I don’t feel at all like my four bucks was wasted. Spawn #200 clears up a few points, resets the players for the next big arc, and calls on all of it’s 18 years (has it REALLY been that long?) of history to deliver a pretty damn good slam-bang thrill-ride issue. The sight of the hero’s costume rising up to fight infinite evil with a “SKREEE!” brought a smile to my face, causing Spawn #200 to earn a very respectable 3.5 out of 5 stars overall. I have to say the issue was a lot more enjoyable than I might have expected…
Faithful Spoilerite Question Of The Day: Where were YOU 18 years ago when the Hellspawn first reared it’s head?