March 14, 2011
Is this the awesomely fantastic first issue of a legendary series and character?! Weeeell, it's early Image Comics...
Linkara: Hello, and welcome to Atop the Fourth Wall, where bad comics burn. Today, we're gonna look at a "Spawn" comic–
(Suddenly, he is interrupted by the sound of the audience booing)
Linkara: (throwing up his arms defensively) Whoa, whoa! Take it easy, people, take it easy!
(Cut to a montage of shots of Spawn)
Linkara (v/o): Okay, there are a lot of fans of Spawn out there. I admit, I'm a very casual fan of the character, meaning I like his concept, I like his visual aesthetic. However, I admit, I've never actually read "Spawn" before, and that's kind of why I'm doing this. Back during Secret Origins Month, many people were asking me to take a look at some indie-created characters like Spawn. Fair enough, but Spawn isn't even twenty years old. I wanted to look at the origins of characters stretching back much older than that. The other reason why people want me to look at Spawn is that he's another character from early Image Comics. As we have stated many, many, many times, early Image sucks on toast – for most of it. For a lot of people, Spawn was different from the "Youngblood" style idiocy that we frequently saw.
(Cut to shots of Spider-Man as drawn by Todd McFarlane, Spawn's creator)
Linkara (v/o): And we can probably thank its creator for that: Todd McFarlane. McFarlane is an artist and writer whose mainstream work began at both Marvel and DC. I tend to describe his artwork as a bit chaotic but Gothic in its own way. His artwork is very easily recognized for the level of detail he puts on the things. It's probably best shown in this, the cover of the Spider-Man title he both wrote and drew, after leaving a previous Spider-Man book because he no longer wanted to "draw other people's stories". I've complained once or twice about the haphazard way some artists have drawn Spidey's webbing, and it can be traced back to McFarlane. It's not that I don't like detailed webbing; it looks very impressive. It's just that when the webbing is going in five different directions that Spidey didn't aim, it becomes a little excessive.
(Cut back to more shots of Spawn)
Linkara (v/o): You'll recall also that Image Comics began when several Marvel artists decided to break off and form their own company, and McFarlane was one of them. It's there he created Spawn, and there where we're looking. Because I haven't actually read "Spawn" before this, I'm going to take a different approach with this. I'm not going to give any details in this introduction on what I do know about Spawn. We're going to pretend this is 1992: "Spawn" just hit the rack, and we're walking into this blind. The question is whether or not this will hold up or even hold our interests.
Linkara: And yes, before anyone comments, I do own the Frank Miller-penned "Batman/Spawn" comic. We'll be getting to that later this year. In the meantime, let's dig into (holds up today's comic) "Spawn #1".
(AT4W title sequence plays; title card has Pat Benatar's "We Belong" playing in the background; cut to a closeup of the comic's cover)
Linkara (v/o): This cover is so lackluster. Don't get me wrong; it's well-drawn, but it's just Spawn posing. I'll give credit for the fact that he's in a more dynamic pose than, say, (a shot of the following pops up...) "Xena #1", but it doesn't help the fact that it's just a pinup of him. This is poster bait, not a comic book cover. Also, why the purple-silhouetted bat? Actually, it doesn't even look like a real bat, it looks like a bat cut out of paper with frayed edges everywhere.
(The comic proper begins)
Linkara (v/o): We open IN SPAAA– you know the rest.
Spawn: (narrating) I don't belong.
Linkara: (as Spawn) I don't belong to the light. I don't belong to the thunder. I don't belong in the sounds of the words we've both fallen under.
Spawn: (narrating) Not here. Not now. I have to get back there. The bet was rigged, he made me believe.
Linkara: (as Spawn) That gecko lied to me! (raises fist in the air) GEICO wasn't any better!
Spawn: (narrating) Now there's darkness in my soul.
Linkara: And darkness in the panels, as we can see.
Spawn: (narrating) I want to die... again. But I chose to come back. Why?
Linkara: (pointing to camera) You have five seconds to answer!
Linkara (v/o): We cut to a series of news reports providing a whole ton of exposition for us. I admit, it's a little high on the wordy side, but props for getting a lot of the backstory out of the way quickly for new readers. One question I do have, though, is, why the visuals of the news reporters are just copied and pasted on both sides. The expressions aren't different, the images aren't varied, it's just two of the same images next to each other. Why? Anyway, it tells the story of Lieutenant Colonel Al Simmons, who died in 1987 after he saved the life of the President.
Linkara: Well, already they've got it wrong; that was Booster Gold. (a shot of such is shown)
Linkara (v/o): He apparently disappeared from view after "the Hinckley Incident", and they mention Youngblood, since this is, yet again, early Image, where they were pretending that all their books take place in the same universe.
Spawn: (narrating) I remember there was someone. Someone to love. Someone to hate. And I was something.
Linkara: (as Spawn) I was purple and I was proud.
Spawn: (narrating) Then they turned on me. HE turned on me.
Linkara: (as Spawn, shaking his fist in the air) DAMN YOU, SKELETOR!
Linkara (v/o): Basically, what we get from this nine-panel structure for two pages is that he was dead and that someone betrayed him in his real life. After he died, a demonic being – most likely the Devil – made a deal with him so he could return to the woman he loved. This is the best kind of origin story for a superhero. It's very simple and can be explained in a few sentences. There are enough details not provided that they can be filled in later, there's a very human element to the character's motivation, and a viable storytelling engine for at least three different kinds of stories: romantic ones, where he tries to be with the woman again; revenge-based ones, where he attempts to find the guy who betrayed him in life; and potential for enemies based on the nature based on his resurrection – ergo, being brought back by a demon. Oh, and you want to know what the real kicker for a storytelling engine on top of all of that? His memory was taken as well.
Spawn: (narrating) If I can just find her, then I'll know what this is about. But... I can't even remember who she is. I feel I can do anything... anything at all with my power.
Linkara: (pretending to look at a watch, as Spawn) Except get my pizza in a reasonable amount of time. It's been THREE HOURS, for crying out loud!
Linkara (v/o): So, after Spawn finishes looking at his invisible watch, we have a two-page horizontal spread that needs to be turned on its side. Once again, it's not a bad image, but WHY?! Why must I turn it to its side?! Is it so much of a bother to condense this down to one page?! Also, the other unfortunate aspect of this image is that we see Spawn's cape trailing down over the end of the rooftop and wrapping around a pole. This basically means that when he walks away, there's going to be a comical moment where either his cape rips off or he trips. We cut to a crime scene, where a hit man was apparently thrown through a window from the 44th* floor of a building.
Mob Boss: And he wasn't killed by the fall?
Stooge: No, sir. It was his heart.
Mob Boss: Heart failure?
Stooge: Umm-- You might say that, sir. It was removed.
Mob Boss: Removed?
Stooge: Yes, sir. It was stuffed in his mouth.
(Linkara is seen wearing a bib and holding a knife and fork)
Linkara: Hey, sometimes a guy just gets really hungry. (places knife and fork over his own heart)
Linkara (v/o): He exposits that three other hit men in the last 48 hours have been killed, meaning that it's likely there's a vigilante on the loose. We then cut to Classic Superhero Cliche #37: a hero status as an ass-kicker is established via rescuing a woman either robbed or raped. A corollary of that cliche is the absolute moron who thinks he can take a guy who looks like this.
Assassin: I'm gonna carve me a super-- (Spawn grabs his throat) HKKKHH!
Linkara: (as the assassin, clutching his throat and making choking sounds, then stops) Hey, that actually did wonders for my throat. Thanks, man! (as Spawn, saluting) Live to serve, citizen.
Linkara (v/o): Nah, the guy gets tossed out a window. I wonder if that's gonna be Spawn's signature move? Spawn asks who's next, and of course, the moron parade continues.
Another moron: You crazy M.F., nobody jerks with me.
Linkara (v/o): And no, that wasn't me censoring myself; it really says "crazy M.F.".
Spawn: Fat boy. You're way out of your league.
Linkara (v/o): Aaaaand he creates a glowing green light that flies past them and explodes.
Linkara: (as Spawn) My powers include super strength and small firecrackers. (demonically, holding up his hand menacingly) TRULY I AM THE SPAWN OF SATAN!
Linkara (v/o): After the gang runs away, Spawn suddenly has some sort of weird migraine and a flash of visions, along with this lovely image...
Linkara: (as Spawn) Bubbles! Bubbles all around me!
Linkara (v/o): He's hit by more visions of the woman he's looking for and of his own funeral. Also, for some bizarre reason, there are spider webs covering everything. I guess Todd McFarlane hadn't quite gotten over not doing "Spider-Man" anymore. Then the vision of his funeral changes, and the crying woman he's been looking for turns into a snake demon thing!
Linkara: (shrugs) Well, some people dream about showing up to work naked, and some people dream about their wives becoming hideous snake demons. It happens.
Woman: (hugging Spawn) Hey-- Come on. It's okay. You're alright. It's all over now.
Linkara: (as Spawn, crying) And then everybody laughed at me and said I was a wiener and said my cape looked fakey and stupid!
Linkara (v/o): We once again check in on the newscasters, only now it's 1992 instead of 1987, and the names of their stations have changed. Really, it provides no real exposition except for three different types of newscasting: the first being actual news, the next one being an opinion piece about how the new vigilante is doing a good thing, and the last from a stereotypical fashion designer.
Fashion designer: I mean, let's get serious. A cape! With the Youngblood fashions being all the rage, why on Earth would anyone try to bring back such a gauche and totally useless accessory?
Linkara: (wearing a red cape) Because I don't care what anyone says – capes are cool!
Fashion designer: Now those spikes and chains he has, those are simply darling.
Linkara: (as fashion designer) That won't look dated at all in the next few years. Just you wait.
Linkara (v/o): As Spawn travels through the alleyways, he realizes that the woman he keeps seeing is his wife. In a neat little bit of writing, he realizes that's the only thing he can remember about her, not even the color of her eyes. Though, we need to ignore the fact that he keeps seeing the same image of her, so why doesn't he see her eyes? He thinks he becoming too caught up in the costume and needs to get it off. However, as he starts discarding parts of it, he looks at his own skin and realizes he's horribly burned. We cut to one last look at the cops, who speculate about things that aren't actually important. And then they make a donut joke, which is always comedy gold when it comes to cops. And so, our comic ends on a spiral on a spiral of laughter.
Narrator: Somewhere. In. Time.
(Cut to a clip of an episode of Doctor Who showing the TARDIS traveling through a vortex of time, then cut back to the comic again)
Mysterious creature [Violator]: HAHAHAHAHAHA... Simmons... if you think you've got problems now... I promise your troubles have just begun. HAHAHAHAHAHA...
Linkara: (also laughing) Oh, sometimes, you just gotta laugh.
Narrator: Next issue: the VIOLATOR!
Linkara: Okay, I think that's a good place to stop. (closes comic book and holds it up) This comic... does not suck. In fact, out of the titles that came out of Image when it first started, this is probably the one that I'm willing to give the most leeway to.
Linkara (v/o): The premise isn't bad at all, the artwork is pretty good for Image standards, and there are plenty of good moments. I hesitate, however, to call it "good". The brief story bits we have are good, but it also feels like there's too much padding. I can't help but feel this would have really benefited from an oversized issue. It's not a complete story, and it doesn't have a traditional story structure to it, meaning it just seems to end out of nowhere.
Linkara: So, yeah, the people who worried I was going to bash Spawn? That's not the case. But for fans wanting my boundless rage, we'll get back to "Spawn" later this year. Next week, though, it's time to check back in with everybody's favorite artist in the universe, Rob Liefeld! (puts down comic, gets up and leaves)
(End credits roll)
Todd McFarlane was also the creator of Venom. I only mention that because if I don't, several people will ask why I didn't mention it.
Someone should really do a count on that "Hero rescues woman in peril in their initial outing to also show they're a badass" cliche. Hell, even I'VE done it.
(Stinger: A shot of Spawn from the movie of the name is shown)
Linkara (v/o): Before anyone asks, yes, I've seen the Spawn movie, but it was long ago. All I remember is a pretty good costume effect and Martin Sheen in a beard.