Wednesday, April 7, 2010


War Devil
Credits:  Doug Moench, Chuck Dixon, Alan Grant (writers), Klaus Janson (art), Klaus Janson & Steve Buccellato (colors), Todd Klein (letters)

Summary:  In 1590, on Roanoke Island, North Carolina, the colony mysteriously disappears.  The only clue is the word “Croatoan” which is carved into a tree.  Six years ago in Gotham City, Batman fails to stop Al Simmons from assassinating Simon Vesper, a businessman constructing the massive Gotham Tower.  Today, Spawn reads a headline announcing the completion of Gotham Tower.  He arrives in Gotham, sensing evil.  Meanwhile, Vesper rises from the grave.  Batman investigates Gotham Tower and discovers a dead body.  A pentagram and the word “Croatoan” are written in blood.  Spawn spots Batman, and assuming he’s a demon, picks a fight.  Spawn’s costume cuts off his power supply, allowing Batman to win the battle.  The two team up to stop Simon Vesper, whose selective blackout is creating a pentagram shape in the Gotham skyline.  He calls the dead to rise from their graves, promising to feast on 100,000 souls this time.  Spawn learns that Vesper is the demon Croatoan, who arranged for his own assassination six years earlier.  Croatoan wants Spawn’s soul as a bonus, but with Batman’s help, he is defeated. 

Spawntinuity:  This is DC’s contribution to the crossover, so it doesn’t count in Spawn continuity.  Both Batman/Spawn and Spawn/Batman are treated as the first meeting between the characters.  The disappearance of the Roanoke Island settlement is a true story, often described as America’s first mystery.

Review:  This crossover occasionally comes up on Chuck Dixon’s message board.  From memory, I’ve learned that all three Bat-writers of the era were assigned so that royalties could be shared, Alan Grant volunteered to read the entire run of Spawn and gave a hilarious recap of the series to his fellow writers, and Dixon is responsible for the deadpan “You can call me Al” joke.  The story is more intricate than anything McFarlane or his guest writers have attempted at this point, reading as you’d expect a Denny O’Neil-edited DC comic to read.  The connection to Roanoke Island is clever, there’s a little bit of detective work, and the one-shot manages to cram a lot of story into forty-eight pages.  While these guys obviously know how to write Batman, Spawn is a little out-of-focus.  The writers seem to think that Spawn is a Claremontian “big talk” character with a poetic soul, while McFarlane tends to write him as a relatively normal guy who’s just frustrated by the unreal circumstances that surround him.  He is given a small character arc, as he wonders at the beginning if he can find his “real face,” and then declares at the end that he’ll be a man like Batman, who wears his real face “without apology.”

I’ve heard rumors over the years that McFarlane didn’t like this crossover.  I don’t know if they’re true, but I wonder how McFarlane reacted to Janson’s artwork.  I think most artists would be happy to see a Klaus Janson rendition of their creation, and Janson’s gritty enough for the character, but it is odd to see Spawn drawn in such a “straight” style.  Janson is far from a dull artist, but he is the first penciler to draw Spawn without the excessive stylization.  The cape is still ridiculously large, but it’s no longer covering Spawn’s body, which allows, God forbid, a few shots of real anatomy.  Janson also avoids drawing (for much of the comic, at least) shadows over every object, weird angles, and odd page layouts.  If Spawn were a DC character, this is probably what his book would’ve looked like. 


wwk5d said...

I'll take Klaus Janson over Todd Mcfarlane any day.

Anonymous said...

I remember reading that all three writers worked out the plot and then drew names from a hat to decide who would write the beginning, middle and end.

Looking back, it's kind of interesting that both crossovers had original villains rather than the usual idea of teaming up the two biggest bad guys. You'd think that Violator and Joker would actually be a pretty natural combination.

G. Kendall said...

I think Joker and Violator were supposed to team up in the 2006 (?) Batman/Spawn crossover that never happened. It is odd that neither crossover went in that direction the first time.

Anonymous said...

I still have this comic, beaten and worn as it is.

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