Showtime- Part One
Credits: Tom Orzechowski & Andrew Grossberg (story), Greg Capullo (pencils), Mark Pennington (inks), Tom Orzechowski (letters and editor), Steve Oliff & Olyoptics (colors)
Summary: Members of the mystic Overlap are studying the effects of atomic energy on Hell-Creatures. A subliminal message is implanted within a Ukrainian atomic scientist attending a seminar at Columbia. He’ll detonate an atomic bomb when Spawn is nearby. Harry Houdini, an unpopular agent of the Overlap, is assigned the case with the hopes he’ll also be wiped out. Meanwhile, Porsche MacNeill, a young electronics expert, is detonating bombs in his neighborhood, hoping to scare off the local homeless. He accidently bombs Spawn while he’s asleep. Spawn chases him but is interrupted by Harry Houdini, who promises to teach him about his powers. After Houdini lectures Spawn, another bomb detonates. Houdini teams up with Spawn to stop Porsche.
Spawntinuity: The Overlap is described as a “reality that intersects all planes of existence” and the birthplace of magic. It’s also trademarked by Andrew Grossberg, so it’s not an idea that sticks around Spawn continuity. Houdini teaches Spawn how to draw magic from his costume. He asks Spawn to summon a marble with the costume’s power, leading Spawn to accidentally create a marble statue. I don’t think Spawn’s ability to create inanimate objects with his costume shows up again. If Spawn really could draw magic from his costume, that would seem like an easy way to avoid going to Hell after his own powers run out.
Spawn #19 might be the next chronological issue, but it was released after issues #21-#24 were already published. McFarlane skipped issues #19 and #20 and went straight to #21 after finishing the Spawn/Batman crossover. He only offered a vague explanation in issue #21, but the rumor at the time was that Diamond changed their policy on late books, leading McFarlane to cancel all orders on the already late #19 and #20 in order to avoid making them returnable. I was tempted to review the comics in the order they were released, but it seemed unnecessarily confusing. The actual release order goes Spawn #1-#18, #21-#24, #19, #25, #20, then #26.
The Big Names: Flint Henry draws a pin-up, mocking Todd McFarlane’s inability to count.
Spawn Stuff: The first wave of Spawn action figures is announced. McFarlane manufactured them himself under the brand “Todd Toys” and I believe they were the first action figures to be made of any Image characters. They did look very impressive at the time, but as Mike Sterling has pointed out, they look rather meek when compared to modern action figures (which owe a lot to McFarlane’s continued efforts to essentially make them slightly articulated models).
Review: I don’t think Tom Orzechowski has too many writing credits, but he did write a few Classic X-Men backups before this fill-in run (his Nightcrawler story was great). Plus, he went on to write a Harry Houdini miniseries with Andrew Grossberg. I don’t know if this incarnation of Houdini or the Overlap ever appeared before this comic, but the story gives them a credible introduction even if the issue feels a little crowded. This is certainly the opposite of decompression. McFarlane could occasionally go overboard with the narrative captions, but he never produced a Spawn issue that took so long to read. This isn’t a complaint; it’s just surprising to read a Spawn story that feels like a Jim Shooter-era Marvel comic. At the very least, Orzechowski and Grossberg have a natural writing style, and Orzechowski’s lettering always makes giant chunks of text look good.
The story so far has little to do with Spawn, but instead plays off the potential strangeness a being from Hell could attract while on Earth. There is an effort to connect Spawn’s mercenary past with a Russian scientist, and to bring in Terry Fitzgerald as a government agent, so it doesn’t feel as if it’s a totally random story shoved into Spawn. I like the portrayal of Houdini as an arrogant scoundrel who actually did know magic, and his condescending interactions with Spawn are fun. McFarlane didn’t seem to push his guest writers into following a specific formula, which enabled them to go places we wouldn’t normally see in the series.