Friday, April 9, 2010


Credits: Frank Miller (story), Todd McFarlane (art), Tom Orzechowski (letters), Steve Oliff & Olyoptics (colors)

Summary: In Gotham City, Batman fails to rescue an innocent man from the cybernetic device that’s imprisoned him. He traces the man’s dental records to New York, where several homeless have disappeared. In the alleys, he discovers Spawn, who is killing two men who were torturing the homeless. Batman attacks, but Spawn fights him off. Spawn investigates the missing homeless and learns that they’re the victims of “philanthropist” Margaret Love, who he once knew as Soviet agent Nadia Vladova. Soon, Love dupes Batman into fighting Spawn again. After a battle that leaves both disoriented, another cyborg arrives and stabs Batman in the heart. Spawn uses magic to save his life, and show Batman the truth about Margaret Love. The duo team up to stop Love’s ultimate solution to human greed, a nuclear assault. Spawn allows falling debris to kill Love, against Batman’s wishes. Spawn suggests the two part as friends. Batman responds by launching a batarang into his face.

Spawntinuity: As seen in Spawn #21, this issue does count in Spawn continuity. Oddly enough, the inside front cover labels the story a companion piece to “Dark Knight Returns.”

Not Approved By The Comics Code Authority: Spawn says “shit” for the first time. A future letter writer asks why Alan Moore used the phrase “ca-ca happens” in his issue if censorship wasn’t a problem. McFarlane’s response is that each guest writer set his own limits.

Review: Wizard Magazine, at the height of its days as the ultimate hype machine, used to make fun of this comic. Actually, for years, I can remember Wizard making cracks about this comic. I believe McFarlane himself even ran some negative letters about Spawn/Batman. Not only did I enjoy this comic as a teenager, but it also inspired me to buy the Spawn comics pack that included issues #12 and #13, the two issues that convinced me to become a regular reader. And, while I realize that people had ridiculous expectations for a Frank Miller Batman story at this time, I still don’t understand the ire this comic generated.

Did people hate it because Spawn discovers the real villain while Batman is duped? That’s understandable, but this is the comic that gives Spawn the top billing, so he’s going to have to do something important in the story. Plus, this was before the days of the infallible Grant Morrison Batman. It’s not as if Batman had any reason to doubt Margaret Love, and he was eager for a rematch with Spawn (a character he already viewed as a murderer) anyway. Were people upset that Spawn fought Batman to a standstill and later saved his life? Well, the story does establish that Spawn’s “cheating” with magic. I suppose the combination of Spawn saving Batman and leading him to the villain is too much, which is something I didn’t consider at fourteen. However, if you really wanted Frank Miller Batman, this issue is filled with pulpy Millerisms. I ate this up as a teen, and still think many of these lines are great. My only issue with the script itself is the trash talking between Spawn and Batman during their various fight scenes. I don’t know if this is intentional or not, but the characters sound like two teenage boys taunting one another during a pickup basketball game. It doesn’t sound right coming out of either character, and it doesn’t mesh with Miller’s gothic narration either.

Artistically, I considered this McFarlane’s best-looking comic at the time I read it, and that’s probably still true today. (This might be the last comic McFarlane penciled and inked entirely on his own. Greg Capullo becomes co-artist with Spawn after this crossover is done.) Helping McFarlane out are Steve Oliff’s excellent colors, which create unique shades of blue and green that still look striking today. While McFarlane does produce his strongest work, some of the pages are still wonky. Spawn’s mask comes on and off in-between panels without explanation, which just becomes distracting as the story goes on. McFarlane later defended this, saying that the mask’s disappearance was just a subtle indication that it’s a living organism. That may be, but it doesn’t explain the inconsistent designs on Batman’s chest emblem, or the cybernetic gloves he discovers at the start of the story and uses throughout the issue.

McFarlane chooses to draw Batman mostly as geometric shapes throughout the comic, rarely showing his face and often even ignoring his teeth. Miller did this trick a few times in DKR, but McFarlane goes for it on almost every page. At the time, I thought this was the coolest Batman I’d ever seen. Today, I wonder if McFarlane wasn’t at least partially motivated to save time by covering Batman in black. I still like the look, but it doesn’t need to be on virtually every page. McFarlane going even more stylized is certainly a contrast to Batman/Spawn, which had the audacity to actually show Spawn’s physique and Batman’s chin.

So, while McFarlane could be inconsistent, that wasn’t anything new. I could nitpick things, but I really think he took a rather large artistic step with this comic. And certainly the production values are terrific. I don’t think anyone chose to hate this comic for the art. I think the rancor came from a combination of impossibly high expectations of Miller, and the sense that Batman was getting “punked” in some way. If people thought that Miller was putting a zany sense of fun over the serious work of writing Batman this time…well, we all know what was in store for them. And, yeah, I still like this comic, regardless of what 1994 Wizard has to say about it.


Erik said...

I like this comic too. This is why it drives me nuts when people crap all over All-Star Batman...Miller has been writing a psychotic asshole Batman all along, but people just didn't notice it until now.

Jeff said...

In Dark Knight Returns he's a psychotic asshole because he's at the end of his career and gone nuts, which makes sense. I think people have a problem when Miller writes current-day Batman as a psychotic asshole because it's so far away from his depiction in Year One. Maybe a middle ground would be good? I personally think Miller has completely fallen off his rocker, but not just because of Batman. Exhibit A: The Spirit.

G. Kendall said...

ASBAR seems to be some kind of an intentional parody. I don't think he's quite at that point with Spawn/Batman. I think Year One is still his best Batman story.

Anonymous said...

I don't actually think Dark Knight Returns Batman seems all that psychotic. He's certainly hardboiled, but Batman's still got a lot of warmth, affection and nostalgia to his personality there, and he can be fairly amicable at times.

I did think the Batman of Spawn/Batman was a completely over the top, loony hardman though.
By the end of the thing, I couldn't help but feel that if I had to choose between the two, I'd sooner go for a drink with Spawn, who though he's a zombie, probably smells and kills people, could at least be quite reasonable and affable, while Batman just comes across as an intolerable prick.

Ace said...

I've only gotten around to catching up with the past three weeks worth of posts, but this past week I read an article on 4thLetter about this very issue. You say you don't understand why it mentions DKR at the start, but 4thLetter, I think, nails it.

Basically: it goes Year One, Spawn/Batman, Batman & Robin TBW, Dark Knight Returns - that's the Millerworld Batman chronology. Have a look at the article, it's explained better than that.

Anonymous said...

Actually the 4th letter article is wrong on one thing, Spawn/Batman takes place after All Star Batman (you can even tell by the costumes).

So it's:

Year One
All Star Batman

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