Credits: Todd McFarlane (story), Neil Gaiman (story assist, uncredited), Todd McFarlane & Greg Capullo (art), Tom Orzechowski (copy editor & letterer), Steve Oliff & Olyoptics (colors)
Summary: Fred Barnett’s adopted daughter is returned to foster care after he is no longer able to provide for her. One of his friends is a homeless associate of Spawn’s. Fred asks Spawn for help, but he scoffs at the idea of creating money. Cagliostro visits Spawn and reviews his current predicament, as Malebolgia speaks to his followers in Hell. Suddenly, Spawn is transported to Heaven, where the angel Gabrielle asks questions about his encounter with Angela. She returns him to the alleys after they drink wine and talk. Later, Spawn learns that Fred committed suicide.
Spawntinuity: Cagliostro (referred to as “the Count” for most of the issue) returns for the first time since #9. His giddy personality is gone, as he now does what he’ll do for the next hundred issues -- drop ominous hints about a future apocalypse and tease Spawn about a possible “better way.” Gabrielle claims that Heaven is a “dimensional umbrella,” and Cagliostro says that Heaven is kept in different time continuums. Before Spawn learns about Fred’s fate, he boasts to his friends that Violator actually kept his word and returned his powers after Violator #3.
Spawn vs. Lawyers: Neil Gaiman wrote at least three pages of this issue (it has to be the Spawn/Gabrielle scene). Gaiman says the material came from a partial script McFarlane used, and as a result of his lawsuit, McFarlane apparently has to credit Gaiman as co-writer whenever this story is reprinted.
Review: One part human-interest story, one part origin recap, and one part tease for the Angela miniseries. At least it’s not another toy commercial. McFarlane’s verbose narration has now turned its sights on the horrors of greed, in an issue later cited in a lawsuit against him for stealing intellectual property. As puffed up as Fred’s story is (his wife, who apparently couldn’t be bothered with life insurance, is dead and he hasn’t found work in a year), McFarlane avoids some of the clichés in his monologue. As the narration reminds us, we’re all taught that money is evil and greed is destructive, yet lack of this “evil” substance prevents Fred from caring for his adoptive daughter. The state doesn’t care about how much he loves her while the girl lives in a rodent-infested hovel. Spawn’s response to a request to create money is humorous, as he points out that he’s homeless too and wouldn’t be in the alleys if he knew how to make money. Spawn’s dismissal of Fred is very harsh, though, and despite the final page splash of him brooding, he never learns anything from this episode. Spawn goes on to treat his homeless friends poorly, and eventually shuts himself off from society completely. This might’ve been a long-form character arc on McFarlane’s part, but it really only succeeded in making Spawn more unlikable.
Since McFarlane decided not to do an action piece this issue, there’s some space to fill. Once again, “every issue is someone’s first,” so we have another recap of Spawn’s origin. McFarlane tries to add a new angle to it by presenting it from Malebolgia’s point of view, as he brags to his followers about how badly he’s screwed over the latest Spawn. Picking up on Gaiman’s previous work, the story reiterates that if Spawn isn’t successfully trained on Earth, he’ll become food for Malebolgia’s servants in Hell. Through Malebolgia, McFarlane lays out the four options before Spawn, although I can’t tell the difference between a few of them. One is to do nothing, although his powers will eventually fade and he’ll return to Hell. The second is to become a hero, which will force him to act on his instincts and send more souls to Hell. The third is to “choose the path of darkness,” which will send deserving souls to Hell. The fourth is to “despair, and perish through carelessness or desire.” That’s virtually identical to the first option, and I have no idea how options two or three are supposed to be different (I guess the third option is to become an outright villain, which would perhaps result in good and bad people dying). Why exactly Malebolgia wants Spawn to send him souls is a little unclear, since these people will eventually die of something anyway. Is Hell in a hurry? I am glad McFarlane’s finally addressing what exactly Spawn’s supposed to be doing on Earth, although this information doesn’t exactly provide a blueprint for the future.