Todd McFarlane seemed to have plans for Medieval Spawn, yet this crossover miniseries turned out to be the character’s last gasp. Perhaps due to Neil Gaiman’s lawsuit, he was essentially erased from the franchise by the late ‘90s. Later, another Middle Ages Hellspawn, “Dark Ages Spawn” debuted, possibly continuing whatever plans McFarlane had for Medieval Spawn. (Recently, a judge deemed Dark Ages Spawn to be derivative of Medieval Spawn, and even a continuity error.)
At this time, the Witchblade series was only a few months old, but it was already a hit for Top Cow. Marc Silvestri’s division of Image had yet to do a Spawn crossover, so it made sense to pair their hot new character with Image’s biggest franchise. Just as McFarlane established that his hero was the latest in a long line of Spawns, Sara Whatshername was only the latest possessor of the Witchblade. Why not do a flashback story that brings their pasts together?
The story is provided by Garth Ennis, who was receiving a lot of attention from Top Cow during this era. Not surprisingly, most of the characters are profane and nasty, and the comic can’t go three pages without a rape reference. After establishing that a mystery man is waiting for the apocalypse in 1996, the story flashes back to the Pyrenees, circa 1175. An alleged sorcerer named Matthew Royale convinces the evil Lord Cardinale to invade the “Otherworld of Faerie.” After a few pages of gruesome violence, the action spills out of the Faerie’s dimension, drawing the attention of Medieval Spawn. Unlike the moody, self-absorbed Spawn of the ‘90s, Medieval Spawn views himself as a chivalrous knight, so he aides the Faeries. Their fight brings them to a nearby inn, where the irascible young Katarina is working off her bill.
Katarina receives two surprises: Medieval Spawn recognizes her, and she somehow possesses the power of the Witchblade. She joins the fight, and later watches as Medieval Spawn enters a portal into the Faerie’s dimension. Her friend, and debt-holder, Stalker has heard stories of Faerie gold and wants to follow. A subconscious prompt, apparently from the Witchblade, convinces Katarina to join Stalker. This brings the first issue to an end, and while the story so far seems like an excuse for the heroes to cut up demonic soldiers, I am curious to see how the mysteries surrounding Katarina play out.
Credits: Garth Ennis (story), Brandon Peterson (pencils), Batt w/Joe Weems & Tim Townsend(inks), Dennis Heisler (letters), Ashby Manson (colors), Richard Isanove w/Jonathan D. Smith, Steve Firchow, & Dan Kemp (computer colors)
Katarina and Stalker join Medieval Spawn, who is unaware of their motive to loot Faerie gold (notice that the only noble character so far is the one not created by Ennis). Meanwhile, Lord Cardinale’s witch-queen Elinor, who’s somehow stolen the outfits from a 1996 Playboy pictorial, questions Matthew Royale’s loyalty. Royale proves his deceptiveness a few pages later by bringing Katarina, Stalker, and Medieval Spawn to the battle at the Faerie capital. While Lord Cardinale and the heroes fight, Royale pursues his own agenda. Sprinkled throughout the story are more hints that Medieval Spawn knows Katarina, some “humorous” leprechaun bashing, and more graphic violence. Brandon Peterson is given some insane things to draw, but the story is obviously thin.
Credits: Garth Ennis (story), Brandon Peterson, Billy Tan, Mung Khoy, Mike Turner, & Anthony Winn (pencils), Batt, D-Tron, Brandon Peterson, Aaron Sowd (inks), Dennis Heisler (letters), Ashby Manson (colors), Richard Isanove w/Tyson Wengler, Catherine Burch, Dean White, Nick Kozis, & Teresa Bellman(computer colors)
Now that’s a list of credits. I wonder if anyone working at Top Cow during this era didn’t touch this issue? (Oh, yeah. Marc Silvestri.) Occasionally the book does resemble a rushed jam comic, but most of the issue maintains the rather high production values associated with Top Cow. The most grievous example of deadline fighting comes in a two-page "vision of the future" in the middle of the book, which is actually recycled art from an ad for another Top Cow comic (I forget the name, but it was the ad that referenced “It's the End of the World as We Know It”).
As it turns out, this mini is actually a lengthy promotion for a 1996 Top Cow crossover, which somehow involved the apocalypse (given as October 2, 1996 in this issue). Matthew Royale predictably turns against everyone, steals the Darkness power from Lord Cardinale (yup, it’s a Darkness crossover as well), and survives to the age of Real World Miami, free AOL trial discs, and Keri Strug mania. He explains the full story behind Katarina and Medieval Spawn to the disembodied head of Cardinale before the story closes: Before his rebirth as a Hellspawn, Medieval Spawn and Katarina had a drunken one-night stand. Katarina apparently didn’t remember it because she’s something of a slut. Later on, she promises to give Stalker a shot until she discovers the Faerie gold they’ve stolen is just lead in our dimension. There’s your Medieval Witchblade, Top Cow fans.
This is even less of a Spawn story than Wildstorm’s Spawn/WildC.A.T.S limited series. I can understand the story leaning towards the Top Cow side since they produced it, but I certainly wasn’t expecting the mini to turn into a prelude to some forgotten crossover. It’s a shame this is Medieval Spawn’s only starring role. Neil Gaiman’s brief introduction of the character had potential, and his design still holds up well. Here, he's mainly treated as a joke. It's almost as if Garth Ennis thinks these characters are...dumb.