Friday, February 26, 2010

WEB OF SPIDER-MAN #7 - October 1985

Welcome…To My Nightmare!

Credits: Peter David (writer), Sal Buscema (penciler), Armando Gil (finishes), Phil Felix (letterer), Bob Sharen (colorist)

The Plot: Inside a dream, Spider-Man is pursued by the Hulk. He answers a call for help and realizes that Nightmare is actually the Hulk’s target. Nightmare convinces Spider-Man to protect him, which leads to Spider-Man pushing Hulk out of the dream world. After Nightmare refuses to send Spider-Man back home, Hulk’s arm reaches out of the void and grabs him. Spider-Man allows Hulk to take Nightmare away, realizing that Nightmare would never send him home. Peter Parker awakens in his apartment, surrounded by police sent to investigate his screaming.

The Subplots: None, it’s a fill-in.

*See _________ For Details: Nightmare explains that Dr. Strange sent Bruce Banner’s unconscious mind to pursue him in Incredible Hulk #299.

Review: This is possibly the first Peter David Spider-Man comic, and perhaps even his first Hulk story as well (assuming you count dream forms as official appearances). Sal Buscema is a great choice for fill-in artist, given his history with Spider-Man and the Hulk, and David’s work already shows the personality and humor he’ll soon be known for, so this is far from a dull fill-in. While most of the issue is spent on Spidey’s fight with the Hulk, David still uses the dreamscape to work in a bit of introspection. After arriving at the Daily Bugle nude, Peter muses that his greatest fear and desire is to be exposed as Spider-Man, perfectly summing up one of the classic conflicts of the character in just a few pages. And, of course, no Peter Parker dream sequence would be complete without a flashback to Uncle Ben’s death, and a few panels of him questioning which of his loved ones are next. Having Spider-Man switch costumes in-between panels for no reason plays into the idea that we’re seeing his unconscious, but it’s also a gentle mocking of the character’s current status quo (which had him switching between his original and black outfits based on the time of day, as if Spider-Man would actually care). Everything comes together, and even if this is a fill-in, it's the best issue so far.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

WEB OF SPIDER-MAN Annual #1 - September 1985

Give Me A Hand, Future Max!

Credits: Ann Nocenti (writer), Tony Salmons (art), Rick Parker (letterer), Bob Sharen (colorist)

The Plot: Spider-Man faces a robot committing a jewelry heist. He kicks off the robot’s head, but it manages to escape. The robot is Future Max, the invention of Max, a boy with a degenerative nerve disease. Max gives the jewelry to his neighbor Beatrice through a hole in the wall. He’s afraid to meet her face to face because he’s ashamed of his leg braces. At a school science fair, Max meets Peter Parker, who is impressed with his exo-skeleton. A con man also notices the exo-skeleton and tricks Max into building him a model. Peter later connects Max’s work with the robot he fought earlier and visits his home as Spider-Man. He’s attacked by the con man, who now has advanced robotic armor. With Max’s help, Spider-Man uses a water tower to short-circuit the armor. Later, Peter gives Max advice as he meets Beatrice for the first time.

The Subplots: None. It's an annual.

Forever Young: Peter reflects on how much fun he had at science fairs during high school.

I Love the ‘80s: One of the big, tough thugs who picks on Max is wearing a Police t-shirt.

Review: I’ve always been a fan of Ann Nocenti, even though this is the first Nocenti comic I’ve reviewed. Unfortunately, this is a very early job that only shows hints of what she’ll accomplish in Daredevil. There are a lot of solid ideas here; and even though Max could’ve easily become a dull cliché, Nocenti effortlessly makes him a sympathetic figure. His connection with Peter Parker is also a nice touch. Peter didn’t have a serious illness, but he was a target of bullies and felt inadequate around the opposite sex. I’m sure there have been dozens of stories about him connecting to a nerdy teenager over the years, but making the outcast a disabled genius who creates a robot that he siphons parts off of to use as braces as his disease worsens is uniquely Nocenti.

The problem is, Nocenti is too sympathetic towards everyone in the story. The con man isn’t just a con man; he’s a failed actor, crushed by the stress of New York, who just has to show off his various dialects while fighting Spider-Man. Rather than showing any contempt towards the criminal who just took advantage of a kid and is destroying city blocks with hi-tech armor, Spider-Man actually feels sorry for the guy. More galling, he totally forgets that Max built a robot and was looting jewelry stores with it! Not only does Spidey forgo any effort to reclaim the property or convince Max to do the right thing, he doesn’t even mention the robberies during his final touching words with the kid. Yes, it’s sweet that Peter gives Max advice on girls and that Beatrice accepts him, but there’s a big “oh, come on” here. Seriously, Spider-Man doesn’t care at all that this kid is a thief? Nocenti later became known for rather…unsubtle political messages in her comics, but this takes the “soft on crime” liberal stereotype to a new level.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

WEB OF SPIDER-MAN #6 - September 1985

Gold Rush!

Credits: Danny Fingeroth (writer), Mike Harris (layouts), Zeck/Layton/Simons/Mooney (finishes), Phil Felix & Rick Parker (letters), Bob Sharen (colorist)

The Plot: A solid-gold building created by the Beyonder collapses, leaving Spider-Man to rescue the people inside. Kingpin is awakened in the middle of the night with news of the gold building. He makes a deal to help the federal government dismantle the building and cover up the story, lest the global economy collapses. Spider-Man is told to evacuate the building by a federal agent. He continues to save the occupants, avoiding shots from the Kingpin’s men. When Spider-Man learns that the Kingpin is being paid for his services with golden typewriters, he steals a golden notepad from the trashcan.

The Subplots: Nathan Lubenksy reveals to Aunt May that he told Peter about her financial problems. Mary Jane questions if she should’ve accepted Peter’s marriage proposal years earlier.

*See _________ For Details: This story follows the events of Secret Wars II (I have no idea which issue because there’s no footnote), and is continued in Amazing Spider-Man #268.

Review: Priest wrote stories about the global economy collapsing in Black Panther, didn’t he? Maybe I’m looking too hard, but it seems like he could've influenced at least this aspect of the story. I do like the focus on a realistic response to a fantastic event like a golden building, although I question if this could ruin the global economy. It would obviously drive down the price of gold, but the “gold standard” isn’t necessarily the global standard. America’s currency is worth something because the government says it is, and not because it’s backed by gold. The real conflict in the story comes from Spider-Man’s decision to take the golden notepad. It’s not a bad moral dilemma to explore, especially since the story is structured so that any qualms Spidey could have about taking it are philosophical ones. One gold notepad won’t harm the price of gold, it had already been thrown away, and Spidey is already in a bad mood after getting shot at for doing the right thing. Plus, Aunt May is in danger of losing her home, and we all know that Spider-Man does irrational, horribly misguided things when that old broad is involved. (Ahem. Sarcasm.) Visually, this is an inconsistent rush job, the kind where Spider-Man’s eyes are occasionally different shapes within the same page. However, Mike Zeck and Jim Mooney produce some lovely pages, so the majority of the issue looks fine.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

WEB OF SPIDER-MAN #5 - August 1985

The Enemy Within!

Credits: Danny Fingeroth (writer), Jim Mooney (penciler), Greg LaRocque (inker), Phil Felix (letterer), Bob Sharen (colorist)

The Plot: Dr. Octopus spars with a Spider-Man robot before joining his men in a bank robbery. Spider-Man comes across the robbery and briefly fights the henchmen, but has to take a bystander to the hospital. Soon, Dr. Octopus invades the Daily Bugle, taking Kate Cushing captive as bait for Spider-Man. Spider-Man follows the tracer he left on one of the henchmen and locates Dr. Octopus’ lair. When Dr. Octopus realizes that he’s fighting the real Spider-Man and not a robot, he becomes catatonic. The police arrest Dr. Octopus’ henchmen, but Kate Cushing’s presence leaves Spider-Man unable to take photographs.

The Subplots: Aunt May’s boyfriend, Nathan Lubenksy, tells Peter about her financial problems. Peter meets Kate Cushing, the new city editor who is responsible for giving Peter photo assignments. The photos Peter takes on his assignment at the Schavian Embassy can’t be used because the mesh from the building’s ventilation system is in the way.

Web of Continuity: Kathryn “Kate” Cushing appears for the first time. She remains a routine Daily Bugle cast member until the mid-90s.

*See _________ For Details: Spidey references an adventure with the Rocket Racer from Peter Parker #104. He’s also wearing his black costume in one scene with no explanation (I know he wore a replica of his black costume during his night adventures during this era, but it hasn’t been explained in this series yet). As of Amazing Spider-Man #265, Peter and Aunt May have reconciled, ending the dumbest feud in comics history.

Production Note: It looks as if this issue was printed with flexographic printing. It’s certainly bright enough, but thankfully the print is actually legible, which was often a problem with that printing technique.

Creative Differences: Jim Mooney and Greg LaRocque have swapped penciling and inking duties with this issue. Christopher Priest claims this was done to teach them a lesson and stop their complaints about one another.

I Love the ‘80s: Spidey says that Doc Ock’s public profile is as low as Ronald Reagan’s. There’s also an ad for a contest with an Apple II as the grand prize.

Review: Wow, Dr. Octopus was a total putz for a few years there. The previous issue played up his anxieties surrounding Spider-Man rather well, but it's not as effective this time. It is somewhat amusing that Dr. Octopus spends the entire issue demanding a rematch with Spider-Man, and then wets himself when the opportunity arises, but I wonder how exactly a classic villain got to this point. The rest of the issue moves a few subplots along, as the “bad luck” routine is exercised quite a bit. Peter can’t sell any photos, his aunt might lose her home, and his conscious won’t let him keep the extra money the ATM accidentally gives him. (He drops the money when Ock’s goons attack the bank anyway. I don't know if this was intentional or not, but this scene is a nice prelude to next issue's conflict.) None of these scenes are bad on their own, but it feels like the gimmick is hammered in a bit too much. Wouldn't Peter have noticed the steel mesh in the way when he took the photos? It is great to see Jim Mooney pencils. He draws a Romita-style Spider-Man perfectly.

Monday, February 22, 2010

WEB OF SPIDER-MAN #4 - July 1985

Arms and the Man!

Credits: Danny Fingeroth (writer), Greg LaRocque (penciler), Vince Colletta (inker), Phil Felix (letterer), J. Ferriter (colorist)

The Plot: Dr. Octopus undergoes therapy while in prison, but his progress is derailed when he notices a spider inside his cell. He sends a mental command to his metal arms, which break out of their holding facility. Spider-Man hears word of the arms’ escape and travels to Dr. Octopus’ prison to stop them. The arms destroy part of the building, forcing Spider-Man to hold debris while Dr. Octopus escapes.

The Subplots: Peter Parker tries to sell “eerie” photos of Spider-Man fighting thieves in the shadows, but Robbie Robertson declares they’re too dark to be printed in a newspaper. J. Jonah Jameson is interested, revealing that he’s reviving NOW Magazine, which is “one of” his secret projects.

Web of Continuity: NOW Magazine goes back to the earliest issues of Amazing Spider-Man. Jonah Jameson was the editor of NOW when Peter Parker first began selling him photos. After going back and forth, Stan Lee just decided to make the Daily Bugle Jameson’s official publication.

*See _________ For Details: Peter is aware of some problems Betty Brant is experiencing. A footnote points towards Peter Parker#100 for details (Good Lord, how many things happened in that comic? I think it’s been referenced in every issue of this comic so far). In Fantastic Four#267, Reed Richards thought that he could cure Doc Ock’s mental problems. Ock flashes back to an embarrassing defeat in Peter Parker#79, and his terrifying encounter with the Molecule Man from Secret Wars #12.

I Love the ‘80s: Spidey declares that he feels like he’s on Hill Street Blues while fighting the thieves in the dark.

Creative Differences: John Byrne's original cover for this issue was rejected. It eventually showed up in Amazing Spider-Man (I believe it's this one).

Review: I’m assuming Louise Simonson wrote the first three issues to finish off her contract, because according to Christopher Priest’s site, Danny Fingeroth was always supposed to be the regular writer of this series. He also says that Jim Shooter hated Fingeroth’s writing, which lead to Priest (then Jim Owsley) taking on Fingeroth as some sort of “project” (in the letters page of this very issue, Owsley says he’s staying late on a Friday, working out the next issue with Fingeroth). Fingeroth doesn’t last long, and having read Priest’s “confessions” as Spider-editor years earlier, I wasn’t expecting much from this run. However, this isn’t bad at all. The opening scene has Spider-Man hiding in the dark, taking out a band of fur thieves one-by-one. It could be a clichéd action opening, but Fingeroth uses the shadowy setting effectively, playing up an aspect of Spider-Man that really only appeared in the Ditko run. The idea of mentally troubled supervillains has been done to death over the years, but I don’t think it had been played out by this point. Whether or not Dr. Octopus could reform is an interesting question, since he was just anti-social and rude before he gained powers, and not evil. There’s also some “typical Parker luck” here as Spidey is unable to stop a runaway truck before it damages some civilian’s car, and he’s forced to let Ock escape because he has to save the prison staff from the falling debris. Vince Colletta does show up as inker, although most of the pages don’t have that rushed, lazy look people now associate with his work. Aside from the occasional panel where Spider-Man looks fat, or his hand is way out of proportion to the rest of his body, this looks fine.

Friday, February 19, 2010

WEB OF SPIDER-MAN #3 - June 1985

Iron Bars Do Not a Prison Make… or Vulture Is As Vulture Does

Credits: Louise Simonson (writer), Greg LaRocque (penciler), Jim Mooney (inker), Phil Felix (letterer), George Roussos (colorist)

The Plot: The Vulture, enraged that the Vulturions have stolen his designs, breaks out of prison and hunts them down. One of the Vulturions crashes into the restaurant where Peter and Mary Jane are eating lunch. Peter changes into Spider-Man and tries to save the Vulturions from the Vulture. The toll of the fight leaves Spider-Man briefly unconscious, allowing the Vulture to escape. The next day, he travels to Aunt May’s home and secretly drops off her birthday present.

The Subplots: Aunt May is afraid of losing her home, but refuses to ask for help. Peter doesn’t attend her birthday party because she’s angry with him for dropping out of graduate school. Mary Jane fears growing closer to Peter because of his life as Spider-Man.

I Love the 80s: MJ carries a walkman, which also provides convenient radio updates on the Vulture’s activities.

Review: Hey, does anyone remember when Aunt May acted radically out-of-character and shunned Peter because he dropped out of graduate school? I can understand the writers portraying her as upset, and then using it as a guilt hammer against Peter, but treating this as a legitimate feud is ridiculous. He can’t even go to the old lady’s birthday party? Would Aunt May really behave this way? Aside from repeating the “Spidey is knocked unconscious and can’t continue the fight” gimmick two issues in a row, this is also the second issue that has him obsessing over Aunt May’s hat for most of the story. He keeps getting sidetracked from mailing it (because, remember, he can’t deliver it in person because Aunt May is such a nasty old goat), and then forgetfully leaves it with Mary Jane when he goes off into action. He has to pick it up from MJ’s apartment the next morning, which begs the question of why she didn’t just mail the thing. All Peter could talk about was getting it to the post office in time; you’d think she could do something to help him out. The final image of Spidey hiding in the trees, wishing Aunt May happy birthday as she picks up the package, is sweet, but the story has to contort in odd ways to get there.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

WEB OF SPIDER-MAN #2 - May 1985


Credits: Louise Simonson (writer), Greg LaRocque (penciler), Jim Mooney (inker), Phil Felix (letterer), Dr. Martin (colorist)

The Plot: The Vulturions add poison darts to their arsenal, hoping to become the Kingpin’s new assassins. They lead Spider-Man into a fight outside of Kingpin’s window to show their talents, unaware that Kingpin is trying to shield his sickly wife from violence. Spider-Man defeats the Vulturions, but succumbs to their poison darts. When he recovers, the Kingpin arranges for the return of the expensive hat Spider-Man lost during the fight.

The Subplots: Peter Parker buys a hat for Aunt May’s birthday at Saks Fifth Avenue. He’s forced to carry the hat during his fight with the Vulturions because Randi, Candy, and Bambi are blocking the skylight entrance to his apartment. Mary Jane waits impatiently as Peter is late to visit their infant godson in the hospital. She’s flustered when Harry and Liz suggest that she’s dating Peter again. J. Jonah Jameson is thinking of a new project outside of the Daily Bugle, and brags that he’s stealing Peter away from Robbie Robertson (mistakenly called “Robinson” in this issue).

*See _________ For Details: The Kingpin tried to kill Spider-Man in Peter Parker #100, so Spider-Man is unsure why he’s thanking him for defeating the Vulturions.

Review: The Vulturions aren’t exactly inspired villains, but Simonson is successful in creating enough distractions during the fight that it really doesn’t matter. This is traditional Spidey material, as a series of complications from Peter Parker’s personal life interferes with his crime-fighting career. It’s an enjoyable, light read, but it doesn’t present a strong case for the necessity of a third Spider-Man series. One of the earliest attempts at differentiating this title from the others was the idea that Peter Parker would travel in this book as a photographer for NOW Magazine. That’s what Jameson is hinting at during his subplot scene, but due to behind-the-scenes disarray, it’s several months before this idea goes anywhere. Why exactly it was so hard to get this idea off the ground is mystifying. Even if the book had a series of fill-in writers, how hard would it have been to explain to them that Peter Parker travels in this book, so don’t set the story in New York City?

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

WEB OF SPIDER-MAN #1 - April 1985

‘Til Death Do Us Part!

Credits: Louise Simonson (writer), Greg LaRocque (penciler), Jim Mooney (inker), Janice Chiang (letterer), George Roussos (colorist)

The Plot: Spider-Man’s alien costume returns to feed on him. As Spider-Man travels to the Baxter Building for Reed Richards’ help, he’s attacked by the Vulturions. He fights them off and follows the sound of church bells. Standing in the bell tower, the sonic blast harms his costume, but nearly kills Spider-Man. The costume pulls Spider-Man to safety before it disintegrates.

The Subplots: Mary Jane runs into Aunt May at a department store. May’s upset that Peter has dropped out of graduate school. Harry and Liz Osborn have given birth to a son and named Peter and MJ his godparents.

Web of Continuity: At this point, Mary Jane has recently revealed she knows Peter Parker’s secret identity. The alien costume was believed to have been destroyed by the Fantastic Four’s sonic cannon. The story of Spider-Man using church bells to kill the alien is greatly expanded in Amazing #300, which reveals Venom’s origin. This scene has also been retold dozens of times in the comics, and in TV and movie adaptations (although everyone leaves out the Vulturions). The Vulturions are a group of small-level criminals who have stolen the Vulture’s technology to gain vengeance on Spider-Man. Their members include (I swear) Honcho, Gripes, Pigeon, and Sugar Face.

Production Note: Janice Chiang is credited as letterer, but several pages have Phil Felix’s distinctive lettering style. Some of the pages also have a Rick Parker look.

*See _________ For Details: Peter says he’s recently broken up with the Black Cat. An editor’s note points towards Peter Parker #100 for the details.

Forever Young: Peter reflects on the youthful antics of his teenage neighbors, Randy, Bambi, and Candy. He figures they’re only now learning not to sunbathe in Autumn because they’re so young, then refers to himself as “Methuselah.”

Review: How do you open the first issue of a new series? Do you have the lead character reflect on the events of another title for several pages? Do you plug in a footnote referencing another comic on the very first page? Construct a story that’s essentially a sequel to another comic that’s a few months old? This is old school Marvel Comics, the company that was supposedly so horribly reader-unfriendly, yet managed to sell millions of comics every month. I don’t personally find this comic impenetrable, but I was surprised to read a first issue that doesn’t open with a slow-motion introduction of the main hero and some filler pages spelling out the premise. This could’ve easily been any random issue of Peter Parker or Amazing. I’m sure that worked in convincing people that this was an “important” part of the Spider-canon, but surely they realized a few issues in that most of the stories are pretty inconsequential.

Even if it isn’t a remarkable first issue, it is an entertaining superhero story. Before the black costume became this ultra-serious representation of Peter Parker’s dark side, the writers were able to have fun with it. Simonson has the costume freaking out and acting irrationally when it discovers Peter is trying to contact Reed Richards. It spends much of the issue running Spidey into walls, refusing to shoot webbing, and dropping him to the ground. There’s usually an element of sweetness in Louise Simonson stories, which comes through here when the costume acts on its affection for Spider-Man and rescues him during its final moments. That’s another aspect of the story that’s usually forgotten, but it makes for a nice ending. I also like the art, which is somewhat of a generic ‘80s Marvel affair, but does have lovely inking by comics legend Jim Mooney. Web is off to a reasonable start, but Louise Simonson was never supposed to be the regular writer, which will lead to a series of rotating writers and directionless stories in the early days.

Monday, February 15, 2010


I own every issue of Web of Spider-Man. Including the annuals. eBay can do strange things to a man. Although this book doesn’t technically fall into the “Chromium Age” category (it just limped along into that time period), I thought it could be an interesting series to explore. In 1985, Web took the place of Marvel Team-Up, the peripheral Spider-Man series that did exactly what the title said and rarely focused on the life of Peter Parker. The “real” Spidey stories were being handled by Amazing Spider-Man and Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man. Two books featuring a franchise character is defensible, but by the time you get to the third, you’re in the “spin-off of a spin-off” category. The title was edited in the early days by Jim Owsley, who had what could be called a “shaky” experience on the job, as detailed on his website.

For years, the book wasn’t able to maintain a creative team, which didn’t exactly help the “gratuitous spin-off” label. Although Marvel recently revived the title, it seems like this book has never been held in very high regard by fandom. I actually view the book more favorably than a lot of people, since I began reading it during the very consistent Gerry Conway/Alex Saviuk run. I looked forward to Web just as much as Amazing and Spectacular during my days as a Spider-fan. Were my favorite issues just a brief respite during a dismal run? Is Web wrongly maligned? Should I be embarrassed for enjoying a comic about Spider-Man and the Rocket Racer fighting a blob made of Nazis? It could be fun to explore.

I think the evolution of artist Alex Saviuk as mainstream tastes changed is also worth a look. The same guy drew all of these comics…

So…Web of Spider-Man #1. Coming soon.

Friday, February 12, 2010

SPAWN #13 - August 1993

Flashback- Part Two

Credits: Todd McFarlane (story & art), Tom Orzechowski (letters and editor), Steve Oliff, Reuben Rude, & Olyoptics (colors)

Summary: Spawn invades Youngblood’s headquarters and teleports away with Chapel. They travel to Botswana, where Chapel killed Al Simmons five years earlier. When Spawn reveals his identity, Chapel flashes back to Jason Wynn’s order to kill the “traitor” Simmons. Before Spawn exits their fight, he uses magic on Chapel’s face. When Youngblood discovers Chapel, they see a skull image has been burned into his face.

Spawntinuity: Terry Fitzgerald is listed as an employee of the U.S.S.G - United States Security Group. This is supposed to be Jason Wynn’s agency, which was described as the CIA last issue. Flashbacks to news reports covering Al Simmons’ death in 1987 describe Simmons saving Ronald Regan’s life during John Hinckley’s assassination attempt. He’s also described as a “former president” which means someone got their dates mixed up, or Regan was a one-term president in the Spawn universe.

Spawn vs. Lawyers: Youngblood member Bedrock is now “Badrock,” apparently due to legal threats from Hanna Barbara.

“Huh?” Moment: Chapel spontaneously shouts that a government serum he took gave him HIV (!). I assume this is what happened when Rob Liefeld went “relevant” in Youngblood.

The Big Names: Walt Simonson draws a Spawn poster. Todd McFarlane Productions is working with Industrial Light & Magic on a “two minute live action commercial/mini-movie.”

Review: I’m convinced that McFarlane’s attempt at turning Spawn into a faceless ghost on the edges of the storylines was not where he wanted to go all along, since he seemed genuinely interested in developing him as a character in the early issues. Here, he dedicates paragraph after paragraph of prose to Spawn’s memories as Al Simmons. McFarlane’s prose is legendarily purple and melodramatic, but he gives Spawn a natural tone and allows him to tell the story (perhaps autobiographical on McFarlane’s part) of his wife comforting him after a career-ending baseball injury. It’s a million times more effective than any “Why did you take away my wiiiife?!?” posturing could’ve been. McFarlane is also smart enough to keep the captions on the edges of the pages and out of the artwork. It’s a trick that comics don’t use that often, and it’s another opportunity for Tom Orzechowski to showcase his advanced lettering skills.

The Youngblood cameo is a reminder of the early appeal of Image. Image was supposed to be a new comics universe that kids could access at the starting level (as opposed to the future legal quagmire it became). Spawn sneaking into Youngblood’s headquarters and confronting Chapel was almost the ‘90s equivalent of Spider-Man asking the Fantastic Four for a job. McFarlane seems to especially enjoy Badrock, the mutated teen superhero whose giant fingers destroy Nintendo controllers. Yes, Chapel is a cliché bloodthirsty ‘90s anti-hero, but McFarlane is able to use that as a contrast with Spawn. It works rather well, making Spawn more sympathetic and less of a stereotype (although all of this work is abandoned as McFarlane makes Spawn less human and more of a ghoul as the years go on).

Issues #12 and #13 were some of the earliest Spawn comics I read, after I decided that buying an Image comic wouldn’t lead to anyone revoking my Marvel Zombie card. They were good enough to pique my curiosity, so I began to consider buying the book on a regular basis. Having reread them, I’m relieved that both issues do hold up and are much stronger than the later issues I remember (eventually I’ll get to the issue that’s entirely dedicated to Spawn building a chair).

Thursday, February 11, 2010

SPAWN #12 - July 1993


Credits: Todd McFarlane (story & art), Tom Orzechowski (letters and editor), Steve Oliff, Reuben Rude, & Olyoptics (colors)

Summary: Spawn perches on top of a church, although he isn’t sure why he’s drawn to the building. He flashes back to his wedding and remembers Grannie Blake, Wanda’s grandmother. He visits the blind, elderly lady, who thinks he’s an angel. Meanwhile, Wanda’s current husband Terry Fitzgerald is wrongly implicated for the files and weapons stolen by Spawn. Jason Wynn sends men to Terry’s home to intimidate him. Spawn drinks with his homeless friends, but has to rescue Gareb after he tries on Spawn’s mask and it attacks him. Suddenly, Spawn connects his interest in churches with the name of his killer, Youngblood’s Chapel.

Spawntinuity: Jason Wynn, Spawn’s former boss as a government agent, is described as a CIA supervisor. This is later changed to a fictional government organization. Terry Fitzgerald is blamed for Spawn’s actions because he once felt the agency was responsible for Al Simmons’ death, and they now believe he wants payback.

Spawn vs. Lawyers: Chapel isn’t the killer of Al Simmons in the Spawn movie, due to the fact that he’s created and owned by Rob Liefeld. The comics from that era also reveal that the movie villain, Priest, is Spawn’s true killer. Chapel did appear as Spawn’s killer in the HBO series, which went into production before Liefeld’s falling out with Image.

The Big Names: The Spawn/Batman crossovers are announced. Todd McFarlane is listed as the writer of the Image chapter, although Frank Miller will provide the story when the comic is actually released.

Production Note: Image is now its own company and no longer an imprint of Malibu Comics.

I Love the ‘90s: A television report says that Al Simmons’ life story will be made into a movie, in the vein of Clint Eastwood’s In the Line of Fire. There are also numerous references to Jurassic Park in the issue.

Review: This isn’t a stereotypical Image comic, with the exception of an opening slash page followed by a double-page spread (okay, and that "Noooooo!" final page). It takes longer than three minutes to read, and the only action comes from Spawn ripping a mask off a bum named after Wizard’s founder (you can make your own jokes about this one). It’s a “building the subplots” issue, and it is successful in showcasing the various supporting cast members and plot threads McFarlane’s developed so far. Some of the random elements of the early issues are starting to come together into a more coherent story, as Spawn casually stealing CIA documents, and then weapons to defend himself after he’s falsely accused of Violator’s murders, leads to Terry Fitzgerald getting falsely accused of the crimes. McFarlane’s willingness to portray Terry as a decent guy, and not a jerk who stole Spawn’s wife, is admirable (McFarlane dismissed the idea of making Terry a villain as “too obvious,” which makes me wonder why he didn’t notice all of the other “obvious” ideas he introduced during the book’s run). Maybe McFarlane was in a good mood this month, since he produces page after page of Spawn visiting an old lady, a flashback to Spawn’s wedding, Wanda and Terry playing with their daughter, and the bums having fun with Spawn. The book hasn’t fallen into a routine formula yet, and this stands out as a decent issue.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

SPAWN #11 - June 1993


Credits: Frank Miller (writer), Todd McFarlane (art), Tom Orzechowski (letters and editor), Steve Oliff, Reuben Rude, & Olyoptics (colors)

Summary: Spawn’s home in the alleys is disrupted by gang violence. Buffy of the Creep gang is killed by Boomer of the Nerds. After Spawn steals his military hardware, Boomer escapes to the Nerd headquarters. Boomer is accidentally killed by Byron, the largest Nerd. James of the Creeps discovers Buffy’s body and begins harassing Spawn’s homeless friends. Spawn tricks the gangs into a confrontation, which leaves only Byron alive. Spawn teleports inside Byron’s armor and rips open his body. Spawn then tells his friends they can move back home after the police clean up the mess.

Spawntinuity: Spawn believes his encounter with Cerebus from the previous issue was a dream. How exactly Spawn returned after touching Angela’s lance in issue #9 isn’t addressed. Boots, the other major member of the homeless supporting cast, appears for the first time. He’s named Boots because he owns a nice pair of boots that he keeps in mint condition. Hey, Frank Miller never sued for ownership of Boots, did he?

Creative Differences: The original announcement had Miller writing a Sam and Twitch story, which this clearly is not. McFarlane will soon establish that the duo has been assigned to desk duty since Billy Kincaid’s body was found in their office, so maybe he asked Miller not to use the characters.

Not Approved By The Comics Code Authority: Many characters, including Spawn, have holes shot into their chests. The alleyway is littered with dismembered corpses after the gang fight. After Spawn rips out of Byron’s body, he dumps his disembodied head into the pile of body parts.

The Big Names: Geoff Darrow draws a pin-up. The previous issue announced that Frank Miller and Darrow were doing a new Image book called The Big Guys, which soon became Dark Horse’s Big Guy and Rusty the Boy Robot. Rusty and the Big Guy are in the poster, along with the Dark Horse logo in the background.

Review: Was it widely known by 1993 that Frank Miller had lost his fool mind? I know some people have dismissed this as a mercenary job Miller rushed out for a paycheck, but I’m not so sure. Miller declared in the first Spawn TPB that he was a genuine fan of the comic and read it every month. I think it’s possible that Miller enjoyed the absurd aspects of the book (as opposed to the overly serious gothic material), and perhaps viewed this as an opportunity to create the most ridiculous Spawn story yet. It is certainly ridiculous, but it’s usually more bewildering than honestly funny. I can’t imagine what McFarlane thought when he hired the writer of “Born Again” and got a story about nerdy white gangbangers with gigantic, Liefeld-style guns. At the very least, Miller does write in his standard pulp-influenced narrative style (which just makes everything more absurd), paces the story so McFarlane can work in a few Spawn pin-up pages without slowing things down too much, and gives Tom Orzechowski a chance to show off, as most of the gang members have distinctive fonts and are introduced with big dramatic captions. Miller also gives Spawn the closest thing to a clever line I can remember him speaking (he invites Byron to “play ‘Alien’” with him before he teleports inside his body and rips it apart). Maybe this issue stands out so much because McFarlane continues the book on such a deadpan, somber path as the years go by. It’s certainly an anomaly in the title’s history; almost the equivalent of Batman’s wacky ‘50s adventures with aliens.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

SPAWN #10 - May 1993

Crossing Over

Credits: Dave Sim (writer), Todd McFarlane (art), Tom Orzechowski (letters and editor), Steve Oliff, Reuben Rude, & Olyoptics (colors)

Summary: The Spawn/Not Spawn that is Todd McFarlane teleports to Erebus, the mysterious seventh level of Hell. There, he encounters comic creators lined up to be executed, while their creations are kept in prison. They endow Spawn with all of their powers, but he is unable to free them. Spawn is called away by Cerebus, who takes him through his black and white world. Cerebus then guides him to Todd McFarlane’s home, where Spawn meets his daughter, Cyan. Cerebus says goodbye as Todd’s wife Wanda returns home.

Spawntinuity: The opening narration drops hints about everything Todd McFarlane knows about Spawn’s world, including the fact that Spawn’s home in the alleyways “existed before the city itself did.” Years later, McFarlane will begin to drop hints that the alleyways have some mystical connection. There’s also an ominous hint about what will happen when Spawn visits Al Simmons’ grave, which eventually happens during Grant Morrison’s run.

Spawn vs. Lawyers: McFarlane was one of the first publishers to make sure every issue of his series stayed in print, although this was the lone issue that he avoided reprinting. When asked, he simply said that it didn’t fit into the Spawn storyline, which isn’t much of an explanation (Frank Miller’s fill-in certainly doesn’t have anything to do with the ongoing storylines, but it’s still in print). Recently, Sim and McFarlane announced that they would both be reprinting this issue, which perhaps confirms rumors that the story wasn’t reprinted due to a disagreement between the pair.

Review: Since this is more of an essay than an actual story, it’s hard to write a true review of it. Cerebus was already the longest-running independent comic by the time this issue was published, and since McFarlane was openly following in Sims’ footsteps, a Cerebus crossover seemed like a good idea. (I’ll admit that the only Cerebus comics I own are his crossovers with Spawn and the Ninja Turtles. I don’t think I’ve ever even seen a Cerebus comic in any of the tiny comic shops I’ve frequented).

Maybe this issue seemed like a bold statement in 1993, but time has certainly blunted whatever impact it might’ve had. Since this comic was published, Todd McFarlane has been involved in a lengthy court battle involving the rights to the characters introduced in the previous issue, the creative team of Spawn has mostly consisted of hired freelancers, and this specific issue has remained out of print for mysterious reasons. I don’t personally care if McFarlane farms out Spawn, and I’m not blindly on Neil Gaiman’s side of the lawsuit, but it’s hard to think of Spawn as a deep statement about creator’s rights. As much as fandom might’ve proclaimed to care about this in the early ‘90s, I think it’s telling that the corporate-owned superheroes still rule the top 100 while most creator-owned titles are barely able to turn a profit. Robert Kirkman tried to revive this argument a while back, and the response from most creators seemed to be along the lines of “oh, that kid’s adorable.”

I’m not denying that many creative people have gotten the shaft over the years, but the amount of outrage this comic dedicates to this issue seems excessive. Around fifty percent of the world’s population lives on two dollars a day. Girls walking to school in some countries have acid thrown in their faces. People who speak out against corrupt governments, or just own certain books, are being executed. I can accept a maudlin, overblown “issues” comic about those topics. Comic creators getting screwed? It’s sad, but treating it as if it’s the world’s greatest injustice is a little much.

Monday, February 8, 2010

SPAWN #9 - March 1993


Credits: Neil Gaiman (writer), Todd McFarlane (art), Tom Orzechowski (letters and editor), Steve Oliff, Reuben Rude, & Olyoptics (colors),

Summary: 800 years in the past, Angela hunts the Medieval Spawn. With her lance, she removes him from this plane of existence. In the present, she arrives in New York to hunt the latest Spawn. Meanwhile, a bum named Cagliostro teaches Spawn how to draw power from his uniform, and drops hints about Spawn’s past. Angela arrives and blasts Spawn with her lance. He emerges from his cape and pulls her inside. She flies away in a flash of light. Spawn picks up the lance she left behind and pushes a button on the side. He suddenly disappears.

Spawntinuity: This is the first appearance of Angela, Medieval Spawn, and Count Nicholas Cagliostro. Angela is the Spawn universe’s version of an angel. She reports to an office building in New York, run by a woman named Gabrielle. According to Angela’s hunting manual, Malebolgia creates a new Spawn approximately every century. It also says that Hellspawn that don’t prove themselves on Earth become food for Malebolgia’s army. Cagliostro disappears for a while, but later becomes a major character in the comics and various Spawn media (he’s also quietly renamed “Cogliostro.”) He teaches Spawn how to create inanimate objects (in this case, a box of wine), which is a power that’s soon ignored. Cagliostro has an informal, casual speech pattern here that’s ignored when he becomes a major character. Neil Gaiman portrays Spawn’s homeless friends as scandalous celebrities, such as Richard Nixon, Jimmy Hoffa, and Elvis. Everyone else ignores this joke.

Spawn vs. Lawyers: Oooookay. Neil Gaiman and Todd McFarlane appeared to have a good relationship until the late ‘90s, when McFarlane began using Angela in comics not written by Gaiman. I don’t know if this specifically set anything off, but a few years later Gaiman was suing McFarlane over the rights to Angela, Medieval Spawn, and Cogliostro. This dragged on for years, and somehow the rights to Marvelman/Miracelman got tied up in the affair.

The Big Names: Jim Lee draws an Angela poster. Alan Moore is announced as the writer of the upcoming Violator miniseries.

Production Note: The book is now printed on slick, higher quality paper.

Review: It’s the comic that launched a thousand lawsuits. I’m not sure if McFarlane even reprints this issue anymore, but it’s hard to see how he can avoid it since Angela and especially Cogliostro become major characters as the series progresses. Gaiman seems to be having fun with the new universe of Spawn, exploring some of the obvious areas McFarlane hasn’t gotten to yet. If Spawn comes from Hell, who represents Heaven in this world? What were the previous Spawns like? What happens when a Spawn goes back to Hell? (This is one of the holes with the premise McFarlane established early on. Regardless of what Spawn does on Earth, even if he’s proven “worthy” to lead an army, he’s still destined to go back to Hell. What’s worse than already being dead and damned? Gaiman specifies that he’ll become sustenance for Malebolgia’s forces, which means Malebolgia wins either way). Plus, as McFarlane and future writers will learn years later, the idea of a mysterious bum who acts a guide to Spawn is a strong one with a lot of potential. There are a lot of ideas here, even though the structure of the story is a little odd. Most of the story is spent building up to Angela’s confrontation with Spawn, but by the time she reaches him, the comic only has a few pages left. What exactly happens with Spawn disappearing into his cape and then pulling Angela in doesn’t make sense, and then she just disappears. The next page, Spawn disappears, leading into the Dave Sim issue.

Even with the choppy ending, this is still enjoyable. Gaiman doesn’t do much with the current-day Spawn, but he makes Medieval Spawn a sympathetic figure in just a few pages. Angela is a character I’ve always liked, at least when Gaiman writes her. She could be a stereotypical warrior female, but Gaiman gives her a sense of humor, and manages to make her brashness and egotism endearing. Having her hunt Spawns for the thrill of the hunt and not as a zealot is a clever inversion on what you would expect an angel to do in this series. Visually, I wonder if McFarlane based Angela on his interpretation of Mary Jane Watson-Parker (his makeover of the character received a lot of attention at the time). I don’t know that much about his lawsuit with McFarlane, but I wonder if Gaiman demands full rights to Angela. Shouldn’t McFarlane at least be credited as a co-creator for designing her?

Friday, February 5, 2010

SPAWN #8 - February 1993

In Heaven (Everything is Fine)

Credits: Alan Moore (writer), Todd McFarlane (art), Tom Orzechowski (letters and editor), Steve Oliff, Reuben Rude, & Olyoptics (colors),

Summary: Billy Kincaid awakens in the lowest sphere of Hell. He’s joined by a group of the recently deceased, who are all eventually grabbed by demons from various levels of Hell. Kincaid is left alone with the last survivor, a young girl. When he gives in to his urges and reaches for her throat, she rips off her skin and reveals herself as the Vindicator. Vindicator takes Kincaid to the eighth level, the Malebolge. Kincaid is fitted with a Spawn uniform, and forced to live under Malebolgia.

Spawntinuity: Billy Kincaid claims his serial killer name is “Mister Chill-ee.” Vindicator, of the “Five Fabulous Phlebiac Brothers,” makes his first appearance. The devil Spawn made a deal with is named for the first time. “Malebolgia” is a “Dante’s Inferno” reference, like much of the issue. According to Vindicator, there are ten levels of Hell, with unique demons on each sphere (although the tenth level is supposed to be Heaven). Vindicator refers to Spawn uniforms as neural parasites.

Todd Talk: McFarlane has begun bashing Peter David and John Byrne for being “obsessed” with Spawn and Image in the letters page.

The Big Names: Frank Miller provides a Sin City style Spawn poster. Dark Horse’s Diana Schultz writes a fan letter, saying the book isn’t “high art,” but she enjoys it. (She also says it was impossible to find the early issues of the series, even though this book had print runs of around a million copies in the early days. Crazy times.)

Miscellaneous Note: The title of the issue is a reference to a song on the Eraserhead soundtrack.

Review: This comic has been forgotten over the years, but it is significant for being Alan Moore’s return to mainstream comics. It’s obviously a Moore story, if only because the generic “Hell” of the early issues is now an elaborate literary reference populated with bizarre demons that collect souls for psychotropic highs or fashion statements. Moore doesn’t seem to expect people to take the horror elements that seriously, since he’s largely playing this for laughs. Kincaid’s traveling companions in the afterlife are a collection of various American stereotypes (the ditzy Californian, the black gospel singer, the Elvis-loving redneck) who all meet terrible fates. I don’t think Moore wants us to actively root for their deaths, but he clearly wasn’t trying to create three-dimensional figures.

Billy Kincaid gets a personality makeover, as Moore drops the childlike speech pattern given to him by McFarlane and instead writes him as a blue-collar slob who just happens to kill kids. Since Kincaid narrates the story, I can see why Moore gives him a more natural voice. It also enables Moore to work in more jokes, such as Kincaid’s questioning if Spawn violated his constitutional rights by killing him. Moore also makes the Vindicator genuinely funny, vastly improving on the brash, loudmouthed personality McFarlane was going for on his brother, Violator. McFarlane’s art excels in this issue, as he’s given plenty of freakish demons and alien landscapes to draw.

McFarlane’s decision to turn his continuity over to a series of guest writers while the book was still young was an unusual choice, since he still had every intention of staying with the title. In some cases, Moore’s ideas survive throughout the book’s run (among other things, this issue establishes that good and evil don’t matter in the Spawn universe’s afterlife), but not everything stuck. Moore creates an army of souls wearing the Spawn uniform, which will contradict McFarlane’s future attempts at making the Spawn identity unique to soldiers sent to train on Earth. When Kincaid does show up years later as a ghost, he’s certainly not wearing a Spawn costume (although his speech pattern is closer to Moore’s). The real problem for McFarlane in the future won’t be minor continuity issues, though. Alan Moore didn’t seem to mind creating brothers for the Violator or naming the series’ main villain as a part of his freelancer fee, but the next guest writer was more willing to take up McFarlane on his beloved “creator’s rights” cause.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

SPAWN #7 - January 1993

Payback- Part Two

Credits: Todd McFarlane (story, pencils, & inks), Tom Orzechowski, (letters and editor), Terry Fitzgerald (story consultant), Steve Oliff, Reuben Rude, & Olyoptics (colors)

Summary: When Spawn is caught at the armory, he teleports away to avoid a confrontation with the Army. Spawn locates Overt-Kill’s employer, Tony Twist, and forces him to arrange a rematch. With his new weapons, Spawn easily defeats Overt-Kill and destroys his remains.

Spawntinuity: Bobby, the bum who grows closest to Spawn, appears for the first time. Spawn has a sudden vision of a skeleton murdering him in the past, which is a hint about his killer’s identity. Spawn’s cape follows him after he takes it off before confronting Overt-Kill, which is the first clue it’s sentient.

I Love the ‘90s: Wanda investigates the mystery man who earlier posed as an ASPCA volunteer (it was Spawn in his white guy guise). The ASPCA employee she speaks to has large ears, which leads to a Ross Perot reference.

Spawn Stuff: There’s a pullout poster of the real-life Spawnmobile racecar (sponsored by Wizard Magazine and Topps Trading Cards).

Review: I’ve always liked the opening of this issue. Spawn decides to arm himself to avoid using his powers (when they’re depleted, he has to return to Hell), and ends up face-to-face with the Army. He doesn’t want to fight his fellow soldiers, so he’s forced to use his powers anyway and teleport. It’s like something Stan Lee would write, if he had an inclination towards undead, murderous anti-heroes. I should point out that choosing not to kill a brigade of young soldiers is pretty much the closest to “likeable” I can remember Spawn reaching.

After McFarlane’s through with the opening, it seems like he’s already lost interest in the main story. The book takes a detour with a sudden vision/flashback for Spawn, and then a few subplot pages with his wife. When the main plot resurfaces, the explanation for Spawn learning Tony Twist’s identity and location is covered in a narrative caption, and the actual fight with Overt-Kill is over in a few pages. With Spawn’s massive, massive guns, the fight is extremely one-sided, ending the issue with a dull anti-climax. I wonder if McFarlane’s later decision to move Spawn over towards urban horror had anything to do with a reluctance to work with traditional superhero tropes, or just sheer boredom with conventional hero vs. villain fights.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

SPAWN #6 - November 1992

Payback- Part One
Credits: Todd McFarlane (story, pencils, & inks), Tom Orzechowski, (letters and edits), Terry Fitzgerald (story consultant), Steve Oliff, Reuben Rude, & Olyoptics (colors)

Summary: The Mafia investigates the murders of several organized crime figures. One of the homeless implicates Spawn in the murders. Mobster Tony Twist has cyborg assassin Overt-Kill sent from Italy. Overt-Kill fights Spawn in a warehouse, where the battle is a draw. Overt-Kill’s sensors are damaged, leading him to believe Spawn is dead. Spawn, unwilling to waste more of his power, travels to an army base to stockpile weapons.

Spawntinuity: This is the first comic book appearance of Overt-Kill, who was created (as "Overkill") by Todd McFarlane and Rob Liefeld as part of a Stan Lee video series about comics. Spawn’s chains begin acting on their own accord for the first time. Wanda’s daughter Cyan is described as fifteen months old. Overt-Kill claims that he’s faced Youngblood in the past and mistakes Spawn for a member.

Spawn vs. Lawyers: Mobster Tony Twist also debuts this issue, although it looks like he hasn’t been given a name yet. Twist is named after a hockey player who later successfully sued McFarlane after seeing the character on the HBO series.

The Big Names: The full list of “Creator’s Choice” guest writers is announced. Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, Dave Sim, and Frank Miller will all write future issues of the series.

Spawn Stuff: Spawn and Image t-shirts, “Spawntastic Apparel,” are advertised on the back cover.

Review: Was there a point to Violator killing random mobsters in the early issues? Probably not, but after a few months it seems like McFarlane’s decided to go somewhere with the idea. The HBO series also adapted this storyline, although in the cartoon, “Overkill” (maybe his name sounded too stupid when spoken out loud) is sent after Spawn when he kills a few Mafia hitmen who were loaned to all-purpose bad guy, Jason Wynn. Spawn does kill two hitmen in this issue, but only after he discovers them shooting random homeless people to “send a message.” Everything in the book is ridiculously over-the-top. The hitmen “reward” the junkie who points them towards Spawn by killing him, they kill additional homeless to draw more attention, Spawn kills them (with no remorse, naturally), and then Overt-Kill shows up for a fight. Because this isn’t 1992 enough, Spawn poses with a full armory of strapped-on weapons and guns on the final splash page. I wouldn’t mind all of the outrageousness if McFarlane didn’t seem to be taking it so seriously. Throughout the entire issue, characters recite tired dialogue like, “Always preying on the weak. Let’s see how you deal with death warmed over. Show yourself…if you dare.” Everyone is relentlessly humorless, except for a few of the “wacky” mob bosses. How can you put a character called “Overt-Kill” in your comic without acknowledging a tiny element of self-parody?

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

SPAWN #5 - October 1992


Credits: Todd McFarlane (story and art), Steve Oliff, Reuben Rude, & Olyoptics (colors), Tom Orzechowski (letters)

Summary: Convicted child-killer Billy Kincaid is freed on a technicality. He takes over an ice cream truck and begins victimizing local children. When Spawn hears of the case, he flashes back to his past as Al Simmons. One of Kincaid’s early victims was the daughter of a former Senator. He offered Simmons a million dollars to kill Kincaid, but the police found him first. Later, evidence implicating Kincaid was destroyed. Simmons suspected that enemies Senator Jennings made within the government were involved with the cover-up. Spawn now finishes his mission and kidnaps Kincaid from his home. Detectives Sam and Twitch are monitoring Kincaid, and catch a glimpse of Spawn outside. Later, they discover Kincaid’s body in their office.

Spawntinuity: It’s revealed that Sam has been a detective for sixteen years and has previously lost a partner. Twitch says that he has seven children. A narrative caption describes Spawn’s former wife, Wanda, as a businesswoman. In the HBO series, she’s a lawyer, which I think is eventually adopted by the comics. (The HBO series bases much of the first season on this one issue, by making Wanda a lawyer for a patsy framed for Kincaid’s crimes and later using her child as a potential victim for Kincaid). This is also the first issue to feature Spawn associating with New York’s homeless.

I Love the ‘90s: A newspaper headline declares “Bush Reelected.” The polls were probably leaning this way when McFarlane drew the issue.

Not Approved By The Comics Code Authority: Billy Kincaid “finger paints” by gluing dead kids’ fingers to the wall. He’s also chained up with ice cream bars (and a scoop) stabbed into his body after Spawn kills him.

Review: Because it’s just not out of his system yet, McFarlane brings us more dead kids. If I’m to believe a future letters page, this issue was banned in Australia, and according to Erik Larsen, this one lead to McFarlane’s wife removing her name as editor (the original Image creators credited their spouses as editors, just to give the impression that the books actually had editors). Since this is McFarlane’s own baby, I can’t say anything about how appropriate or inappropriate the content is this time. The hero of the book is a government assassin who sold his soul to the devil, so it’s not as if a child-killer villain is really out of line. A lot of this is cliché “honest cops rail against an ineffective system” material, but I actually think McFarlane is able to make Sam and Twitch likable characters in their own right. The other tired cliché is the shadowy government conspiracy angle (which is at least partly responsible for Kincaid getting released), which will pop up endlessly in this series. I don’t mind it so much here, since it adds an extra layer to Kincaid’s backstory. There’s a much more substantial plot this time, as McFarlane manages to tie Kincaid into Spawn’s past in a relatively smooth fashion, and connect Spawn’s feelings over Wanda’s child to Kincaid’s murders. It’s dark, it’s sick, but the story is told effectively, and it’s one of the few examples of McFarlane actually executing a one-shot issue.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Born in the '90s. Sworn to Justice

After spending a month in the X-universe, it’s time to focus on the first series that will alternate with the X-books. My original plan was to spend one month on each of the three franchises (the third will be revealed soon), but that would force me to take off two months in-between each review series, which is just too long. Instead, my plan is to devote two weeks apiece to each franchise. Having reviewed the McFarlane Spider-Man series a few months ago, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that my new focus will be Boof and the Bruise Crew. I kid. Of course it’s Spawn. I’ll get to issue #5 tomorrow, so in the meantime, please enjoy my reviews of the first four issues, which ran a few years ago during “Image Comics Week.”

SPAWN #1 – May 1992

Credits: Todd McFarlane (story, art), Tom Orzechowski (letters), Steve Oliff (colors)

Spawn appears in New York City with no memory of his previous life. All he knows is that he died five years ago and made a bad deal with a devil. Spawn comes across an attempted rape and saves the victim. Suddenly, he flashes back to his funeral, and realizes the woman mourning at his casket is his wife. He takes off his mask and gloves to discover that his entire body is badly burned. Meanwhile, detectives Sam and Twitch investigate the murders of various underworld figures.

This is the debut appearance of Spawn, a character that dominated the comic book marketplace for almost a decade. I started buying this title around the time Greg Capullo started his run, and stayed with it for most of my teen years. At some point, I realized that the stories never went anywhere, but I didn’t actually drop the book until Capullo left. A lot of people don’t want to admit that they bought this book during the ‘90s (and sales have even dropped to less than 25,000 apparently), but you can’t deny that this was a very popular title during that era. With Spawn, McFarlane created a title that appealed to little kids, teenage metalheads, horror fans, traditional superhero fans, and wannabe occultist types. That’s a pretty wide net. I think if the character had a more clearly defined personality and motivation, it would’ve maintained more of its popularity.

The first issue of this series is just Spawn wandering around, stopping a rape (then wondering why, because he’s “not a hero”), and having random flashbacks. McFarlane experiments with some creative page layouts and uses the Dark Knight Returns trick of having TV news reports give exposition. As a first issue, it’s actually not that bad. I think more about the character should have been revealed, but McFarlane does a decent job of building up the mystery. I’ve seen people question in recent years why McFarlane was so popular during this era, but seeing someone combine cartooniness with “realism” was still pretty new at the time. McFarlane’s technical drawing is inconsistent, but it’s always energetic and most of his pages are interesting to look at. Plus, McFarlane stuck with a monthly title for years, building up a huge fanbase (something his inspiration Art Adams never did). Now, there are guys like Pete Woods and Ed McGuiness who have figured out how to combine cartoony elements with more solid drawings, making McFarlane’s stuff less impressive.

SPAWN #2 – June 1992

Questions – Part Two
Credits: Todd McFarlane (story, art), Tom Orzechowski (letters), Steve Oliff and Reuben Rude (colors)

Spawn attempts to use his powers to fix his skin. He turns into a blond white man, shocking him since he should be black. Meanwhile, a monster named the Violator is ripping the hearts out of New York gangsters. Spawn has another flashback to arguments with his boss Jason Wynn. Spawn collapses and wakes up in the alley next to a clown, who turns out to be the Violator.

Not Approved By The Comics Code Authority
Violator’s gimmick is that he rips the hearts out of people. McFarlane seems to enjoy making these scenes as bloody as possible. He also seems to be under the impression that the human heart looks like a potato.

Okay, it’s another issue of Spawn moping around the alleys and not doing anything. McFarlane pads this out with more pages of the Violator’s killing spree, and numerous splash pages of Spawn striking poses. I don’t know why exactly McFarlane was more interesting in drawing this stuff, rather than Spawn actually, you know, doing something. I should point out that I’ve read over seventy issues of this series and never saw an explanation for Spawn turning into a white guy. I used to assume that the real Al Simmons was white and that this was some sort of in-joke, but that’s not the case.

SPAWN #3 – August 1992

Questions – Part Three
Credits: Todd McFarlane (story, art), Tom Orzechowski (letters), Steve Oliff and Reuben Rude (colors)

Spawn recalls the name of his wife, and heads to a CIA office to get her address. Reading her file, Spawn discovers that his wife has married his best friend during the five years he was gone. He disguises himself and visits their home, discovering that they also have a daughter. Later, Spawn broods in an alley, and is confronted by the Violator. He rips Spawn’s heart out, but he quickly recovers.

The plot advances a little bit, but it’s only covering territory that should’ve already been covered by now. Why wait three issues to reveal that his wife married his best friend? It’s not as if there was a lot going on in the previous issues. Spawn’s relationship with his wife is one element of the character that I do like. A character who sold his soul to the devil only to find out that she’s married someone else isn’t a bad idea. Unfortunately, this just became an excuse for Spawn to mope around back alleys and feel sorry for himself for years.

SPAWN #4 – September 1992

Questions – Part Four
Credits: Todd McFarlane (story, art), Tom Orzechowski (letters), Steve Oliff and Reuben Rude (colors)

Spawn repairs his heart and fights Violator. After dismembering one another, a large devil appears and explains to Spawn that he was chosen to be a warrior for Hell due to his past life as a hired government assassin. He’s been given a finite amount of power, and once it runs out, he returns to Hell. The devil heals Spawn and Violator, but forces Violator into his human form as punishment. Spawn wanders off, contemplating his new life.

Not Approved By The Comics Code Authority
There’s plenty of dismemberment fun in this issue.

This is the climax to the series’ first story arc, and it does establish Spawn’s origin and status quo. Aside from that, it’s a small payoff for four issues of story. Why exactly Violator felt the need to kill large numbers of mobsters is never revealed. What the devil hopes to gain by placing Spawn on Earth in the first place isn’t clear either. The confrontation between Spawn and Violator isn’t even fun. Spawn strikes some poses and then gets thrown into a wall. The actual fight takes place off-panel, with giant sound effects and floating limbs taking the place of an actual fight scene. McFarlane begins to write a lot of heavy captions, which was always a distinctive feature of the book when I followed it. They’re fairly boring and don’t say a lot, but Orzechowski’s lettering is attractive. He also gives all of the superpowered characters their own distinctive font and word balloons, which looks cool. The colors are also great and look contemporary with something that would be published today. Spawn remained a great looking comic for the rest of the ‘90s, with improved paper quality, excellent Greg Capullo art, and a new standard for digital colors and separations. Unfortunately, the stories always trailed behind the pretty, pretty pictures.
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