Comics experienced a unique wave in the 1990’s. Image Comics began when multiple artists from DC and Marvel came together under one banner. They created a new line of comics and superheroes ranging from the superteam YOUNGBLOOD to SAVAGE DRAGON. However, one of (if not THE) most iconic characters was artist Todd McFarlane’s SPAWN. McFarlane drew on his work with BATMAN and SPIDER-MAN’s Venom to create a dark, gothic, undead anti-hero. The comic launched McFarlane to new levels of success. He formed Todd McFarlane Entertainment, while simultaneously making SPAWN into a massive line of toys with McFarlane Toys. The comics were collected in various editions over the years, starting with SPAWN ORIGINS #1.

SPAWN’s biggest moves came when an HBO animated series and film adaptation emerged in 1997. The series (in my opinion) remains the best adaption of SPAWN thanks to its animation, the voice work by the legendary Keith David, and the dark atmosphere. The film received fewer accolades from critics and fans alike. Critics bashed it, while fans complained about the limits of its PG-13 rating and slick feel. McFarlane stated for years he wanted to direct a reboot. This year seems poised to see filming finally start, as Blumhouse has picked up McFarlane’s script. However, after so many years, does SPAWN work in today’s world? That decision requires a look at the hero’s debut to see just how well his story holds up. Prepare to journey to Hell, as we analyze SPAWN ORIGINS #1 (containing issues #1-6).


McFarlane drew praise in his career for his work on BATMAN. That influence comes across not only in his art style (more on that later) but in the tone of SPAWN ORIGINS #1 itself. Both SPAWN and Frank Miller’s THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS are dark, emotional stories about a lone hero searching for purpose. The first shot of Spawn is even reminiscent of Miller’s classic cover.

Courtesy of Image Comics

Miller’s work hangs over SPAWN. The use of heavy shadows and inner monologues are obvious pieces of the DKR blueprint. The dark cityscape creates a similar feel, and Spawn’s monologues create the same feelings of loss DKR’s Batman experienced. Spawn’s new status saves the book from being a total retread though. Spawn knows as much about himself as the audience. He is a blank slate, trying to find some type of meaning. The monologues become necessary pieces because they are the only clues we get into the character. It’s a unique twist on a familiar technique that still reads well.

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McFarlane falters on other Miller techniques, however. He uses newscaster ‘talking heads’ as much as DKR did, which doesn’t have the same punch for SPAWN that it did in DKR. DKR examined vigilante justice; SPAWN ORIGINS #1 focuses on character and style. Using the ‘heads’ feels more like unneeded imitation. Another example is Spawn’s nemesis, Clown/Violator. This demon became a comic mainstay, but spouts endless violent and ugly dialogue, which was something Miller dove more into as time went on. Ultimately, SPAWN works when McFarlane transforms Miller’s style, but the imitations are dated and worn by today’s standards.

Character and Story

Image Comics drew criticism from the comics industry for putting art before the story, but McFarlane was capable of good character building. McFarlane took a unique approach to Spawn’s development. Spawn knew nothing about himself, save for some broken visions. That drove him to learn and remember, and allowed audiences to treat each new detail like a prize. The character and story that emerged were simple yet effective. Spawn was Al Simmons, an African American government assassin betrayed and murdered overseas. He went to Hell for his sins but made a deal to lead Hell’s army in exchange for seeing his wife, Wanda, again.

The reader sympathizes with Spawn’s frustrations and his pain at being unable to see Wanda again (underneath the suit, Spawn is a corpse). Both the character and story work are at their best when McFarlane focuses on Spawn’s development and inner turmoil. All of it feels organic and natural, especially when Spawn tries to re-enter his old life. This element fills with human pain, as Spawn sees Wanda has not only remarried but has had the child Spawn couldn’t give her. Spawn even learns he can look human again, but there is a cruel twist.

Courtesy of Image Comics

The rest of the story falters as Spawn’s encounters with both Clown and Malbogia feel like encounters with cartoon characters in comparison. They provide brutal fights, but it doesn’t have the same weight of human struggle. It doesn’t help that both demons feel like cackling super-villain clichés, with their endless chatter about evil. Still, Spawn’s character (and the side story of cops Sam and Twitch, who are investigating murders) still hold resonance because of their grittier human elements.

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McFarlane took most of the responsibilities on SPAWN. He took what he’d learned on Batman and Venom, and incorporated it into this story. The dark, gothic city streets are impressive to look at even now, and Spawn’s costume still holds up well. The Batman influence on McFarlane is clear, especially with the cape. It feels like McFarlane built on the idea, though, rather than just copying it.

Courtesy of Image Comics

The art maintains a gritty feel throughout, making sure readers knew exactly what type of book they held. It made SPAWN ORIGINS #1 work because the book had its own world that felt appropriate for its story and lead. Spawn’s art was generally tight, with solid human definition. However, there were some flaws. While most characters fit the tone, others suffered from more cartoony looks, like Malbogia and even Sam and Twitch. The cops’ appearance felt somewhat appropriate to their characters. It showed the contrast between them (fat angry man vs. skinny tranquil man) and made their teamwork seem even more surprising. Malbogia and Clown were demons and needed to look removed from human conceptions. It worked, but it was hard to take the Lord of Hell seriously with such a sloppy style.

Courtesy of Image Comics

The inconsistencies are somewhat indicative of the problems McFarlane had being his own boss. He made some good choices, but others seemed to have slipped past him. The most notable thing is how Spawn himself received McFarlane’s most controlled pencils. The character needed to look good, but fans of today may see a problem. They’ve likely grown up seeing SPAWN’s likeness on countless toys. They may see the disparity in quality as McFarlane trying to push SPAWN the toy, not SPAWN the comic.

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Final Word on SPAWN ORIGINS #1

SPAWN ORIGINS #1 shows a good comic with some flaws. The central story of SPAWN holds elements (loss, pain, bad choices) that are timeless even today. The main character garners sympathy and feels imposing at the same time. However, the book contains some inconsistent art and villains that quickly grow annoying. Modern readers can still find good in SPAWN, but they would have to get through some negative elements to get it. McFarlane needs to keep that in mind and focus on those strong elements if he’s really making his movie.

One Comment

  1. […] really well together and don’t disappoint. SPAWN KILLS EVERYONE TOO #1 is a great addition to the SPAWN universe. With all the unexpected laughs in the first issue, it’s hard to tell what they have […]


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