Admittedly, it’s been a couple weeks since McFarlane and friends announced that the new SPAWN film was underway. But that hasn’t killed our enthusiasm for it! After all, why would you obsess over AQUAMAN or ANT-MAN when you could talk about Al Simmons?

For those who don’t know, that’s the human name of Spawn, Todd McFarlane’s (in)famous supernatural superhero. Besides Hellboy, Judge Dredd, and The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Spawn is basically the best-known non-Marvel/DC comic book superhero out there, and his series was one of the best-selling titles in the 90’s. Though, considering what 90’s comics were like, being a best-seller at that time might not be as admirable as expected.

McFarlane
Images courtesy of Marvel Entertainment, DC Comics, and Image Comics, respectively.

Still, based on what we know so far, the new SPAWN movie does seem pretty unique.

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A New Kind of Superhero Movie

When the news was announced in May that a new SPAWN film was underway, there were a couple surprising details. First off, the film is being produced by Blumhouse Productions, a film production company best known for horror movies like GET OUT and PARANORMAL ACTIVITY. Another shocker was the casting; Oscar-winner Jamie Foxx confirmed that he would be playing SPAWN himself. Currently, he’s the only actor that’s been cast so far.

But here’s the biggest surprise of all. Todd McFarlane, the comic book writer/artist who created Spawn, will be the director of the upcoming film. This is made all the more surprising by how McFarlane plans on utilizing Spawn in the movie. Spawn in the comics is an undead demon-ghost-vigilante who does fight human criminals, but is best known for battling supernatural forces like hell-spawns and evil angels.

McFarlane
Image courtesy of Image Comics

The upcoming film, however, plans on downplaying Spawn’s supernatural nature. McFarlane, who wrote the script as well, claims that the film will be a relatively realistic and gritty thriller with horror elements and that Spawn will be the only supernatural thing in the film. McFarlane even claims that the film will not bring up Spawn’s origin story and that the character won’t even have any dialogue.

But here’s the real reason why this is all so surprising. Sure, McFarlane is an accomplished comics creator. But his film resume is, well, completely blank.

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There’s A First Time For Everything

In case that that last sentence wasn’t clear, here’s what I meant: Todd McFarlane has never directed a film before. And by film, I don’t just mean feature-length movies; short films, commercials, tv episodes, you name it, McFarlane hasn’t directed it. It goes without saying that filmmaking is a lengthy process with a lot of moving parts to keep track of; and while the new SPAWN film isn’t going to be a big-budget spectacle like most superhero films, it still seems like a lot for a first-time director.

That said, if McFarlane was an accomplished director, his plans for the upcoming film still seem questionable. As I alluded to earlier, Spawn acting like a mysterious supernatural mute in an otherwise grounded crime film doesn’t quite match the character. This becomes painfully clear when you read the comics.

The Origins of SPAWN

For starters, Spawn’s design doesn’t quite lend itself to grounded grittiness. He looks like a mashup between Venom and Dr. Strange, decorated with a couple fancy goth accessories. Both visually and personality-wise, the character’s definitely not a silent specter.

McFarlane
Image courtesy of Image Comics

And, as you’d probably guess, Spawn’s backstory isn’t all that down-to-earth either. Spawn’s actual name is Al Simmons. He’s a CIA assassin that ends up murdered after he starts expressing reservations about his job. However, because of the shady stuff he did as a government assassin, Al ends up in Hell. He then sells his soul to the demon lord Malebolgia so that he can see his wife one last time.

Thus, Al returns to the mortal realm five years after his death. However, he comes back as a deformed super powered demon-zombie who can barely remember his past. From there, Simmons, now dubbed “Spawn” by his demonic overlords, sets out to find out who he is.

As mentioned earlier, Simmons/Spawn becomes a vigilante of sorts in his quest for remembrance; some of the crooks he takes on are regular non-powered thugs, but the ones that really stand out are the supernatural ones: for instance, there’s a demonic shape-shifting clown named Violator who gets introduced early on in the series. Other 90’s-style adversaries include a cyborg mercenary named Overtkill, and a scantily clad demon-hunting angel named… Angela (no points for creativity there).

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Violator, Overtkill, and Angela, respectively. Images courtesy of Image Comics.

Trying to Take SPAWN Seriously

A demon-zombie-vigilante fighting against villains with names like Violator and Overtkill sounds pretty over-the-top, because, well, it is. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, the ridiculousness of the world of Spawn is pretty fitting in the comics due to McFarlane’s exaggerative art style.

McFarlane
Image courtesy of Image Comics

Now, granted, a gritty Spawn film where Spawn is the only supernatural being present still has the potential to carry on this exaggerated tone. Also, given the film’s relatively low budget, an all-out Spawn adaptation featuring demons, angels, and shape-shifting clowns was probably never a possibility, to begin with. That said though, there are still things about the upcoming film that goes against the comics in a rather odd way.

The film just went into production. So, outside of general comments about the tone and scope, we don’t know that much about it so far. However, McFarlane has revealed in interviews what his plans are for the main characters are. As stated earlier, the film won’t include any of Spawn’s origin story, and the character will be portrayed as a silent boogeyman which McFarlane describes as being akin to Jaws. With Spawn as a monster lurking in the background, the actual main protagonist will be Twitch Williams, a police officer whose job gets tricky when Spawn starts wreaking havoc.

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Comics-Based Complaining

Now, as you might have guessed, Twitch is not a film-original character. Since the beginning, he’s been one of the main supporting players in the Spawn Franchise. But in the comics, instead of being an everyman sort of protagonist, he’s part of a Laurel and Hardy-esque duo with an overweight detective named Sam Burke.

McFarlane
Image courtesy of Image Comics

Oddly enough though, according to McFarlane, Sam won’t be in the movie. And considering that Twitch is Sam’s deadpan assistant in the comics, it remains a mystery why that dynamic wasn’t included in the upcoming film. It’s not like Sam has any powers, so it wouldn’t go against the more grounded dynamic McFarlane is aiming for.

The point is, Twitch being on his own, and Spawn becoming mute instead of being a showy anti-hero are some pretty radical departures in characterization.

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A Testament to Commitment

However, do keep in mind that the movie just started production. It’s still hard to tell at this point how McFarlane’s ideas are going to look onscreen. It’s also worth mentioning that McFarlane has been planning this out for a while.

If you’re one of those diehard SPAWN fans who’s been following this film’s development throughout the years, you’ve probably known about everything in this article for at least a couple years now. Though it took until May this year for things to truly be official, McFarlane talked about directing a SPAWN movie all the way back in 2008, and despite the fact that it took him until 2017 to complete the script, he’s been remarkably consistent in his plans. For instance, there have been several articles about Jamie Foxx being in talks to play the lead role since 2013.

Having written the script and maintained a consistent plan for the film for about a decade, McFarlane may not have the directorial expertise, but he does have the dedication to pull it through.

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The State of McFarlane’s SPAWN

As of now, McFarlane has stated that he’d like to keep production details under wraps. Though, he also said that he plans on sharing some updates here and there in the future.

McFarlane
Image courtesy of Cinemablend

There’s no set release date yet for SPAWN, though an animated spin-off series about Sam and Twitch is also currently in the works. It even has Kevin Smith signed on as one of the producers.

McFarlane may have bitten off more than he can chew, but I’m rooting for him to pull it off. Nothing’s quite set in stone yet, but if McFarlane’s SPAWN does come out as planned, it would set a precedent for lower-budget indie superhero films. After all, if we are going to have never-ending franchise movies, we might as well have some variety.

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