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Back to the Spawning Ground

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Todd McFarlane’s rise to superstardom might have been meteoric, but it didn’t happen overnight. He turned in hundreds of submissions to Marvel and DC before he got his first assignment, a back up feature in Epic’s Coyote in 1984. For the next few years, he built up a name for himself doing fill-in issues here or there, then a run on Infinity Inc, then several issues of Detective Comics, before landing the Incredible Hulk.

Incredible Hulk is where he finally “got noticed” as his collaboration with Peter David made the title a hit. When an opening on the much higher-profile Amazing Spider-Man opened up, Marvel moved McFarlane over. The rest, they say, is history.

His work on the web-slinger made him a star. He became so popular that when he wanted to write Spidey as well as draw him, Marvel created a new book just for that purpose—Spider-Man.

But McFarlane still wasn’t satisfied. He and several of Marvel’s other superstar artists at the time weren’t happy with the work-for-hire arrangement they had with the company. While they were well paid, Marvel owned the characters and made a whole lot more money through marketing them, money the creators never saw. McFarlane and his cohorts went to Marvel with an ultimatum. They wanted ownership of their characters and complete creative control. Marvel balked at this idea and the creators walked.

This is how Image was created, as the seven former Marvel artists and writers involved in the above ultimatum started their own company with their own characters. McFarlane’s contribution to the Image line of books was a character he created as a teenager-Spawn.

Spawn is Al Simmons, a mercenary who is consigned to Hell for the sins he committed during his life. Desperate to see his wife again, he makes a deal with the devil to return to life. Only he returns as a superpowered creature called the Hellspawn with the mission to retrieve souls that have escaped from Hell.

McFarlane has stated that he wanted Spawn to be as well known as Superman or Spider-Man. While the character might not be at that level of recognition yet, he has appeared in cartoons, movies and a successful line of toys.

The first issue of Spawn sold over 1.7 million copies, almost 10 times as many copies as the best-selling titles today move. However, since that time, sales on the title have dropped considerably, and the series has a hard time staying in the Diamond Top 100.

Part of the reason for this is due to the fact that McFarlane, who left Marvel over their work-for-hire practices, has hired different writers and artists to work on Spawn.

McFarlane, with one exception, has not provided the art on the series since issue #34 and has not had a hand in writing it since issue #150. 

That is all about to change this week as McFarlane returns to Spawn this week. He will be co-writing the book with Brian Holguin (who previously co-wrote the title with McFarlane from issue #71 to issue #150) and will be inking the series over Image co-founder Whilce Portacio’s pencils.

Obviously, McFarlane returning to the book is an effort to generate a little excitement, with the hopes this excitement will translate to sales. While it is unlikely Spawn will ever return to its 1992 sales, perhaps disenchanted fans will return now that McFarlane is back at the helm. Maybe that will breathe life into Image’s most famous undead character.

Also out this week:

Ghost Rider: Danny Ketch #1:

Danny Ketch was the secret identity of the 1990s Ghost Rider. The 1990s Ghost Rider series was one of the most popular Marvel books of that decade. So, it is no surprise that in these nostalgia loving 00s that we would eventually see Danny Ketch returning as a version of the Ghost Rider and Marvel trying to make a buck off of it.

This miniseries spins off from Jason Aaron’s run on Ghost Rider, where he reintroduced Danny Ketch as a foil for the Johnny Blaze Ghost Rider. This time, Aaron hands Danny over to Simon Spurrier to flesh out his return and explain how we got to where we are. If you liked the 1990s Ghost Rider series, Marvel is hoping you’ll pick this one up to fill-in the blanks in the missing years.   

Simon Spurrier (W), Javier Saltares   (A), Marvel Comics, $3.99. Five-Issue Miniseries.

Superman: New Krypton Special #1:

To many people, what made Superman so special was his status as the Last Son of Krypton. He was the last of his kind, an orphan, and this added an air of melancholy to his backstory.

However, over the years, more and more Kryptonians were entered into continuity, everyone from Supergirl to Beppo the Super-Monkey. While this did take away some of the uniqueness of Superman, it didn’t dilute it to the point of meaninglessness.

But now, there are 100,000 Kryptonians flying around. And while this is certainly one way the writers can shake up Supes’ status quo, it pretty much obliterates the whole “last one of his kind” concept. Let’s hope the stories that come out of this are good enough for losing such an important part of Superman’s mythos.

Various (W), Various (A), DC Comics, $3.99. One-Shot.

Cyblade #1:

Cyblade is one of Top Cow/Image’s oldest characters, having first appeared in Marc Silvestri’s initial Image offering, Cyberforce #1. Now, 16 years later, the cyborg mutant assassin finally gets her own series as a result of her winning last year’s Pilot Season contest. 

Dominique Thiebault has a chip in her brain that turns her from a normal girl into a deadly assassin, Cyblade, all at the whim of the evil Cyberdata corporation. Unfortunately for Cyberdata, Dominique has found a way out of the company’s clutches. But Cyberdata is not willing to let such a valuable agent go. Now, Dominique must stay a step ahead of them while trying to find out who she really is.  

Joshua Hale Fialkov (W), Rick Mays (A), Top Cow Productions, $2.99. Ongoing Series.

DC Universe: Halloween ‘08:

Usually when comic companies come out with these holiday themed specials, they seem like just a way to pull some inventory stories out of their drawers and put them on the shelves with the hope to make a quick buck.

However, DC’s Halloween offerings seem to be the exception to that. They usually have top name creators writing good stories and often times bring a little controversy with them.

It’s no different this year, as creators as diverse as Brian Reed, Mark Verheiden, Trevor Hairsine, Duncan Rouleau and Gene Ha celebrate the spookiest of holidays. And the solicitation seem to indicate that this special ties into Final Crisis, so completists of that series will have to pick this one up.

Various (W), Various  (A), DC Comics, $5.99. One-Shot.

Xena vs. Army of Darkness: What, Again? #1:

I guess Dynamite’s Xena vs. Army of Darkness: Why Not?   was a success because the comic company is once again bringing two of Sam Raimi’s most famous franchises together for another mini series. Can the world survive another meeting?

Ash and Xena made it through their previous meeting relatively unscathed and each returned safely to their own time. But the Necronomicon is not done with the pair yet and has nefarious plans for our heroes. It seems like Xena will be making a trip to Ash’s “present” with sword in hand and murder on the mind. Is she there to help Ash with the latest Deadite outbreak, or is she there to break Ash in two?

Brandon Jerwa & Elliot Serrano (W), Miguel Montenegro (A), Dynamite Entertainment, $3.50.  Four-Issue Miniseries.

Captain America #43:

Bucky is learning a lot about being Captain America, and one of the biggest things he’s learning is that there is no such thing as “downtime.” He just got done taking the Red Skull down and another threat has risen up. This time, the bad guy is someone Bucky has faced before, both during World War II and the Cold War. His career as Cap might be over before it even begins.

This is where the true test of Marvel’s experiment in replacing Cap begins. The long “Death of Captain America” arc was a great read, but now the new Cap is starting his first storyline on his own. Will readers continue to be interested in the new Cap now that the storyline tying him to the old Cap has ended?

Ed Brubaker (W), Luke Ross (A), Marvel Comics, $2.99. Ongoing Series.

Unknown Soldier #1:

It appears that Vertigo has been reading some of DC’s War comics from the 60s and 70s for inspiration. In a few months, the imprint is going to be bringing us an updated look on the Haunted Tank, and, this week, they are bringing the Unknown Soldier into the 21st Century.

The bandaged warrior is no longer fighting during World War II. He’s now in war-torn Northern Uganda. This is modern warfare with all its evils—including child soldiers and genocide. Pacifist doctor Moses Lwanga learns to fight when his life is threatened. But that one time break from his beliefs comes with a more psychotic one—he begins to hear voices telling him that killing is the only way to end this struggle.     

Joshua Dysart (W), Alberto Ponticelli (A), DC/Vertigo Comics, $2.99. Ongoing Series.

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William Gatevackes is a professional writer living in Mamaroneck, NY with his wife Jennifer. He also is the comic review editor for PopMatters and is the comic book movie editor for Film Buff Online. Links to his writing can be found at his website, www.williamgatevackes.com.

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