Spawn of McFarlane

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The story of Todd McFarlane’s Spawn is tied intimately to the birth of Image Comics. In short, Image Comics was formed by a core of seven young, top-selling comic creators (primarily illustrators), who left Marvel Comics to pursue their own viable independent publishing company. Each of these creators established their own studios under the umbrella title of Image Comics. Former Spider-Man penciller Todd McFarlane’s contribution to the effort was the dark supernatural hero, Spawn. 

In the first arc, readers were introduced to a government agent by the name of Al Simmons. After being betrayed and killed, Simmons struck a deal with the devil Malebolgia. In exchange for his soul, Simmons was granted the powers of a Hellspawn and could return to the living world so that he might see his wife again. Naturally, the deal came with a high cost. Not only did Simmons lose his soul, he returned without a face, only fragments of his memory and five years after his death – at a point when his wife had already remarried to Simmons’ best friend. Thus began Simmons’ new life as a pawn in the war between Heaven and Hell. The series, with a strong focus on art and style became especially popular with younger teenaged fans. As the second title debuting from Image in the late spring/early summer of 1992, Spawn #1 established an incredible record for sales of an independent title – over 1.7 million copies. 

From the onset, missed deadlines and shipping dates plagued Spawn, as McFarlane’s duties as penciller, writer, inker of the title (and co-founder of Image) apparently consumed more time than expected. In an effort to get the comic back on schedule, McFarlane tapped four superstar writers to guest-script Spawn #8-11. Alan Moore, Frank Miller, Dave Sim and, most importantly, Neil Gaiman provided four stand-alone tales. In Gaiman’s issue #9 (March 1993), several important supporting characters were introduced, including a medieval version of Spawn and the wildly popular angel/spawn-hunter, Angela.

In 2002, Gaiman filed a lawsuit against McFarlane, alleging that McFarlane had cheated the writer out of profits derived from the characters created in issue #9 (some of which had spun-off into their own series or been rendered as action figures). Gaiman ultimately won the case, legally affirmed as co-creator of the characters, who promptly disappeared from the Spawn mythos.

Issues #12 & 13 brought the mystery surrounding Al Simmons’ death to a head with the revelation of his killer – a former ally named Chapel. Chapel, a character from fellow Image founder Rob Liefeld’s comic Youngblood, became an integral part to the Spawn saga…which became a complicated matter when a falling out between Liefeld and the other co-founders occurred. When all was said and done, Liefeld and his creations were no longer part of Image, and Spawn’s killer was retroactively revealed to be a McFarlane created character named Priest.

In 1994, McFarlane began to step back from the day-to-day work on the Spawn series (handing artistic chores to Greg Capullo), enabling his character to debut in a new line of action figures. Starting with the Spawn characters, McFarlane Toys became renowned for their intricate sculpting (the figures are often viewed as tiny statues, considering that the lack of articulation that resulted from this intense concentration to detail).

1996 saw the birth of Todd McFarlane Entertainment, which brought Spawn to life in two different forms. In 1997, a live-action Spawn motion picture debuted, staring Michael Jai White, John Leguizamo and Martin Sheen. Generally viewed as a modest success, the film made generous use of CGI animation and is best remembered for the over-the-top performance of Leguizamo as the demonic Violator. An animated series also debuted the same year, geared towards older viewers. Todd McFarlane’s Spawn ran from 1997-1999 on HBO and, with it’s heavily anime influenced style, earned two Emmy awards.  

As the years progressed, the Spawn series continued, although it has been unable to recapture the excitement and popularity of the early years. In 1998, Brian Holguin joined McFarlane as co-writer, injecting new enthusiasm into the series. There have also been several spin-off series including Sam & Twitch (1999-2003), Hellspawn (2000-2003) and Case Files (2003-present) which included works by writers such as Brian Michael Bendis, Steve Niles and Marc Andreyko. More recently, McFarlane announced that he would be stepping back from his creation, leading to a new creative team with the upcoming issue #150 – writer David Hine and artist Philip Tan. At the same time, McFarlane is at work on a new animated Spawn movie, tentatively scheduled for a 2006 DVD release.

Back in 1992, McFarlane stated that his dream was to create an iconic comic book character that would become a household name. Spawn has already achieved a prominent place in comic book history as a successful independent creation. Recent years may have seen a dip in the character’s popularity, but 2006 certainly seems to hold promise for a resurrection of Spawn.

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