Spawnology - Year One
- Published on Tuesday, 12 June 2012 01:00
- Written by Andrenn
- Hits: 1302
Welcome to the first official Spawnology. Last time was more of an introduction, a zero issue, if you will. Now we are getting to the good stuff. The actual comic itself. Before we can talk about any Spawn characters, spin-offs or forms of media, I think it is crucial to go to the very start of the series. To look at the first twelve issues, the first year of stories that would lay the foundation for the long running series. Let's take a look at the early days of Spawn.
Though we are talking about the first twelve issues, this is in no way a synopsis of those issues. We are just picking up on various aspects of these issues. If you want to know what Spawn was like early on then do yourself a favor and go check out the Origins collections. They are nicely made affordable collections that are a perfect introduction to the Spawn series.
The first issue of Spawn is a strong start for the series. It does everything a first issue should do, introduces the character, establishes the world he is in and where he is at and then sets up the mystery nicely. By the end of the first issue, there are lots of unanswered questions that will drive Spawn through the next 99 issues. We get our first tease of the villain and we get scraps of the mystery to know there is something more to his past. Everything that would define Spawn is here in the first issue.
So let's talk about some of the things the first issue, and then the issues that follow, set up for Spawn.
He Had A Wife...
Wanda Blake was the wife of Al Simmons before his death. Right away we know that Spawn is having visions of some beautiful woman. He quickly figures out that she is his wife and then he remembers her name. Only to find out that she's remarried in the 5 years he was gone and now has a child with Al's best friend, Terry. It should also be mentioned that Al and Terry were the names of two of McFarlane's friends and Wanda is the name of McFarlane's wife.
Wanda would become a driving force for Spawn all through the series. Spawn's initial goal was to get back to his wife. That is why he took the deal in the first place with Malebolgia. Even after she moved on, Spawn would fight threats to protect Wanda and her family. Spawn and Wanda would also share a connection after his return that never really went away. Wanda is one of the characters who helped define who the man Al Simmons was to readers and she would end up being his greatest weakness.
The famous Spawn Counter was really important early on. The idea was simple: Spawn has limited power and the more he uses his powers to fight monsters and save people then the more power is drained and the closer he gets to dying again and going to hell. So he can either live long and never help anyone or use his powers for good and get closer to death.
The counter was a great idea and one that the early issues of the series made sure to keep up regularly. However, as the series went on, we saw the counter less and less until it was clear that McFarlane just forgot about it and it was no longer a part of the series. My guess is because in the first six issues alone Spawn uses a lot of power and at this rate, he would have been dead by issue 50.
Still, the counter has returned in a couple of ways over the years. It showed up near the end of the Armageddon arc when Spawn entered Eden and it counted down the time he could be in there. It showed up in Image United, more as a gag really, where the villainous Omega Spawn had infinite power and most recently in the Endgame arc where the counter is going up this time instead of down. It has also appeared in the Spawn SNES video game and the animated series.
Talking Heads Indeed...
Frank Miller's classic The Dark Knight Returns really coined the term Talking Heads in comics. There would be pages that were just heads in small panels with lots of text under them. McFarlane would do the same in Spawn where three news reporters would each report on a different topic. The first reporter being a more straight forward honest reporter, the second being a loud-mouth Bill O'Riley type reporter and the third being an entertainment news reporter.
It was an interesting idea to help establish the world of Spawn a little easier as well as get out exposition. However, I have always found the reporters to be boring reads. Yes, they have important stuff to the story but the simple page just with their heads next to paragraphs of text is uninteresting. Thankfully, the reporters have been reduced to cameos nowadays.
A Different Dynamic Duo...
Sam and Twitch are some of the most regular Spawn characters next to the titular anti-hero himself. The two detectives keeping the streets of New York safe in their own special way. Sam Burke and Twitch Williams are definitely the most successful characters as far as making it out of the Spawn comics and having their own stories.
Sam is the hothead who eats too much and and has issues with trust. Twitch is the cool-headed family man with incredible aim. Early on they were always one-step behind Spawn, though eventually would catch up and become a problem for him. Though as time passes they would become his most essential friends and whatever Spawn was up to, you could be sure that Sam and Twitch were not too far behind.
Sam and Twitch have had their own ongoing comics. First was just Sam and Twitch, which had Brian Bendis writing and then there was Case Files: Sam and Twitch. There was also a mini-series a couple years back. They have both grown a lot over the years but the early issues of Spawn really established who they would be for the next 200 plus issues of comics.
Youngblood, Youngblood And More Youngblood...
In the early days of Image Comics, the Founders really, really, really wanted you to know that they had a shared universe. Really. Because of this characters would either get name dropped or show up in each others series often. Dragon would fight Shadowhawk. Youngblood and WildCATS would argue over who's costumes looked sillier. The list goes on and on. There were a LOT of team-ups in the first few years of Image.
However, when reading the first 25 or so issues of Spawn you will hear one word often: Youngblood. For one reason or another, McFarlane chose to reference Youngblood in nearly every other issue of Spawn. Either the reporters would mention them, a person on the street or Spawn himself. McFarlane must have been a huge fan of Rob Liefeld's creation because he never stopped talking about it. Never a mention of Cyberforce or Shadowhawk, just Youngblood and one time Savage Dragon, as well.
The most regular villain in Spawn history is The Violator. Even when his boss Malebolgia kicks the bucket in issue #100, Violator would keep coming back and being a humongous pain in Spawn's neck. He first appears in the second issue of Spawn and he has never stopped tormenting Spawn through the series.
Early on, Violator was going around killing mobsters. Ripping out their hearts. This was kind of his gimmick but it did not really last. He became more of a simple monster who would just kill people in all kinds of gruesome ways rather than just going for their heart. But, early on, he was clearly a big threat and he knew it.
Violator has two forms. The first as the Clown, a short, fat, ugly little bastard who makes bad jokes all day and is a scheming little creep. The second as Violator one of the five famous Phlebiac Brothers, though we rarely see the other four. Violator and Spawn's first fight is more of a draw after they start tearing each others limbs off and putting holes in each other.
Violator is the definitive Spawn villain in many ways. While Malebolgia was the big bad behind the scenes, Violator would be his presence on Earth. The man poking Spawn and pushing him closer to his darker path back to Hell. Always trying to kill Spawn himself to prove that he, a true child of Hell, is much better than a human given Hell's powers.
The Mane Named Wynn...
Jason Wynn is why Al Simmons went to Hell. He may not have pulled the trigger, but it was Wynn's call to have that trigger pulled. Jason was Al's boss and he is one of the most powerful humans in the Spawn series. He can pull strings that even the highest people in the government do not know exist and he is not afraid of things getting messy.
Jason is not that much of a character early on though. He is more or less a presence felt in the series in its early days. He does not get that many scenes and he tends to spend most of his time in the shadows. Biding his time until another opportunity comes up. Jason has done a lot to cause Spawn pain. He has been the first Redeemer, then called Anti-Spawn. He has made life hell for Wanda and her family. Long after Al's death the acts of Jason Wynn would have bad repercussions for Spawn.
Ice Scream, I Scream...
Billy Kincaid debuts in the fifth issue and he definitely makes an impression. The child killer/rapist is set free after years of being locked up. When Spawn hears about this he remembers that he was hired to kill Kincaid by a senator who's child Kincaid murdered. Had he gotten there before the cops, Al would have been paid handsomely and he could have stopped working for Wynn. Wynn would then destroy the evidence on Kincaid, a favor to his people in high places.
Billy starts killing again and soon Spawn goes after him to finish what he started. This leads to the famous “ice cream” death scene that just about any Spawn fan should know and love. A fun fact about this issue, McFarlane's wife had been helping work on Spawn, editing it and when she saw that scene she quit working on the series.
Billy Kincaid was far from dead though. In the eighth issue, written by Alan Moore, we see Billy in Hell with various other people. This issue has Moore's trademark big and strange concepts. It also has one of Violator's brothers and its the issue that reveals there are five Phlebiacs. It also sets up the world of Hell with its nine spheres, the most important to the series being the Malebolge. This was, of course, inspired by the Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri. Billy was made into a Hellspawn, joining Malebolgia's army.
Billy would return when Spawn went to hell after the fiftieth issue. Though it was more of a cameo. He would return again as a Ghost, possessing people and making them into violent killers. Billy also returns in the Armageddon arc, though why he is not a ghost is never explained. So while he may have seemed like an unimportant one-shot character to get killed off, Billy Kincaid made his mark on the Spawn series and I would not be surprised if he returns again.
Overt-kill, With A T...
Spawn's first major fight with a villain was the cyborg Overt-kill. Brought in by the mob after Violator has been picking off their men and hired by Tony Twist to go after the killer who they think is Spawn. In their first fight, Spawn tries fighting Overt-kill with his powers, though trying not to use them too much to reserve energy. He gets his ass handed to him easily.
Not one to lie down in defeat, Spawn steals several high powered weapons from the military and has a second round with Overt-kill. Spawn stealing those guns is something that would have a huge impact on Wanda and her family later on in the series. During their second fight, Spawn wipes the floor with Overt-kill and blasts him down to small, easy to mail back to Italy pieces.
Overt-kill has returned a couple of times. The first time to kill Terry, something that happened because they thought Terry was Spawn. He would also return in Curse of the Spawn which established more of his history and the fact that he had family before he became a cyborg. He returned after the 100th issue of Spawn, where Spawn was at that point a demi-god who bitch slapped the cyborg hit man.
He also appeared in Image United #1, but we will talk more about that comic a later day.
Body Like An Angel...
Angela the Angel may be one of the most important characters in Spawn history both inside the comics and outside the comics. What her debut in issue nine would mean for the series and Todd McFarlane for the years to come is incredibly important. In the series, she was one of Spawn's deadliest enemies and later one of his closest ally's. Outside of the series, the issue she debuted in, written by Neil Gaiman, would lead to a lawsuit that is legendary in the comics industry.
For the sake of time and sanity, I am not going to say anything more about the Mcfarlane vs. Gaiman lawsuit that went on for years over Angela, Cogliostro and other Spawn characters. I am just going to talk about Angela herself for now.
Angela is a top ranked Hellspawn Hunter. She has killed numerous Spawn over the years and the issue opens with her killing the Medieval Spawn. She fights Al and while at first she has got him outmatched, when Spawn messes with her lance, she is easily beaten and Spawn is sent into a fever dream. Honestly, in her first appearance she is nothing special. A generic killer who just happens to be an angel.
Later on, her importance grew quickly. She got her own spin-off mini-series written by Gaiman, she showed up in Curse of the Spawn and her death in Spawn #100 is one of the best moments in Spawn history. She would even become Spawn's lover for a short time. Angela is one of the most important characters to Al Simmons and while she remains dead, fans will never forget her.
Cerebus And The Soapbox...
Following the ninth issue of Spawn, the tenth issue is written by Dave Sim the creator of Cerebus. Issue ten of Spawn really does not have anything to do with Spawn. It is not in continuity and barely revolves around Spawn. It was no surprise that it was not reprinted for several years seeing as how strange a read it is and how little it has to do with the main character.
Really, the issue is Sim's commenting on creator owned rights for comic characters. How Marvel and DC own their characters with an iron grip and all that. While Spawn is a good comic to talk about that, since Image really helped strengthen the idea of creator owned comics, it is a soapbox story and nothing else. If you are passionate about stuff like the DC/Superman creators lawsuit or Marvel vs. Jack Kirby's heirs then you will find this an interesting read. If you are just looking for a Spawn story then you will be disappointed. This issue is a weird note in the history of Spawn.
One Question Down, Ninety-Nine To Go...
The twelfth issue of Spawn answers a question that had been running since the beginning of the series: Who killed Al Simmons? The answer was Chapel of Youngblood. Jason Wynn told Chapel that Al was a traitor and Chapel turned his gun on his former friend. This would lead to the first crossover Spawn had with another character when he infiltrates Youngblood HQ to get some payback.
Through the first twelve issues, Spawn finds himself drawn to a church. At first thinking it may be the one he and Wanda were married at. Only to realize it was his subconscious telling him who his killer was. This was a really well done build up to the reveal by McFarlane that, if I had not known it was Chapel before, it would have really shocked me as a reader.
Chapel would clash with Spawn again, leading to his death. He would then become a lord of Hell, though that idea eventually got dropped. When Rob Liefeld had to leave Image because the other founders kicked him out, he took Youngblood and Chapel with him. So McFarlane retconned that Chapel was not really Al's killer, it was Jessica Priest, a character from the Spawn movie. Though in the animated series, Al's killer is still Chapel.
Chapel has returned to Image with Youngblood and now his connection to Spawn is iffy at best. In Image United #3 when Chapel faces off with the new Spawn, Jim Downing, he mentions killing Spawn before so maybe Chapel was the killer again, but at this point who knows.
Spawn's first year of stories made for an exciting start. All the characters you know and love are there and while they may differ from their later versions they are still great characters. Spawn is developed nicely over the issues as an anti-hero who has a strong sense of right and wrong and rarely questions his own actions. The mystery is deep and layered with various twists and turns, some of which never really got answered until the 100 issue mark.
Anyone who wants to get into Spawn should definitely check out the first twelve issues. There is so much more I could have talked about like Cogliostro, Grandma Blake and of course Cyan. But those characters are far more important later down the road and there's not much to say about their early appearances. Still the Spawn series is filled to the brim with so many interesting characters and exciting mysteries that all start here and what a great start it is for what I consider to be one of the most important comics of all time.
Andrenn got back into comics years ago with a random issue of Spawn. From there he was hooked and a couple years later he had to share his thoughts with the world at his old blog New Age Comics with Andrenn. Now a huge Image fan and a horror geek, Andrenn writes for the Comic Book Revolution. You can follow Andrenn's ramblings and thoughts from the links below.