Revisiting Spawn

The year was 1993, I was 8 years old, and I had never read comics before. I came home from school one day, and my mother had purchased a large stack of them for me. Among the stack of mostly usual suspects titles like X-Men, Spider-Man, Batman, etc was a pristine copy of Spawn issue 13. You know the one where Spawn infiltrates the Youngblood compound and kidnaps Chapel? I flipped through it, and I immediately fell in love with the character designs. When I actually read it, I was hooked. A morally ambiguous undead assassin with a living costume and a chip on his shoulder on a brutal revenge quest. To 8 year old me, this was the stuff of unfathomable coolness. I became a regular reader of Spawn with Issue 16. For the next 7 years, I followed the series monthly. I read it all, all the crossovers, all the miniseries, everything. By the time I was 13, if you had asked me what my dream job was, I would have told you it was to be a comics illustrator at Image. So, needless to say, when I got on a graphic fiction kick a couple of months back, Spawn was a series that immediately popped into my head. I guess it was the sepia eyed nostalgia monster digging its fangs into my neck. I ordered the first five volumes, curious if I would still enjoy the series that I hadn’t really read since I was 14 and my interest shifted sharply toward video games and trying to be a musician. These trade paperbacks collect the McFarlane/Capullo issues. In other words, the time when the series was at its pinnacle. As of this writing, I have made it though volumes 1 through 5. Volume 6, for some reason, has been very difficult for me to track down (although I finally have a copy coming in sometime soon). As was the case in ’93, when I first read the series, I was immediately struck by how well drawn it was. The Capullo issues look especially good. For all the criticism that was leveled at image during the 90s for their writing, their comics were always among some of the most beautifully drawn. So, how did the writing hold up 15 years on? Reading through these old comics, there were some details that I didn’t really pick up on when I was a kid. The references to various conspiracy theories (such as the surveillance state being the true power behind the throne in U.S. and Chapel being purposely infected with H.I.V. by the government), for one, were things that I didn’t pick up on when I was a kid. I also found the writing to be quite good. Granted this may have been helped by the fact that the last comic I read before this was The Shade (see my review here ). Spawn is a much wordier comic than I had remembered. Often times, it reads like it could stand as a novel without the pictures. My favourite aspect of the early series, though, has to be the manner in which it plays out. Unlike most comics that play out as a series of unrelated vignettes that are later forced together in some act of deus ex machina, Spawn’s narrative unfolds as a single, seamless story. Well, for the most part. Some of the late 90s issues rely too much on jump cuts and lapse into stereotypical comic book convolution. Thankfully, these were few and far between. However, if this is indicative of the direction the series took in the 2000s, I can see why it fell from its lofty perch atop the comic book heap. In volume 5, characters are introduced as if they are going to be pivotal to the story, whether it is the reappearance of Angela or the introduction of the novelist suddenly overcome with an obsession with the paranormal, and are then never seen again or at the very least don’t have the kind of impact that their introduction hints at. It’s almost enough to make one think James Robinson may have written these particular issues. On the whole, though, I have greatly enjoyed the series. It has aged better than many of the Marvel comics that I enjoyed so much in my younger years. It’s not as well written as Gaiman’s Sandman or Books of Magic (what is really), but is much better than the seemingly nonsensical yarns that dominated much of Marvel’s continuity during the 90s. The one regrettable thing about these collections is that a few issues are missing from volume 1 due to some issues between McFarlane and Neil Gaiman, so the introduction of Cogliostro, Angela, and Sir John of York a.k.a. Medieval Spawn are not present. Regrettable omissions, but their exclusion doesn’t really cause any detriment to the overall narrative. If you were a comic reader during the 90s and looking for a fun nostalgia trip, or you’re a new school geek looking to see what the beginning of the whole reckless anti-hero fad was like, then these books are worth a look.


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