And now Todd McFarlane’s Spawn. “So, turn off your lights"!
It’s been 25 years as of May, when Home Box Office aka HBO, debuted one of its best original programming series that earned an Emmy as well as high critical acclaim. And guess what?
It’s a cartoon based on a not so obscure Comicbook!
For those few of you who aren't aware of this series, Spawn was one of the very first characters published by then new contender, Image Comics, a company formed by former artists from Marvel who felt screwed over by not having control of their creations. A lesson they witnessed after learning about Marvel's horrible mistreatment of Jack Kirby.
Spawn like so many other concepts from Image Comics, is derivative from Marvel's characters be it the aesthetics or simply, his origins. When it comes to his bizarre attire, he's part Ghost Rider, Deadpool, and Spider-Man, which is of no surprise since Todd MacFarlane used to illustrate the Marvel comic prior to the great exodus. Narrative wise, there’s a slight comparison to tragic heroes like Deathlok the Demolisher or Robocop where a man in resurrected from death, attempting to reunite with his wife.
Out of all the Image properties, Spawn was the most popular, thus it was of no surprise, that MacFarlane's IP was optioned for Cable network television, as in HBO'S animation division.
Spearheaded by the talents of McFarlane, Allen McElroy, Mike Vosburg, Jennifer Yuh and the late Shirley Walker, who provided the chilling theme.
And now, HBO's Spawn!
The opening usually starts with Creator Todd McFarlane penciling a few panels in some abandoned warehouse, and in some Rod Sterling fashion, he gives a preface for what is to come during the upcoming episode.
Once a government hired Black Ops assassin, Al Simmons is now a tortured soul who made a deal with the devil Malebolgia only to be denied of the one thing he came back for. His wife, Wanda Blake! Simmons' inhabited decayed body is comprised of maggots and rotted flesh. To cover his gross appearance, the "Hellspawn's" attire is decked out with chains, a large symbiotic cape and a somewhat odd costume for someone who is destined to lead Hell's army for the impending Apocalypse. (Malebolgia's fashion sense is baffling as fuck!)
This series' pilot titled "Burning Visions” begins with a mysterious elderly man speaking in a narrative tone then fades to some alley god knows where. Two reporters arrive at an arranged meeting with a whistle-blower who has a wealth of information but unfortunately the meeting is intercepted by mafia hitmen, who kills both the informant and one of the reporters, and just when the other investigator is about to get roasted after being doused in gasoline, a red cloaked demon (literally) breaks up the party!
Simmons or rather, "Spawn" is a bit amnesiac yet remembers that he came back from the dead to be reunited with his wife Wanda, who he discovers is now remarried to his best friend Terry! So yeah, he got suckered into serving hell and doesn't stand a chance at getting back with Wanda. This is what happens when you make a deal with the devil folks!
Todd McFarlane’s Spawn is series that doesn't pull any punches, no restrictions and especially not apologetic but after all, "it’s not tv, its HBO!" Simmons plays the role as this reluctant guardian of the alley who preys on interlopers who in fact prey on the homeless inhabitants, including Gareb, who somewhat is Al's friend. Also, Coliostrio plays an integral part not only as the narrator, but a sage which leads to Simmons having a sense of purpose.
Spawn's actions have caught the eye and the ire of Jason Wynn NSC's top brass and black-market arms dealer who initiatives wars to sell weapons to both sides’ ala Destro.
Wynn has two primary goals: One, as an influencer, and shrewd power broker who blackmails the morally bankrupt Senator McMillan to run for office, as his political puppet because " true power lies behind the throne"
Two, as a means of damage control, Jason goes to extreme lengths to prevent his name from being associated with the cache of stolen weapons, while attempting recover the arsenal that was stolen by Simmons. So, when Spawn isn't battling demons or Tony Twist's hitmen, he up against cyborgs, mercs and a very annoying obese repugnant Clown!
The plot device from the first season's episode, puts all the pieces together towards its 1997 run, as a conspiracy thriller underneath the Superhero and supernatural tropes. Throughout the entire series, Simmons regains what's left of his humanity bit by bit, but his hero's journey is far complete as the finale is left open ended, unlike Japanese Anime. Keith David (The Thing, They Live) brings the angst, sorrow, and wrath of our red cloaked protagonist, while supporting actors Richard Dysart, Michael Nicolosi, John Rafter Lee, Ronny Cox, and Dominique Jennings to name a few.
Writer and Producer, Alan McElroy does a bang-up job on this animated banger. The dialogue is brave and very brazen with quips like Overtkill mocking Spawn as "a no talent asshole with a faggy outfit!", Wynn showing dominance over a Senator full of skeletons in his closet, or Clown's various taunts against Simmons. This cartoon is not for the kiddies as Todd McFarlane’s Spawn is one of the very first comic based animated series that didn't cater to the presumed younger demographic.
As far as the series' legacy goes, Spawn has paved many roads, for one, it features a Black Superhero and a prominent African American cast that gained spotlight way before Marvel's Black Panther movie became such a big deal regarding representation.
Although the animation is not up to par compared to other outsourced Korean studios at the time, it’s the adult-oriented content and bold storytelling that more than makes up for any "flaws." which influenced future animated shows, among them other Image properties such as, The Maxx and Witchblade. Spawn's success became a smart tentpole for Todd's intellectual property to springboard into other mediums from a film adaptation to a few appearances in videogames including his own titles! Not to mention cameos from Soul Calibur to a playable DLC character for Mortal Kombat 11.
Looking back, the series still holds up very well and I find myself binging every now and then, and so should you. To his credit Todd MacFarlane is very business savvy who was not afraid of taking risks since the Marvel exodus and in turn, became the most successful among all creator owned Comicbook properties and well deserved 👏