Sunday, 8 June 2014

Spawn: Crossing Over

Spawn Compendium Vol 1 (Image Comics, 2012)
by Todd McFarlane & Others
Collects Spawn #1-50 in black-and-white. With Spawn, writer and artist Todd McFarlane unleashed his iconic antihero on the world, and launched the most successful independent comic book in history. A government agent, Al Simmons was killed by his own men. Resurrected from the depths of hell, he returns to Earth as the warrior Spawn, guarding the forgotten alleys of New York City. As he seeks answers about his past, Spawn grapples with the dark forces that returned him to Earth, battling enemies and discovering unlikely allies. As he learns to harness his extraordinary new powers, he begins to grasp the full extent of what brought him back - and what he left behind. Spawn: Compendium 1 presents the stories and artwork that helped create the Spawn legacy - for the first time in glorious black and white. Features Todd McFarlane's legendary hyper-detailed art and stories, as well as collaborations with industry giants Greg Capullo (Batman), Alan Moore (Watchmen), Dave Sim (Cerebus), Marc Silvestri (Uncanny X-Men, Cyberforce), Frank Miller (Sin City) and Grant Morrison (Batman).

(from Spawn: 20 Years Later by John Parker, 2 February 2012)
...Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, Dave Sim, and Frank Miller four of the most-celebrated writers of the 1980s and early 1990s, took over Spawn from issues 8 to 11. Each contribution is significant and controversial in its own way. Moore was first, with "In Heaven", a basic Alan Moore Swamp Thing-like tale of child molester Billy Kincaid's trip through the Spheres of Hell. Not ground-breaking, but it served as Moore’s re-entry into superhero comics, which he had sworn off a few years before in favor of works like From Hell and Big Numbers. From here, Moore went on to work on Jim Lee's WildC.A.T.S., Rob Liefeld's Youngblood, Glory, and Supreme. Supreme was easily his best work in Liefeld's "Awesome Universe", an analogous take on Superman with masterful art by Rick Veitch that revived the thrill of invention of the Silver Age.

The next issue, written by Neil Gaiman, is the source of a long-running legal dispute between Gaiman and McFarlane, which concluded this week. The dispute centers around the ownership of the characters Angela, Medieval Spawn, and Cogliostro. Though Gaiman has always maintained they were created by him specifically for that one-issue story, McFarlane added them to Spawn lore when Gaiman wasn't looking. These were recurring characters, and ones that got their own toys, and appearances in the animated series and 1997 film. McFarlane's image as a champion of creator's rights was seriously tarnished, which was particularly ironic considering the subject of the next issue.

Dave Sim can be called many, many things, almost all of them true. In 1993, the word most-often used to describe the writer/artist was "genius". (Or Genius. Inside joke.) His then-fifteen-year-long, self-published Cerebus was the independent comic book of the era: beautiful, intelligent, experimental, and at a higher readership than ever before. Spawn readers had no idea. Sim's contribution to the Spawn legacy is easily the most compelling of the lot, delivering a story that is both dreamy and articulate. "Crossing Over" is an emotional/metaphysical plea for creator's rights that breaks the plane between fiction and reality.

After some of McFarlane's best work on the series in the depiction of Creator's Hell, Sim appears as Cerebus to extol the virtues of self-publishing to Spawn/McFarlane. There was a big response for the story, and somewhat prophetically of the title, many readers did in fact cross over to begin reading independent comics. Cerebus's readership jumped, and at just the perfect time: about a year before the infamous issue #186, which cemented Sim's reputation as a misogynist and cut his fanbase in half. Essentially, it gave Sim a bigger audience for his meltdown.

The last of the guest-written stories is issue 11, by Frank Miller, a collaboration that led to the Spawn/Batman crossover written by Miller and drawn by McFarlane. Even in retrospect, it exceeds expectations, and reads like a war poem performed by a coked-up caveman. While working on the project, McFarlane handed the reins over to Grant Morrison and Greg Capullo for three issues. In doing so, he became an administrator, and began his journey to entrepeneur...


Travis Pelkie said...

It appears, according to Amazon, that this book was first out in '12, not that it's coming out this month. It struck me as odd because I've been keeping up with Previews every month lately and I definitely would have remembered this. I would have been torn on ordering it. I vaguely remember seeing this offered back then and probably thought about springing for it then.

Funny enough, issue 10 has a bit where it's actually necessary for the color/B&W contrast, and I'd imagine that's lost when the whole thing is in B&W. I'd like to see it, though.

I'm not sure if Spawn 10 or the "Night on the Town" story (reprinted in Fantagraphics' Best Comics of the Decade '80-'90) was my first exposure to Cerebus or what, but I always liked Spawn 10.

I reread Spawn a couple years back, and it held up pretty well, actually. Plenty of "kewl" stuff, certainly, but an interesting take on the Faust myth. I don't have past issue 24, though, except for some scattered issues, but from what I understand it started spinning its wheels at that point.

Having read other Alan Moore stuff since then, I'd have to say that the reviewer here is probably right that his story isn't an Alan Moore classic, but I always liked it.

I never got 9 for years, and finally found a copy. Funny that Marvel owns Angela now....

I think when I first read the Miller issue, when I was younger and dumber and had less critical faculties than I do know, even THEN I thought the Miller issue was terrible. I think in rereading it I actually appreciated it a little better.

And the Morrison issues were surprisingly "Morrison-y" when I reread them. It's funny to see a writer's tics come up when some obvious work for hire like this comes up, that even when they're undoubtedly writing for the paycheck, they still have things of their own that sneak in.

That seems like entirely too much analysis to have written about friggin' Spawn, man!

If you haven't posted something about what Dave did with the Spawn 10 money, you ought to. It's a good story in itself.

Or if you've got the "poster" pinup that I believe Dave did for Spawn 4 (or 5, I forget), that'd be cool to see.

A Moment Of Cerebus said...

Thanks Travis.
It was late, I was tired...

Anonymous said...

I can't say I regret reading Spawn as a youngster (not entirely, anyhow), because this issue, along with TMNT#8, got me to seek out Cerebus.

But sweet lord, Spawn sucks.

-Wes Smith