When Spawn first came out in Europe I had been convinced by a friend to see if I might enjoy it and become a collector. So I went and bought the first issue of Spawn in German. It was the beginning of a long friendship that was ripped to shreds by all kinds of different factors.
But let me start at the beginning of the series. “Spawn”, to me, had always been a fascinating character. Al Simmons was the kind of man that would do anything for his wife. He was a secret government hitman with military background, before he decided to quit the force. But the military would not let him quit… they killed him during his “last” mission and send him to Hell. And somewhere on the lower planes of Hell, Malebolgia heard him scream his wife’s name and decided to offer him a deal; one of those deals that usually don’t end well. Al Simmons was offered to see his wife again and in return would become the leader of this particular demon’s army against the forces of Heaven during Judgment Day. He accepted, but of course there was a catch. Al Simmons arrived on Earth as “Spawn”, a demonic figure with evil powers, five years after his death. His beloved, Wanda, was already married to Al’s best friend, Terry, and they had a little girl, Cyan. When he realized this, Spawn became a desperate and miserable figure and hid in the shadows of the backstreets of the city. His only friends became the bums and the rats. He tried to avoid everything and everyone around him, but was constantly confronted with evil and pain. He tried to hold on to the last good thing that still breathed somewhere deep inside of him… the memory of his loved ones. However, the forces of evil came after him, as he was supposed to train and evolve his powers, so that he could be a perfect leader to the armies he had signed a contract with his blood for.
Well, so much for a little storyline. Don’t worry, for those that have never read Spawn, this wasn’t really a spoiler, because all of this can be read in the first issue or seen in the movie “Spawn”, one of the first main stream movies about a non-Marvel/DC character, after the Crow and Crying Freeman. Although it never became a big blockbuster, I did enjoy it, especially the hilarious performance by John Leguizamo, playing the Violator.
Spawn has a solid base story, but over the years, it seemed that the writers had a lot of trouble keeping the story interesting. I guess this was mostly due to the fact that the Spawn story can be divided into an introduction (creation of the superhero/villain), a middle part (discovering what he can do, dramatic turn of events) and an end (Judgment Day). But as far as I could read, before they changed the publisher in Germany, they never really got to the end. Instead, they just kept on trying to continue the line of events, even introduce several side stories (Violator, Angela, Curse of Spawn, Spawn – the Dark Ages, Bloodfeud…) or put heaps of merchandise, especially action figurines, on the market to keep people interested. I myself bought a very fine looking Spawn figurine with angel wings (Redemption Spawn). My sources from beyond the grave (Wikipedia) though tell me, that the story did continue by taking epic proportions and culminating in a raging and devastating climax. I will try to acquire those last issues that never made it into the bookstores in Luxembourg and hopefully find a more satisfying ending to Spawn’s story than the one I got.
I think you could compare the success behind the Spawn comics, to the success of the Batman comics. Spawn lives in a city full of misery and pain, the kind that you can mostly find in Film Noir, and he himself is a questionable hero, having been created out of a personal tragedy. He seems to be a good man underneath his demonic appearance, but he is still supposed to be the leader of Hell’s armies, so his destiny is unknown and he is constantly challenged to turn evil. But in that lies the controversy: Does “not being bad” means “being good”? Does the absence of darkness equal the presence of light? Spawn has given up on his life, his destiny, his very existence. He wants to be left alone. It is only out of mere self defense that he fights. So can he really be a superhero? Does he have to be, to be interesting?
I don’t think so. Antiheros are much more interesting nowadays than shiny cape-wearing heroes (although Spawn is wearing a cape, and a pretty long one too). So, if you are the kind of person that likes to see a broken man, trying to mind his own business but always being pushed to his limits and if you like the mysterious and terrible depths of Hell depicted in a great style by the genius of Todd McFarlane and Greg Capullo, go and get Spawn, the first comic I ever collected and one very fascinating bad/good guy.