Comparing Spawn #1 and The Savage Dragon #1 is like comparing night and day. This first issue of Erik Larsen’s reptilian super cop from Chicago is still an awesome comic twenty years later.
The first issue is just like a great pilot episode for a television show. It introduces you to the primary characters and sets the tone for the story. Dragon is an amnesiac who has volunteered to fight the ever increasing war on crime in Chicago, as the city is being plagued by super powered villains.
And it sets up that as the series progresses, the audience will find out more about the Dragon’s back story and why Chicago is such a hell hole.
Larsen did a great job of setting up the status quo for the series in a single issue. If there was a class on comics writing and introducing a new character and series, this would be required reading.
It’s also a textbook example of the pop culture trend in the early 1990s: the anti-hero cop. There’s a lot of Bruce Willis’s John McClane from Die Hard in this character, and he’s armed to the gills like every character Arnold Schwarzenegger or Jean Claude Van Damme ever played.
The Savage Dragon’s first issue does a great job of setting up the series. It makes me want to re-read the issues that I have and track down some more.
I’m taking another trip in the way back machine to the early 1990s with Todd McFarlane’s Spawn #1 which kicks off the age of Image Comics.
This story starts in 1987 of all years, with news reports of government operative Al Simmons’ death being all over the news. You wouldn’t think that being a secret black ops type would make you a media celebrity, but what the hell. After all this time I still don’t get it.
Speaking of hell, Simmons has made some sort of deal with the devil to return to the world of the living and doesn’t remember much, if anything, of his previous life. He does have a knack for violently taking out criminals in New York City.
By the end of the first issue, its pretty clear that there is a lot of the character that has changed since then. Namely his race; Simmons is shown as being white and later in the series he becomes and African American.
By 1992 standards, this was all of the rage. But by modern standards, its very bombastic and loud, but in a good way. And that was enough reason for over 1.7 million copies of these to be printed and sold.
Did you know that this summer is the fifteenth anniversary of Spawn? Todd McFarlane’s devilish vigilante made his movie debut on August 1, 1997 and I’ve finally gotten around to seeing the movie. So what did I think?
It’s kind of hard to judge this movie. The plot is pretty straight forward; military operative Al Simmons is killed by his corrupt commander Jason Wynn and makes a deal with the devil to lead the forces of the underworld in exchange to be able to be able to see his fiancée (who happened to have had his child and married his best friend). There’s another deal that the devil made with Wynn, one that will pretty much start the apocalypse (there is a cardiac device that will trigger a series of explosions and release a plague if his heart stops) and allow the devil to rule what’s left of mankind.
Simmons’ conflict comes from his struggle with avenging his death. If he takes the advice of the demonic clown the Violator, Simmons will kill Wynn and bring on the end of the world. But if he follows Cagliostro, a former agent of the devil who was able to break free, he can save not only the world–but his former lover Wanda, his child and his best friend–from Wynn. And because deep down Simmons cares for these people, he follows the fallen angel to become an embodiment of justice. It makes sense to me.
Unfortunately, the special effects in this film were really distracting. By 1997’s standards, I guess they were groundbreaking. But watching it today, a lot of the CGI animation (like Spawn’s cape, the Violator’s demon form, and any of the scenes in hell with the devil’s legions) just reminded me too much of the Playstation games I enjoyed from that era. After doing some research about the film’s director and co-writer Mark A.Z. Dippé, it’s not surprising that the film was so visual effects heavy; he used to be an animator for Industrial Light and Magic.
The makeup and costuming effects were very well done. John Leguizamo looked utterly disgusting as the Violator’s clown form (and his one-liners were both cheesy and well played). Michael Jai White looked convincing in his Spawn makeup/armor, even though it did remind me of the Guyver. But it worked, except for one scene where Spawn was riding a motorcycle and his head was clearly painted onto a motorcycle helmet.
So why should you watch this film? Ultimately Spawn is a period piece, not in the sense that it shows off trends or what it was like to live in the 1990s.It’s a look back on what was considered cutting edge at that time. And in 1997 this film was cutting edge. Unfortunately, viewing this film in 2012, the film doesn’t hold up too well due to its over-reliance on special effects. On a positive, the movie is a fairly faithful adaptation of McFarlane’s comics, and Spawn was considered a modest box office success that started the comics movie boom of the late 90s early 00s. Without this, there wouldn’t have been Blade or X-Men which really got the comics film ball rolling. To sum it up, this is an average film that was important in the context of its era.
Yesterday Image Comics celebrated twenty years of existence. There’s a lot that can be said about the company’s legacy and history, but I’m going to talk about my experience as a fan with the publisher.
It went something like this. It was summer 1992 and was around nine years old. We had a neighbor in high school who I would pester about comic books and such. Anyway, he had a copy of Spawn that he showed me and we had a brief conversation about it:
HIM: It’s by the guy who does Spider-Man.
And then he went on to explain the whole reason why they left Marvel. This was really the first time I paid attention to who was creating the comics and the business side of things. I mean at that point, I had a certain affinity for certain creators like Frank Miller, John Byrne and even the Pinis thanks to reading Comics Scene magazine. But like most people into comics in the early 1990s, it would be Wizard that fueled my interest in Image.
Image teamed up with Wizard, and made their whole line cool. Unfortunately, they were a harder sell to my parents, who at that point were still purchasing comics for me. I actually got my first Image books probably in the mid 1990s as part of some post-speculator boom three-for-a-dollar packs at Cost Cutters discount store. It boggled my mind how someone could pick up such valuable treasures as Brigade and Cyber Force comics at such a low price.
As a much more well read comics fan, I now look at these with a certain nostalgia. That first wave of Image has some fun stuff, lots of great artwork, and generally has the excitement that makes super hero comics fun.
To me what is most important about Image that they’ve grown as a company. Today’s product line is much more diverse in subject and genre. And that is a good thing.