Spawn #1

Celebrating twenty years of Spawn!

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.

Spawn: The Album

It may have taken me a while to see Spawn: The Movie, but I’ve been a big fan of the film’s soundtrack for some time. Spawn: The Album features a bunch of collaborations between some of the biggest alternative metal and electronic music acts of the late 1990s–two musical genres I was really into at the time. The resulting album was a lot of fun.

The lead single teamed up Filter with the Crystal Method for a reworking of the techno duo’s “(Can You) Trip Like I Do”, which pretty much features Filter’s singer Richard Patrick contributing some vocals. There is a bit more guitar work, too. The other big single was Marilyn Manson and the Sneaker Pimps’ “Long Road Out Of Hell.” Both of these songs wound up having Spawn inspired music videos. Also, both songs have appeared on countless other movie soundtracks.

Spawn: The Album also features some team-ups filled with metal credibility. There’s a remix of Metallica’s “For Whom The Bells Toll” by DJ Spooky that’s pretty epic. Metallica’s guitarist Kirk Hammett and Orbital teamed up for the riff-heavy “Satan.” Even Slayer makes an appearance, collaborating by digital hardcore act Atari Teenage Riot for “No Remorse (I Wanna Die)” which combines Kerry King’s wicked guitars with ATR’s trademark screaming over the hardest use of the Amen break.

As a whole, the album is catchy. It’s metal enough if your into the louder musical genres, and filled with enough breaks and beats to make techno fans happy. It holds up extremely well fifteen years later.

Spawn: The Movie

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.