Spawn issues 1 – Current (282 as of this writing)
Spawn has had about 4 iterations in the series so far. There was the beginning with Al Simmons and the deal with Malebolgia that started everything off. He was more of a superhero back then. Then came the Jim Downing version which took the series into a very dark and occultish place. Then the return of Al Simmons in a soft reboot that reveled in inconsistencies, and now Al Simmons de-powered and human fighting crime as a superhero, which is thankfully moving back toward the occult and horror genre. As an FYI, Todd McFarlane has had total control over the character since issue #1. While there have been creative teams on the book, McFarlane has always had a say in how the book goes. When Spawn hits issue #300 it will officially be the longest running independent comic book on record. That in itself is a great achievement. How it got there is a tangled web filled with action, horror, drama, and so many inconsistencies that if you read it straight through, you have to scratch your head. Even so… You’ll love every minute of it.
Al Simmons Makes a Deal
The First Iteration: #1 – #185
It all started off easily enough… Al Simmons is killed on a mission, makes a deal with a devil (Malebolgia), is sent back to Earth 5 years later in a time jump, and sees that his wife has remarried and has a child, he can’t change into himself and instead transforms into a white man, and his whole life has been changed. We get the introduction of Sam and Twitch, the two detectives that this series utilizes extensively and then from time to time just forgets. We get Al’s wife Wanda, her husband Terry (Al’s former best friend), and then their daughter Cyan. Al/Spawn is confused throughout this run and routinely hides away in the shadows of the city’s alleyways. When Spawn does leave the ally’s, you as the reader kind of rejoice because a lot of time is spent in those ally’s, maybe too much time. You jump from occult evil villains to mistreated gorillas becoming cyborgs, and then everything in between. I kind of felt that for at least the first 100 books Spawn has an identity crisis of what it should be. Are they 90’s superhero or occult horror? In a way, it makes sense, because Malebolgia is basically screwing with Al the whole time and he is being made to be confused about his surroundings. Taken in monthly… it probably plays out better. Taken in a binge read… You can feel and see the fight for what the book should be.
When the book reaches a box, the twins are brought in. These twins, born to Wanda in a miraculous and accelerated birth end up being God and the Devil. From there, there is a massive fight between Spawn and the twins which supposedly results in the gateways to Heaven and Hell, to and from Earth, being closed. I say supposedly because all of this is forgotten later. From the Twins, locked away in their heaven and hell, to the gateways being locked. We end up coming to our first soft reboot when Al blows his own head off with his powers and the mysterious Jim Downing wakes up from a coma.
The Downing Files
The Second Iteration #185 – #250
The mysterious Jim Downing wakes up from a coma in a hospital and a whole new cast of characters are introduced. The book goes full on occult and horror and guess what? It works. The art style becomes one where it looks as if every panel is painted. It’s dark, Spawn is more terrifying, and the foes of Spawn are actually quite scary. We have the introduction of the Catholic church and Vampires even. Don’t get attached to these storylines though (I did), because they end up being left unanswered. This section of Spawn ended up being the best story so far. It had a great set up, it was very in depth, it felt like it had a direction and was leading somewhere. Sure we missed Al but then we had also found out that before Al offed himself, he had abused Wanda and took the life of their unborn child in that abuse. So in a way, it was easier to get over him and move onto Jim Downing.
When issue #250 hits and Jim’s story is rapidly ended in another soft reboot, it is a jolt and not the good kind. What happened with the cast that was helping Jim? What happened with Marc Rosen’s girlfriend who was being inhabited by a demon? What happened between the two sects of vampires? What happened to Clown’s plans? Even the build up of the vampire Bludd and his ultimate plan to use the Spawn symbiote to breach the gates of Heaven is left to wither in the wind. None of these are answered because “Al just decided to come back.”
The Third Iteration Issues #251 – #262
Al comes back and Jim Downing is in a coma again. We get a new artist who is not very good (thankfully he is not around for very long!!!) and we get books that revel in inconsistencies. I could forgive the whole gates to Heaven and Hell being closed inconsistency in the last iteration because hinging it all on the suit and the dead zones are partially acceptable. But now, those gates are no more. The twins of Wanda and Terry are back (????????). I’m not sure how since the twins were God and the Devil and they both went to their respective homes. Doesn’t matter apparently. The unborn soul of a son of Al and Wanda is a factor, even though in Al’s previous tenure as Spawn, he fought a person named Morana who was the unborn daughter of Al and Wanda. It turns out this soul is now Al’s soul (???????). God and Satan are now the visage of an old man and a demon though God does turn into Granny (???????) and a dog (????????)… Seriously, this third iteration felt like Twilight Zone Spawn.
Al finds out that Wanda burned alive in a car accident and since Heaven and Hell go even/odd on where souls go, Wanda was unlucky and went to hell. So Al is going to go to Hell and save her. This sets up a massive battle where Wanda is ultimately sent to Heaven, Satan is defeated, Spawn is made human and gives up his symbiote suit (keeping but a piece of the living suit secretly), and once again, the gates to Heaven and Hell are closed and locked on Earth… Again.
Honestly…. I didn’t really like these issues. From art to story they just felt like flimsy tangents after the depth of the Jim Downing story. It was a retread of the battle against Malebolgia and had no meaning other than to make Al realize that his wife, who he formerly abused, loved him and wanted him to become a superhero to protect the children of the world… Ugh… Wanda should have stamped the hashtag #MeToo on Al’s head and sent him to hell while she emerged as the new Spawn. That would have been preferable even.
Al is Superhero Spawn…oh wait… maybe…
The fourth Iteration Issues #263 – #275 (and possibly the fifth iteration with #276 – #282)
Al has no powers, a fragment of the symbiote suit that must grow, and a storage locker of money and guns so he can become Batman/Punisher on the streets and stop crime. Yes, we are now a superhero in tights book again. I really felt that this stretch was just searching for an identity again. It’s with issue #276 that we start to feel like we are at home again with the “Dark Horror” arc. This arc is once again that dark and creepy painted style and the horror aspects overtake the superhero. I’m not ready to split this iteration up yet because this arc just ended and I’m not sure if it will stay with the good occult slant or revert to superhero stuff again next month. However… I do like that Cyan now has a dark power and it seems she may be getting here very own monthly, which I think is pretty cool. Issues #276 – #282 were simply beautiful to look at and read because it did feel so much like the Downing/Spawn. With luck, this current creative team can stick around awhile!!!
For all of the inconsistencies, soft reboots, and retcons… I still loved reading through every issue (not so much #251 – #262 but I digress…). Spawn at its best is a dark adult comic that deals with the occult and horror situations. When it shrugs off the “superhero” moniker it pulls the reader into a world that is truly frightening and yet exciting at the same time. When the full cast of characters are being attended to (and not forgotten for issues on end), we get a very dynamic book with much depth and drama that makes you want more. I’ve got the first 30 issues from when the comic originally came out and then I’ve re-bought them and have the whole series in digital via Comixology, and new issues are subscribed too, so I’ll be continuing down this dark path with Spawn and I can’t wait to see what is coming for #300 and beyond!!!