Those of you who have read this blog in the past have heard me rail and carry on like a petulant child over the early years of Image Comics. Their hubris. Their art above story. Their inability to meet a deadline. Their basic selfishness. Not against the comic overloads of Marvel and DC, but against the fans who waited every week for a new issue to come out only to be told by the dealers, that there were delays. The delays were in the lack of professionalism and respects shown to the comic book readers by the artists of Image.
To every rule there is an exception. The exception to the early hubris of Image comics was from the one artist and character who had the talent and celebrity to behave that way. Thank God he didn’t.
The artist is Todd McFarlane. The Book…Spawn.
McFarlane broke on the scene and dominated with his now legendary artwork on no lesser of a Marvel than Peter Parker/Spider-Man himself. McFarlane did not only set a standard, he set the bar so high that no one has been able to duplicate what he has done. Though many have tried. But his greatest work was on the early issues of Spawn.
Spawn, short for HellSpawn, is a warrior created in Hell for the upcoming battle of good and evil. Lt. Colonel Al Simmons is a covert assassin/operative who is betrayed when he questions the actions of his superiors. He is murdered by another operative, later to be revealed as Chapel, one of the Youngbloods, and when he gets to Hell, makes a deal with the demon known as Malebolgia to return to Earth to be with his wife Wanda. Only the demons returns Al back five years later as a Hellspawn and Wanda is now married to his best friend. Al, now Spawn, also has no memory of his past, and must relay upon his demon guide, the Violator who initially appears as a clown to help him. Spawn refuses to serve Malebogia and begins his own personal war with the Hell.
Ambitious. Operatic. Shakespearean. And with artwork that would make Michelangelo creamed his jeans (if he had any jeans) as he worked on the Sistine Chapel. McFarlane delivered every issue and the artwork was grandiose. Murals! Full panels! But unlike the other artists at Image, he also had a story to tell. About regret. About good and evil. About the massive grey area in between.
With awesome characters as well. Spawn. Al. Wanda. The Violator. Billy Kincaid. Angela.
Spawn #1 sold 1.7 million copies. Think about that. It changed how comics were made and who had control of the characters that came to be. The studio or the artist.
But with time and the poor professionalism of other titles, Image had a steep drop off and even Spawn lost popularity. Image is back, but without the massive art panels and with, believe it not, damn good stories.
But for a moment, let’s remember a title, that took on the major studios and beat them.
Long live Spawn.