PopCultHQ received an advance review copy of SPAWN #288 from Image Comics. Available Wednesday, August 1st, the creative team for this series features writing from Todd McFarlane, art from Jason Shawn Alexander, colors by Lee Loughridge, and lettering from Tom Orzechowski.
Here’s PopCultHQ’s review of…
Published: August 1, 2018
Age Rating: T
Digital : $2.99
Spawn, the escaped felon, goes on national television to expose his enemies.
PopCultHQ’s Comic Book Review:
Today I was tasked with writing about this week’s Spawn 288; whether or not that was a reward or a punishment remains to be seen. I was in high school (9th grade to be exact) when Todd McFarlane announced he would be leaving the series Marvel generated for him, Spider-Man. His final issue was number 16 but he only did 15 issues as Erik Larson stood in for him on issue 15. It was a sad day and the book was never the same however, on the heels of Rob Liefeld leaving X-Force and creating Youngblood for the Image imprint of Malibu Comics (yeah, Image started as an imprint) Todd announced Spawn in March of 1992. I remember taking my copy of Previews with Spawn on the cover to school. The thing is, I was impressionable at that young age. As I grew older, I noticed that newer characters didn’t really survive. The fact that Spawn has been around for 288 issues overwhelms me. When it reached issue 100 I was surprised and the same was said when it reached 200 and now we are 12 issues short of 300. My question has always been in the last few years is this, is Spawn still relevant? Not to say that the comic hasn’t given us some decent characters since the begining, namely Sam & Twitch as well as Angela, but does the comic still shine as a gem like it did in the 90s?
Well, let’s look at issue 288, shall we…
Writing Spawn currently is Todd McFarlane himself. Sadly his storytelling has never been one of stellar proportions. Come to think of it, I can name one story he wrote which was extremely memorable and that was the first 5 issues of his Spider-Man series. The 1st 7 issues of Spawn were also interesting (at best) although extremely slow burns.
This issue is not good for a newbie to just jump into. It picks up in the middle of a storyline which even with the “Previously in Spawn…” fill, it’s still hard to find your footing. However, there are a few things I have gleamed from this issue and they aren’t good.
For ages, McFarlane has spoken about reworking Spawn as a type of ‘Boogeyman,’ something which would have very little interaction and impact on the actual stories. Back in 1999, the first Spawn Annual was released. The story was set to a much darker tone with much darker artwork than usual. It was a story about why Spawn was drawn to the one alley he hung out in and an apartment floor in a building which is next to that alley. It was about lost souls and lies and actually ended with someone hailing a taxi, believing they had escaped their fate only to discover Spawn dressed as the cabbie and flipping the meter ‘To Hell’ and driving off. Spawn seems to serve a purpose such as that in this issue.
The story so far, Spawn is known as the masked man from New York City. He has been captured by the United States government, only to be thrown in a hole to be forgotten. He escapes only to come back and mockingly hangs himself. This causes a riot and gives Spawn time to haunt the halls of the prison he is in until he can find a prisoner whom he needs to question. Except this inmate has no tongue, no thanks to Spawn.
Spawn has been reworked time and time again. He was first introduced as a superhero when Image Comics began in 1992. Not too soon after, the title was used as a platform for telling stories which paralleled the comic industry. The most notable being issue 10 written by Dave Sim of Cerebus fame. Eventually he was reworked into some sort of dark, horror comic not unlike the titles DC Comics had during the 1970s. Eventually, everything we knew about Spawn was altered, even the main character who was Spawn was changed from Al Simmons to Jim Downing with Al now ruling Hell and being a villain. This eventually shifted and Al Simmons was returned to his original Spawn roots. Which is who we are left with today.
No doubt the book has been constantly reworked, but to what end? Spawn started with an amazing sales record, yet McFarlane was never happy with his product, his attempt to strive for something…more, something…unique has almost alienated the people who read the book as much as he has alienated his fellow creators in the past. The reasons why Angela had been replaced with another angel of Heaven or how Chapel being the killer of Al Simmons was replaced with the female assassin Jessica Priest.
As this story seems to be on the heels of yet another reinvention on the horizon, it’s only a matter of time before we see what Spawn evolves into next as a character and with his story. When I sat down to read this, I couldn’t help but wonder if all the old tropes still applied; dying, going to Hell, coming back from a deal with the Devil for love. That sort of thing.
Even as a media res issue, the writing in this book is so terrible, Each piece of dialogue is very teeth-grinding-nails-on-a-chalkboard and you have to wonder where on Earth or anywhere in fiction do people talk like that to one another? It just makes you wonder where Spawn might be today if Todd McFarlane would just sit back and let it run on its own steam under other creative teams.
Jason Shawn Alexander, while his work is mainly independant work, he worked on DC’s Gotham Central. His notable work is for Dark Horse Comics’ Ape Sapien: The Drowning, Tales of the Vampires, and the covers of Conan and the Midnight God, to name a few. His Conan covers did indeed rival that of Frazetta and Vallejo, but his work on Spawn is a bit dark. Not just dark in tone but literally dark, using the most of his shading and that old slogan from Wally Wood, “When in doubt, black it out!” Words of wisdom which have carried comic artists for years. His work reminds me of Larry Stroman but a bit more cleaner. His art certainly fits the tone which McFarlane wishes to force into Spawn with every book he has written since 2001.
PopCultHQ’s overall assessment:
How this series remains relevant still eludes me. The fact it reached issue 288 this week makes me wonder that even if the sales slipped lower than usual, would McFarlane continue to publish the comic? I remember in the beginning, McFarlane claimed to have created Spawn back in the 1970s. If you track the sales figures, the series has had ups and downs but as of 2011 (after issue 200), Spawn no longer ranks on the top 300 top-selling comics recorded by Diamond Comic Distributors. Spawn can survive another 288 issues, but it requires a strong hand to guide it and sadly Spawn‘s creator is not that hand. If you examine the issues, stories, and trades of Spawn which have made impact or sales records, most of them are not written by McFarlane, usually they are drawn by him. No one denies Todd McFarlane’s artistic abilities, the man has made his career off placing his own spin on Spider-Man in the 80s. However, his writing leaves a Hell of a lot to be desired. Issue 288 here reads as if he understands the flow of the narrative in his mind but it wasn’t articulated well on paper.
1.5 out of 5 Stars
That’s right, this book is an utter wash. Unless you already read Spawn and are a fan for some reason of this character, there is nothing in this book. It’s not newbie-friendly, it’s not exciting. It’s darker than a Warner Bros. DC film in a bad way. I couldn’t recommend this series to anyone who didn’t already A) like Spawn, or B) appreciate McFarlane and everything he does. Remember the 1990s when everyone blindly bought anything this man did? I do, I was one, I bought Conan the Barbarian #241 simply because he drew the cover! So yeah, I’m guilty as well but what can I say, I enjoy the man’s art but his writing is miserable.
SPAWN #288 can be pre-ordered on ComiXology and at
your local comic shop and online retailers Wednesday, August 1st!
Be sure to follow the creative team!
Writer – Todd McFarlane
Artist – Jason Shawn Alexander
Colorist – Lee Loughridge
Letterer – Tom Orzechowski
Publisher – Image Comics