Spawn is a character that needs very little introduction. He’s the character who puts Image Comics on the public radar thanks to the cultural zeitgeist. But that hasn’t been apparent in twenty years. Part of it has to do with a number of lawsuits that creator Todd McFarlane was involved in. But with Spawn’s appearance in Mortal Kombat 11 and a movie with some troubling productions, Al Simmon’s is back in the public consciousness. But how does it come to this? This is the research from the gutters.
The Spawn Zeitgeist
Roughly 20 years before this article, Spawn was at the height of his popularity. With an Emmy winning adult TV animation along with some quality action figures, nobody escapes McFarlane’s grasp. Well, among other less notable reasons like the Michael Jai White movie and the Spawn Armageddon video game. Spawn even stars in a number of crossovers like with DC’s Batman and even a guest appearance in Soul Caliber II. The comics meanwhile reach well over 100 issues.
And It’s Screeching Halt
Unfortunately, all of that comes to a screeching halt when McFarlane gets into some legal trouble. The most notable of which is with Neil Gaiman, co-creator of Angela and Medieval Spawn. McFarlane’s wanted to cut off Gaiman from his share of the royalties, so he and Gaiman get into a civil suit. McFarlane tries everything to keep his stance, but all end up rejected. So Gaiman takes ownership of some of these characters like Angela and the Man of Miracles and sells them to Marvel. This, along with another lawsuit involving a character’s likeness to a hockey player, cost McFarlane millions. So for the next twenty years, McFarlane tries everything to recover from his losses.
Spawn In-Universe Fallout
With Gaiman winning the lawsuit, McFarlane tries everything to remove his influence over more legal matters. The iconic Armageddon and Endgame stories, for example, make heavy use of the Man of Miracles. Giving Spawn to other writers sporadically, McFarlane’s quality and success start to shift around. He even gives the Spawn mantle from Al Simmons to someone else by killing Al off. All to increase sales while trying to find some new ideas. McFarlane’s plans for a new TV series meanwhile are stuck in development hell. But whether that that can resurrect like the comics are up for debate.
After a few years, McFarlane pulls a retcon to remove all of Gaiman’s influence from Spawn. All while setting up a new status quo and keeping things simple. Spawn Resurrection and Satan Saga Wars are essentially a new take on the above two stories. It even removes Al Simmons’ more controversial status as a wife-beater from Armageddon. With some fans already complaining about how Spawn depicts a problematic superhero for reveling in killing a child molester, this was a welcome change. Afterward, Spawn goes through a journey to reconnect with the world around him. This naturally includes his now late wife’s daughter, Cyan Fitzgerald.
For McFarlane, however, this is about reconnecting with his audience on their level. All through Spawn surrendering a significant portion of his power. Because when you’re on top of the world, everything looks small and insignificant, a mistake McFarlane will not make again. Al’s veteran status is on much greater display instead of relying on his usually absurd powers. Not just for his ability to fight off enemies with machine guns but the respect he gives other soldiers. All while still dealing with trust issues after many past betrayals. Despite this, Al gets allies like a new She-Spawn because he knows he can’t do it all alone. For McFarlane, it’s opening up to others and showing respect to other creators who helped Spawn get to where he is.
Now Spawn is back in the public consciousness as Image Comics’ poster boy. After 20 years of lawsuits that held him and McFarlane back, Todd goes back to why Spawn is so great. Not just for the humanity in the character but appreciating all who help get them to this point. Now, if only that Spawn movie can come out without any more troubles.
What do you think of Spawn and Todd McFarlane? Leave your thoughts in the comments.