This issue has been hyped and plugged for almost six months. A new direction and a new creative team. Where did I hear that before? Ehmm, oh yes, all the time from every publisher in the business. I don't take any notice anymore.
Todd McFarlane, creator of Spawn, is back in the capacity of writer, unfortunately not as artist. No, the new artist for Spawn is none other than one of the founders of Image, Whilce Portacio.
First things first. Am I a Spawn fan? Yes, I am. I've been collecting this series off and on since its first issue. I was reading comics when McFarlane wrote and drew Spider-Man and when he set up Image Comics. A decade ago though I sold all my Spawn issues, but now I'm buying them again in those massive trades. As I said I've been off and on this series, but every issue Greg Capullo drew was something special. I still regard him as the ultimate Spawn penciller. But I lost interest in Spawn for a number of years, until one day I saw issue #150, the beginning of "Armageddon." It was to my mind the best story arc in Spawn history. And with it, I was back on board.
With issue #166 Spawn's format changed quite a bit. Darker. Less of those extreme dynamic panels that Spawn is famous for. The new set-up definitely provided some, but around--I don't recall exactly--issue #177 the overall quality of the series became mediocre, with some issues being quite bad even. At the same time Todd McFarlane announced a major change with issue #185. It showed. It was like nobody made a real effort anymore, and was just waiting for this issue. My apologies to writer David Hine, but he can do so much better. Just read his comic Strange Embrace.
Okay, so Spawn is now off to a new start, even though the old Spawn cover logo is back! But now the hard part. Is this new Spawn issue worth your money? Will this bring back long lost Spawn fans?
No, I don't think so. The first quarter of the book is almost wordless, which means it's all up to Portacio to hook the reader. In the past Portacio has shown us that he is capable of very detailed art and dynamic panels. But McFarlane did not choose to get back to what made Spawn a great series: dynamic panels. No, Whilce Portacio is on a leash; he is being restrained from pushing down on the pedal. And it shows. How many panels does it take to show the reader a hand? Those pages are dark and mysterious. I will give the creative team that, but what is going on from panel to panel is very vague. Then the story becomes a bit cliché: after so many years, a man comes out of a coma, and there are some mysterious people who are very interested in his awakening. Hmmm, seen that a hundred times. That's not new, guys. I expect more from writers McFarlane and Brian Holguin than this. It's mediocre. Oh man, it hurts so much to say these kind of things. Again, the first pages lack words, but the dialogue in the subsequent hospital scene is below par. It's not a real conversation; it's just dialogue for dialogue's sake. It didn't move the story forward. The last scene almost feels like a prologue for the grand finale of this comic: the final page. The cliffhanger.
There aren't many comics that provide a cliffhanger that can upgrade my rating by a whole bullet, but this is it. Even if the overall issue is mediocre, the last page makes this Spawn fan hungry for more.
Final Word: If you were ever a Spawn fan, you should pick this up. If not, don't bother.
For more info about reviewer Martijn Form go to www.martijnform.com or read his weekly Vertigo Spotlight column here on ComicsBulletin.
Before I say anything about this newest direction for the Spawn franchise, let me just say my piece: I want David Hine back! The reason I started picking up this series in the first place was the exceptional work Hine was bringing to the Spawn table. Now, I have to see what Todd McFarlane, Brian Holguin, and company will do with the last 35 or so issues of material. If Issue #185 is any indication, their intention is to shock the readers that have stuck with the series from the word go. However, this contradicts with the probable reason that McFarlane, etc. recently took over Spawn. From the advertising and hype that I have seen over the last few months, the "Endgame" arc is a "Welcome Back" party for all of the fans of the series that left due to McFarlane's creative departure. Quoting the most common ad I've seen, "Endgame" is "new players, new pieces, new game." Everything is new, so new or estranged readers can come back into the fold with open arms. Herein lies the problem. Sure, we have a major revelation that will surely (or should I say "hopefully") rock the Spawn universe, which is definitely a new direction. However, if you haven't picked up a Spawn comic in the last three years, you'll have no idea how we arrived at this turning point. There's a slight two paragraph synopsis at the beginning of the issue, but most new readers will react "Are you kidding me" upon reading it. Spawn destroyed all life on Earth and then resurrected it? This guy's just a pawn of Satan...What's up with that? Apparently, this is the problem with Al Simmons, and why he wants to literally bring some new blood into the realm of Hellspawns. That's what this issue concerns, and I thought it was fairly entertaining for what it was, with some decent art by Whilce Portacio. But, when I pull myself back and pretend that I'm a reader who hasn't approached this series in five or ten years, I don't get that warm, fuzzy feeling that a new direction should provide.
Well, this does provide some familiarity for the older readers, what with an appearance by Violator and the alley haunting grounds. And, Portacio's artwork definitely has that 90's tone, with lots of big, flashy images on each page. But there are two things working against the tone of excitement this issue attempts to build for new readers. First, though we have an idea why Al takes the drastic action he does, we (meaning new readers) can't really relate to the character too well, since the issue starts with his emotional crisis and nothing else to back it up. Now, I'm sure I'm going to receive a lot of backlash on this last remark. These are comic books, and characters that have been established for a lengthy period have enough mythos to justify just about any actions without an elaborate explanation. This is true for Superman, Batman, or Spider-Man, but Spawn doesn't get this kind of luxury in my book. For the last three years, Hine has taken this book in directions that don't even resemble the comics that McFarlane and Holguin produced. Now, Al's experiences during those years are glossed over into some sort of depression that has enveloped him completely, and all readers are left with is the most minimal of descriptions why. This brings me to my second problem. This issue takes way too long to describe the minimal (though very weighty) plot elements, space that could have been used to completely ramp up new readers. In particular, Al's method of "changing the game" could have been cut in half and still retained the effective shock it produces. Same holds true for the other major event of the issue, Patient 47's awakening from a coma. That leaves McFarlane and Holguin 11 pages or so to work some script magic and pull all of the readers in. Instead, we are left with a lot of fancy artwork that, while looking very nice, isn't efficient in telling a story.
Don't get me wrong: a lot of people are going to love this issue, and I'll probably be back for "Endgame: Part Two." My complaint is that this was meant to be the Image equivalent of climbing into a warm bed on a cold night, but what we get are a whole lot of fireworks without any real substance.
Plot: McFarlane takes over the reins on his breakout character and shatters everything you know about him, living up to the "Endgame" title.
Comments: I hadn't read Spawn since about issue #75 when I lost interest in the anti-hero and moved on to other titles. I think a lot of fans followed this trend and got tired of the stale stories being cranked out to keep Spawn alive. (Don't hate me yet Spawn diehards; like I said, I stopped at issue #75 so there very well may have been some great arcs I missed in between.) But when I heard that McFarlane was taking over the title, I was excited to see what he was going to do.
What he has done is completely thrown everything out the window and rid Hell of Al Simmons who has had enough. Simmons performs a necroplasm-laced eye gouge to himself, a moment which Portacio captures perfectly in the splash page early on in the story. I was shocked and confused by what I was seeing, hoping there was an answer on the next page, but instead I was met with an equally confusing splash of an awakening coma patient screaming for his son. By this time McFarlane had hooked me in and was reeling me to the end page.
McFarlane and Portacio worked really well together, complementing each other down to the minute details and making each page flow perfectly. I felt like I sailed through this book. The story quickly moves through the doctor's amazement about their patient's miraculous recovery and the strange transformations happening within him on through the "paid off" janitor reporting of patient forty-seven's awakening to an unknown infuriated man on the other side of the phone. This is followed by a step-by-step suicide of said man that keeps you hanging until good ol' Violator makes his appearance on the next page and discovers the decapitated body of Al Simmons. I couldn't get through the pages fast enough. I needed answers, and by the end I was left with more questions than I started with.
I picked up this title with high hopes, and in the end I was satisfied. McFarlane definitely delivered the hyped "new players, new game" storyline that Spawn needed and he has gained a returning fan.
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