Another month, another reboot.
Image Comics’ most famous property, Todd McFarlane’s Spawn, hopes to enter a new age in a one-shot series subtitled Resurrection. Can a new title and talent resurrect a stale comic series?
Resurrection is an introspective look at Spawn (alias: Al Simmons) in a state of cosmic limbo, seeking solitude and direction after his apparent demise. The story has creator Todd McFarlane teaming up with fellow writer Paul Jenkins and illustrator “Jonboy” Meyers to inaugurate the new chapter ahead of Spawn #251.
Spawn is one of those few characters who can be considered archaic at the age of twenty-three.
Todd McFarlane, a Canadian comic book writer and illustrator, developed Spawn back in 1992 following stints with DC and Marvel. The influence of Spider-Man and Batman on Spawn’s design is evident, though the similarities are purely aesthetic.
McFarlane envisioned Spawn as neither a handsome billionaire nor a wholesome nerd, but as a murdered assassin revived by Hell. Spawn’s conscience gets the better of him and, soon after his rebirth, he asserts his own free will on behalf of the forces of good.
Spawn’s fiery origin and attitude were part of a wider “anti-hero” mentality that took shape in comic book narratives in the 1980s. Writers such as McFarlane tried to revamp older and more established superheroes in order to make them more relevant for a cynical age. Most grew frustrated with corporate conservatism, but a band of dissatisfied writers took action and formed their own publishing group, Image Comics, in 1992.
Spawn arrived on stands in the spring of that year amid a surprising boom taking place in the comic market, one that drove sales and inflated values to shocking levels. Image sold over one and a half million copies of Spawn #1, an astonishing figure for any comic book, especially for a new brand of narrative.
McFarlane wasted no time is widening Spawn’s appeal. He started a line of action figures that soon garnered renown among collectors for their extraordinary detail. A full-fledged line of merchandise also flooded stores, including shirts, caps and posters.
Over the course of a decade, Spawn’s popularity expanded rapidly, attracting a notable list of contributing writers like Neil Gaiman, Frank Miller, Alan Moore, and Grant Morrison. A video-game, the first of five, arrived on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) in 1995 and a feature film and an HBO animated series hit screens two years later. Four spin-off comics also emerged, raking in more revenue for Image.
Things began to tumble around 1996. McFarlane drew the ire of cohorts, including a very public feud with Gaiman over content ownership, which worked to stain McFarlane’s image.
Then, there were issues concerning quality. Spawn may have spread to many media, but that didn’t mean they did so successfully. The ’97 feature film was critically panned, the video-games garnered an odious reputation for sloppy design, and McFarlane struggled to gather funding to follow up either the film or the HBO series.
The most significant problem was the comic book medium’s downward spiral. The speculator boom went bust by 1995, seeing the demise of many series, shops, and even publishers. Image suffered internal unrest during this time, leading to the departure of partners and the eventual demise of several properties.
Spawn ‘Resurrection’: a familiar routine
Spawn has fallen hard since its ’92 peak. Sales of #250, published last month, tallied around 60,000 copies–and that was a good month.
Resurrection comes seven years after an earlier reboot, New Beginning, which started with Spawn #200. The creative team replaced Al Simmons with Jim Downing, a magically endowed amnesiac trying to uncover his past. This second Spawn had a relatively short life, ending with Simmons’s return in Spawn #250.
The reboot has become the norm in the comic book industry. Marvel and DC have refreshed their properties more than once, with mixed results. Marvel rebooted Spider-Man a half-dozen times since 1996, each reboot lasting no more than a few years. The Avengers, X-Men, Batman, and Superman have all experienced this same routine.
McFarlane and Jenkins seem to have hashed out a decent plot, with Comic Book Roundup tallying an average score of 7.5 out of 10. Lance Paul of Comics Bulletin summed up the positive side of the ladder, uttering that “I can finally say I’m looking forward to a Spawn comic…”
Comic Spectrum‘s Shawn Hoklas was less enthusiastic, hoping “Jenkins will tone down his political views and commentary in future issues so it feels less preachy.” Jesse Schedeen of IGN agreed that the “hamfisted political elements don’t help” Resurrection‘s busy plot.
Michael Cheang of the Star Online reserved the harshest response,”Blame it on the waning relevance of the character, blame it on years of muddled plots and uninspired stories…heck, blame it on McFarlane if you want, but Spawn Resurrection just doesn’t do enough to resurrect my interest in the title.”
Will It Work?
If Spawn #200 is any indication…then the answer may very well be no. Spawn #250 and Resurrection will uptick sales and spotlight, but the real challenge comes with the post-landmark titles–the number 252s, 261s, 263s, etc. Unfortunately, the past has shown a steady drop in reader interest once the hype fades.