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Gimmick or Good? – Spawn #1 Reprint Variant

In this column, Mark Ginocchio (from Chasing Amazing) takes a look at the gimmick covers from the 1990s and gives his take on whether the comic in question was just a gimmick or whether the comic within the gimmick cover was good. Hence “Gimmick or Good?” Here is an archive of all the comics featured so far. We continue with Spawn #1…

Spawn #1 (published May 1992) – story and art by Todd McFarlane

While Rob Liefeld’s Youngblood was the first title launched by Image Comics in 1992, Todd McFarlane’s Spawn was the publisher’s first true phenomenon, selling more than 1.7 million copies and spurring a major motion picture, an animated series and one of the most successful toy lines of all-time. And unlike nearly every other Image title that debuted in the early 1990s, Spawn has withstood the test of a time and is the company’s only original title, besides Savage Dragon, that is still being published today without any interruptions.

While this comic’s immense popularity was a key part of the comic book industry’s speculator boom – collector’s grabbed as many Spawn #1’s they could find in hopes that the issue would accrue in value – you might be asking yourself what’s the actual “cover gimmick” that qualifies this comic for a Gimmick or Good feature? There’s no foil, holograms, trading cards or polybags here. Well, I’ve found a loophole that allows me to write about Spawn #1. Fast forward five years after the comic was released. When sales for Spawn start sagging in 1997, Image issued a black and white reprint variant of Spawn #1 as a retailer incentive for their order of Spawn #65. Local comic book shops would get one Spawn #1 variant for every 50 copies of Spawn #65 they ordered. A CGC copy of this variant can sell upwards of $500 these days. Given the fact that retailer incentive variants are still a part of the industry today, I’m going to rule that this comic is absolutely in the sprit of Gimmick or Good?

So now that I’ve overly justified my choice, what about what’s inside the comic?

I was not particularly kind to McFarlane’s writing when I talked about Spider-Man #1 in this column a few months ago. I thought that comic’s script was overly stunted and clichéd and ultimately uninteresting (though the art was great). With that said, I actually think McFarlane shows vast improvement with Spawn #1. It’s still not a great story, but it smacks of infinitely more effort than “Torment,” which to me read like an artist who had been forced to write but had no interest in doing so. Spawn #1 still has McFarlane’s trademark flashy splash pages that offer little actual substance to the progression of the comic’s narrative, but in-between those moments, there’s a legitimate story unfolding here that’s drawing me in.

Spawn1_01

Using my power of 20-20 hindsight, McFarlane comes across as being more empowered as a writer in Spawn #1, and I would wager a lot of that has to do with the fact that he’s creating a script about a wholly original creation of his. I don’t think anyone can doubt McFarlane’s creativity as an artist – whether you actually like his artwork or not. But whatever inspiration and energy that was seemingly lacking during his Spider-Man run seems to be present in Spawn.

For one, McFarlane manages to create a legitimate air of mystery around his titular character. He reveals information about his character in bite-sized morsels and then ends the comic of enough of a cliffhanger that I want to keep reading. We learn from the onset that Spawn if former Lt. Col. Al Simmons, a highly-skilled CIA assasin who died, made some kind of deal with someone, and is now walking the earth again as the powerful Spawn. He is having visions of a woman for reasons he doesn’t initially understand (it turns out its his wife) and when he removes his costume near the comic’s end, Spawn discovers his some kind of hideous monster.

Spawn1_02

The comic is paced well enough where my interest mostly remains piqued from start to finish. There are a few instances where my attention wavers a bit: McFarlane uses three television news reporters to push the narrative forward about Simmons’ CIA background, and later in the comic, Spawn’s path of mob destruction. These pages are so static and text-heavy they are a total style-clash to McFarlane’s more action-driven work. Fortunately, there’s only two pages where McFarlane deploys this technique, but they feel out of place and overly recappy all the same.

Spawn1_03

Overall, there’s nothing groundbreaking about what McFarlane has crafted here – Faustian deals with the devil have been a staple of storytelling for centuries – but Marlow and Goethe never had the advantage of having an superstar artist as an illustrator. More importantly, McFarlane seems to be having so much more fun creating Spawn than he did on Spider-Man, which in turn makes the reading experience infinitely more enjoyable.

Verdict: Good

23 Comments

Prepare for slow pacing that makes Brian Micheal Bendis look like The Flash by comparison, melodramatic and unnecessary third person narration, wasted potential, and an unlikeable protagonist; all hiding under pretty artwork. At least that is what I heard. To be fair, I also heard David Hine’s run on the book was good and so were the spinoff “Sam and Twitch” comics when Bendis was writing them.

ok, but was anything in the book ADVANTAGEOUS?!?!?

I really dig David Hine’s other work and I’m interested in reading his take on Spawn too. Maybe I should look that up…

Maybe I missed the transition at some point. Is Mark writing this column, or Brian? There sure seem to be a lot of typos for it to be Brian.

Oops, I frequently forget to change the author credit to Mark. My apologies. It’s properly credited to Mark now.

AverageJoeEveryman

October 11, 2013 at 2:03 pm

man I could not stand those newscaster pages and would just skip them every time.

Spawn was objectively garbage. There’s no excuse for defending 90s Image (save for Supreme, which was just Superman under a different name anyway).

i think you misspelled garbage as good.

David Hine did some Spawn? I’ll have to track it down. He’s one of those writers who doesn’t get enough work so I’ll buy nearly anything with his name on it.

@danjack– Not even Alan Moore was able to make Spawn readable.

Remember way back in Diamond Previews where Todd premiered Spawn and talked about how he wasnt going to run the series forever? Said he wanted to tell a finite story and how the fans could watch the power meter go down and it would end? And threw out something like 30-50 issues as a figure?

Good times

Nice on that retailer variant loophole, Mark! I was just thinking recently that since Toddy-boy didn’t do the typical “gimmick” covers, you wouldn’t be able to feature Spawn, but you found a way. Nice.

You haven’t just “overly justified” your choice, you’ve “overtly justified” it. (Little Spawn joke there!)

I had cause to re-read my Spawn stuff last year, and I found that overall it was a decent book. Not great, but a decent story of a guy brought back to life and having to face that things had moved on (although I thought it was odd that it was never explicitly stated that Al came back 5 years after he had died).

From what I understand, I probably was fine not reading the book much after about issue 24, which is about what issue I have up until. From what I understand, the story overall kinda spins its wheels after that point and never really goes anywhere.

My favorite issue, of course, is #10, the Cerebus issue. I love that little bugger.

One question: when you say the gimmick was a black and white version, was the whole book in B&W? (I assume you still read the original version, as I doubt you have the $$$ to drop for the variant.) Because Spawn seems to be one book where you really need the color.

Interesting side note, I actually have (somewhere) a promotional poster of Spawn that presumably came out well before #1, and instead of the red and black color scheme, it’s more of a blue/green. It’s pretty neat, I had it up in my room for years, but haven’t looked at it in probably over 10 years.

And ’90s Image ruled, man!!! Even the EXTREME!!!!! books! But mostly because of the neat indies that Valentino and Marder brought into the fold.

ALL THAT AND A BAG OF CHIPS

October 12, 2013 at 10:05 pm

XTREEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Why must all the haters come down on a books web site. It’s your 12 year old boy mentality that causes you to write dumb, moronic crap. Which with so mant that know every part to spawn, why do you hate it & keep buying it. Just move on for real fans that like all 20 + years todd has given us this wonderfully created world that all the parts fit rt. & though you cant please em all, keep up doing what u do & those who want change, it happens here in spawn all the time, maybe you just havent noticed it. For those who want the spawn of the early 90′s. Do you also want the same foods or that crazy girl we all dated before we had so many ladies like today, that have similar interest like us. As long as they dont borrow from my collection I been updating since 1970 when I was 3 & mom would buy me comics, while my skinny brutta got his bag of candy. Todd, after losing my 1st wife & our 3yr. 49 week old daughter whom both died on dec. 26,2002. If not for a councelor tellling me to go back to what gave me joy in my youth, as a way to get me out of my suicidal frame of mind. I went on e-pay & started buying the 1st 100 spawn issues along with your spider-man run. You have saved my life. I;m also serverly ill with a # of health issues that are slowly killing me, so I am on a budjet. My wife & our daughter was Samantha Romandino, an Laura Romandino, we werent legally married in the states, plus I was back into meeting new people on grieving sites. I found the soon to be wife Donna Cassenelli/maiden name Dahle from mn. we married on 10/08/05 & she died on valentines day of 2007…Sorry my reading glasses are in the cars back seat. Please excuse my spelling & other wrongly written stuff, I cant read what I have wrote, with using my tv watching glasses. sincerely paul cassenelli

As for the news media boxes you use in spawn as a way to give that real world feel to the book, Leave it in every issue I look forward to it every month. 1 thing I wonder if you are concerned about, is loosing another spawn artist to dc for more batman books art work?? I hope that dont come unless you come back to drawing or inking every new issue & we know u have no time for that..

Well this comments section just took a surprising turn.

Personal tragedies aside, “Spawn” still sucked. You may have 20/20 hindsight, Mr Ginocchio, but I suspect you’re still wearing rose-colored glasses (ok, that was a lame burn, but it’s applicable.) Just about any comic is going to seem pretty decent when you compare it to McFarlane’s “Spider-Man” or the rest of the initial Image line.

As an aside, can we really consider the continued publication of Spawn and Savage Dragon as testaments to the popularity of the characters, or rather, as proof that parts of Image Comics have basically became vanity press?

Image is not a company that exists to make money (from anything not named “Walking Dead”). Their entire existence is just so that a bunch of comics writers don’t have to get real jobs.

@Bob point taken. I guess for people that find this column too predictable my thoughts on Spawn exists. To be honest, I fully expected to get lampooned on this, and maybe my glasses are more rose colored because I never read beyond the first batch of issues, but as a self-contained issue, Spawn #1 is just not this horrendous comic some make it out to be – in my opinion of course.

Sam Robards, Comic Fan

October 14, 2013 at 11:49 am

I’ve never cared for Spawn, even back in the character’s heyday in the ’90s. I can’t explain why: I just never cared for the idea of the character (or the character himself), even when I was a 10-year old kid who should’ve been primed to love him.

The only reason I bought some Spawn comics lately was to get some background on Angela prior to her introduction to the Marvel U, and while her miniseries was fairly decent, it was dragged down when Spawn showed up. Though I will admit it was a little funny (if slightly derivative) for he and Angela to do the bickering “Would you tell him/Would you tell her” non-couple routine while fighting a horde of demons.

[...] so for those of you who may have missed my column the first time around, may I present to you my thoughts on Image Comics Spawn #1. Written and illustrated by former Spider-Man superstar Todd McFarlane, I discovered a loophole [...]

“is the company’s only original title, besides Savage Dragon, that is still being published today without any interruptions. ”

How exactly is it the “only” original title still being published, when in the same sentence you add that Savage Dragon is still being made as well? maybe you could say it’s “one of two’?

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