Comic Book / Spawn

Spawn is a Comic Book telling the story of commando Al Simmons, who is betrayed by CIA spook Jason Wynn and murdered by his friend and teammate Chapel (later retconned as Priest, a Distaff Counterpart of Chapel). The character first appeared in Malibu Sun #13 (May 1992), created by Todd McFarlane.

After his death, Al meets a devil named Malebolgia, and his Dragon Violator (who goes disguised as a clown in the mortal realm). He makes a Deal with the Devil in an attempt to go back to his "loving" wife Wanda Blake. He comes back as a Nineties Anti-Hero with a living costume and Green Goo powers, powerful but finite, and must use those powers to increase the army of Hell and train as one of its lieutenants, called (Hell)Spawns, as Malebolgia, Mammon, and Satan prepare for the Apocalypse. He finds a Mentor named Cogliostro, a retired Spawn who fills the role of The Obi-Wan and All-Powerful Bystander.

Spawn befriends some bums in an alley, and becomes a urban-based vigilante. He fights Angela, an angel trained to slay Spawns, who he later befriends as she becomes a Defector from Decadence. He also interacts with his former best friend and Wanda's current husband Terry Fitzgerald. After receiving antagonism from Violator (who is determined to see him keep to his obligations with Malebolgia), using his Green Goo powers to save Terry's life by curing his cancer, and presenting Wanda's daughter Cyan with a cursed shoelace, he goes back to the Bonus Level Of Hell and re-visits his former foes. Malebolgia also mentions that his memories may be fake.

Unsure of his past life and having trouble with his costume changing and becoming wild all the time, Spawn starts to interact with former cops Sam and Twitch, and finds out Mammon sent Ab and Zab to release a soul-destroying demon that makes its enemies Deader Than Dead. After turning it into Sealed Evil in a Can, Spawn handwaves his way back to Hell and, with the help of Angela, kills Malebolgia.

It turns him into the lord of (that piece of) Hell, but he refuses to take Malebolgia's mantle and goes on fighting evil on Earth, with little success. His position is eventually robbed by Cogliostro, who performs a Face–Heel Turn and reveals himself to be Cain.

Suddenly, the whole story suffers a Snap Back and Spawn is revealed to be not just Al Simmons, but actually a mix of thousands of souls that died at the same time Al had. Spawn fights both Heaven and Hell as an independent warrior during the Apocalypse, and at the last minute, he manages to re-create the world. But in doing so, he discovers that, as Al, he intentionally caused his pregnant wife's miscarriage by punching her in the chest. Additionally, she was planning to finally leave before he died. It turns out that his amnesia and current form were actually subconsciously caused by his unresolved guilt, not by Malebolgia. He then retreats to the alleys to live out the rest of his life as The Atoner, having saved everyone but himself. Since then, his universe has evolved into more of an Gothic Punk-focused Crapsack World. Al Simmons himself seemingly commits suicide, and the mantle of Spawn is passed on to a man named Jim Downing.

While Spawn was really popular during the Dark Age, holding the title of best-selling independent comic for 15 years, the writing was full of Retcons and SnapBacks. Spawn's Power Counter that informed the reader of how much Green Goo energy he had left before he had to return to Hell was also abandoned after a few issues, angering many fans. It's definitely gotten much better over the years. There were definite cases of Schedule Slip, but far less so that most of the initial Image Comics (as of January 2010, 196 issues will have been released in 211 months, missing only 15).

Furthermore, the heavily-publicized idea of creator rights surrounding Image in the early nineties was, unfortunately, muddled when creator Todd McFarlane stopped writing and drawing the comic himself, and even had legal problems for using characters created by Neil Gaiman (Angela - who eventually was sent to the Marvel Universe because of this - and Cogliostro). However, he has since announced his intention to return to the main series, and is in the credits as co-writer and inks for the next few currently-unreleased issues.

Spawn is also The Merch, as McFarlane Toys became popular for being skillfully detailed (and, according to some people, for using higher-quality material) and made the creator a fortune selling hundreds of toys, costumes, clothing, related comics, tatoos, Spawnmobiles (actually, those are just for show) and bumper stickers, amongst others. Additionally, the Spawn toyline had a massive impact on the toy industry, starting the careers of the Four Horsemen and other sculptors who introduced greater detail and articulation into mainstream superhero toys (even though the Spawn toys were notoriously unarticulated).

It later had an animated adaptation for HBO that viciously battered the Animation Age Ghetto, and is often seen as being of higher quality than the comic. The movie (1997) placed Michael Jai White in the lead role, Theresa Randle as his wife, Martin Sheen as Wynn and John Leguizamo as arch-foe Clown/Violator. The film was somewhat cartoonish, but it is said the sequel, still in Development Hell, will have a high Mind Screw level.

Tropes this character is famous for:

  • Accidental Adultery: Upon coming back as the titular character, Al Simmons discovers that his wife has since remarried with his best friend. He is initially enraged at both of their lack of loyalty, until he regains part of his memory and realizes that, knowing that his was a dangerous profession, he actually asked his friend to take care of his wife should anything happen to him.
  • All Myths Are True: Spawn's taken on everything from vampires to rampaging deities to God and Satan themselves.
  • Anti-Hero: somewhere between Unscrupulous Hero and Nominal Hero, Depending on the Writer.
  • The Atoner: Spawn for... well, a lot of things.
  • Badass Biker
  • Badass Cape: Forget about all the others. Spawn has the cape.
  • Batman Gambit: In the HBO Animated Series. During the final season, it's revealed that Malebolgia never intended to use Al Simmons to lead hell's army on earth, but as a sperm donor to impregnate Wanda with a demon seed. He knew Al would give into temptation and find a way to mate with his ex-wife. He does so by making himself look like Terry, Wanda's current husband.
  • Black and Grey Morality: Spawn's morality is questionable, but clearly better than Hell. Word of God says that heaven was made intentionally ambiguous. Their final agenda is good, but they recognize that to stand up to the forces of hell they have to recruit people capable of being just as ruthless. In the audio commentary of the TV show Todd McFarlane compared the ideal heaven and hell going to war as consisting of Atilla the Hun fighting church bingo ladies. The comic, paralleling this, confirmed that heaven had successfully recruited Atilla at some point (mostly to keep Hell from getting him).
  • Bullying a Dragon: Numerous examples.
  • Butt Monkey: Clown is Spawn's Butt Monkey in the early parts of the HBO series. Then he turns into Violator.
  • Cardboard Box Home: Spawn was homeless and lived with other homeless bums, some of whom, were depicted as living in a cardboard box.
  • Cast from Lifespan: His powers have a price - After X uses, he goes straight back to Hell.
  • Chain Pain: Has chains that pop out of his cloak and are under his control; most often seen in the HBO Animated Series.
  • Cheerful Child: Cyan.
  • Color Me Black: On one occasion Spawn used his power to turn a Klan leader black, leaving him to be lynched by his own men.
  • Continuity Reboot: Spawn: Resurrection retcons just about everything that happened between Al Simmons becoming a Hellspawn and his suicide.
  • Contract on the Hitman: Rebelling against Hell will have this effect.
  • The Cowl: Probably the best example other than Batman himself.
  • Crossover:
    • Speaking of Batman, he's has a few crossovers with the guy, with one written by Frank Miller and the other by all three main Batman writers of the '90s (that's to say, Alan Grant, Chuck Dixon and Doug Moench all chipped in.)
    • Spawn himself is a Guest Fighter on the Xbox version of Soul Calibur II.
  • Cuckold: Al Simmons finds out that his wife has remarried his best friend, had two children with him, and is much happier with him than she ever was with Al.
  • Dark Is Not Evil: Spawn.
  • Darker and Edgier: The Hellspawn run was this to the main series.
  • Dead Guy Puppet: The spinoff The Violator features a disturbing series of scenes in which The Violator uses the corpse of a former Cosa Nostra member as a puppet.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Twitch.
    Twitch: Just checking some details. How's the chili dog?
    Sam: A little light on the onions.
    Twitch: That may signal an improvement in air quality.
  • Dead to Begin With
  • Deal with the Devil: What Al Simmons made to start the series.
  • Demon of Human Origin: Spawn struck a Deal with the Devil to get out of hell. Numerous retcons mean that the details vary, but typically he is granted undeath and a host of demonic powers with the understanding that he will one day lead The Legions of Hell against heaven, and typically he's none too keen about keeping up his end of the bargain and always searching for redemption to get out of it.
  • Doom Magnet: Well, that's a given.
  • Drill Sergeant Nasty: Clown/Violator can be seen as something of this. His job is to incite Spawn into committing evil, violent acts in the name of Hell, and he's willing to endanger Wanda and her new family, devise criminal schemes with Wynn and do various other things that torment and anger Spawn.
  • Eat Me: "EAT THIS!" *SHINK*
  • Enlightenment Superpowers: Harold Houdini aka The Great Escape Artist Harry Houdini gained the ability to utilize real magic and travel across dimensions after intensive concentration during his training as an escape artist.
  • Evil All Along: Cogliostro is actually Cain and wants to rule hell, so he trains Spawn to defeat Malebolgia.
  • Evil Versus Evil: God Vs Satan
  • Evil Twin: Inverted, Heaven creates a good-infused anti-Spawn with The Redeemer.
  • Expy: Spawn is more or less Venom (another McFarlane creation) with Ghost Rider's chains and supernatural powers, topped off with a big scary cape.
    • Even though McFarlane has claimed to be Venom's creator in the past, the character was the result of many writers, editors, and at least one other artist (Mike Zeck, the designer of the black costume that Venom would later wear). McFarlane's influence was limited to Venom's famous grin and the name only. Interestingly enough, the third incarnation of Venom, Mac Gargan, was drawn as having glowing green eyes inside the symbiote's white eye-patches, making him an expy of Spawn.
    • Sam is pretty similar to Harvey Bullock.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Clown
  • Female Angel, Male Demon: Technically, Spawn compared to Angela. Inverted when God and Satan are incarnated as Terry and Wanda's twins; Satan is revealed to be the female twin.
  • Filk Song: Iced Earth's Dark Saga album. McFarlane even did the album artwork for them.
  • Five-Bad Band: Violator and his brothers, prior to Violator's banishent anyway.
  • God Is A Jerkass
  • God and Satan Are Both Jerks: Oh yeah. Even The Creator of All is disappointed with their petty rivalry, and both of them are absolute monsters. Even when they're reincarnated as humans, forgetting their true memories, they show their true colors by violently attacking each other, torturing Wanda's hamster and otherwise causing all manner of havoc.
    • Arguably averted given the nature of the Mother of Existence who is pretty much an over deity who is actively trying to help humanity.
  • Gothic Punk
  • Glowing Eyes of Doom: Most demons have red eyes, Spawn has green eyes as a way of differentiating between demons and hellspawn.
  • Green Lantern Ring: There is almost no limit to what Spawn is capable of, but bigger supernatural feats expend more power.
  • Healing Factor: A lot of supernatural creatures, up to and including Spawn himself.
  • Heartbroken Badass: BIG TIME. Poor Spawn.
  • Hell Invades Heaven: This is Hell's grand plan, with Hellspawn in charge of gathering souls for Hell's army.
  • Heroic Host: Spawn himself, once he discovers he contains 6000 souls inside of himself.
  • Hero with an F in Good: Spawn's heroic actions often fail disastrously. One prime example is when he ends up stranded in the Deep South after a mission with Angela, where he finds himself rescued by two brothers with a physically abusive dad. Outraged, he tries to scare him straight by mugging him and branding "I beat my kids" all over his body, then leaves — he never learns that, far from stopping his abuse, the man then goes home and attacks his kids in fury, resulting in his older son shooting him dead to protect his little brother.
  • He Who Fights Monsters: According to the TV series, Heaven is pretty much this.
    "And what are we left with? Monsters killing monsters?"
    — Todd MacFarlane
  • Hollywood Atheist: Averted, arguably Inverted, with Grandma Simmons. Even after she is Raptured into Heaven by God, who openly mocks her belief in him as a kind and gentle savior figure before sending her out to slaughter demons and Hell-Raptured humans alike, she doesn't lose her faith. When Spawn traps God and Satan in their personal hell and she is resurrected, she is seen spitting that there is a God as per her beliefs and that "evil child-thing" she saw was not God.
  • Horrifying Hero: Spawn is a Humanoid Abomination. What did you expect.
  • I Have Many Names: Mother of Existence (also known as Man of Miracles, Jesus Christ, Gaia, the Keeper of the Green World, Kali, to name a few)
  • Ironic Nickname: Twitch. Because he doesn't. Ever.
  • Jesus Was Way Cool: Despite the fact that God and Satan are mutually evil here, Jesus was a true Messiah. Because he was actually the Mother of Existence incarnated as a human to try and lead humans away from the plan of God and Satan; God's faith swallowed and diluted/corrupted Jesus's teachings to ensure that humans were instead enslaved by following Jesus' teachings instead of freed.
  • Knee-capping: Twitch shoots Spawn in the knee to stop him from escaping. He is rather shaken when Al doesn't even slow down.
  • Lawyer-Friendly Cameo: Subverted, and got McFarlane into deep shit later on.
    • To elaborate, one of Spawn's primary antagonists was a Mafia boss named Tony Twist, whom McFarlane named after a real-life NHL player. The player was not amused.
  • Licked by the Dog: His wife and best friend don't recognize Al, but his dog does.
  • Light Is Not Good: The demons of Hell are Obviously Evil, but God and the angels aren't exactly nice guys, either.
    • Jason Wynn as the Redeemer. It's guaranteed that this will happen when you give holy powers to The Sociopath.
  • Love Makes You Evil: It's the reason Al strikes a Deal with the Devil.
  • Meaningful Name: Malebolgia. Named after the circle of fraud in Dante's Inferno. Fitting considering how well it turns out to make a deal with him.
  • Mind Screw: The many Retcons and Snap Backs.
  • Monster Clown: Clown/Violator
  • More Dakka
  • More Teeth than the Osmond Family: If it's from Hell, chances are it has these. Spawn himself has engaged in this when his mask splits open to reveal his mouth.
  • Mugging the Monster: Early on, a lot of people try pushing Spawn around because they think he's just some lunatic in a freaky Halloween costume. They learn how wrong they are soon after. Indeed, it's often the last thing they do learn...
  • Mythology Gag: In both the movie and the HBO series, someone sees Spawn's face and comments that they've seen far worse due to working for/being related to a mortician.
  • Names to Run Away from Really Fast: Violator, and most names here.
  • Nineties Anti-Hero: Actually played with. Spawn is an asshole, yeah, but he's a fair bit more complex than that, especially in the latter part of the comics and the HBO series. A lot of the latter's beginning is devoted to establishing why he's an asshole, as a matter of fact.
  • The Obi-Wan: Cogliostro. Lampshaded: "All right, Yoda."
  • Oh Crap!
    Chapel: He looked at me with those green eyes... that cloak...
    Twitch: *Double Take* Did you say cloak?
  • One-Winged Angel: Clown transforms into the huge, demonic Violator for physical fights with Spawn.
  • Our Angels Are Different
  • Our Demons Are Different
  • Pædo Hunt: In the animated and comic book series, Wanda and the police are on the trail of a child killer who happens to be Senator McMillan's illegitimate son whom he covered up in order to not ruin his career or send his son to jail, and it reaches its climax when Cyan is kidnapped.
  • Powers Do the Fighting: Spawn can do this, but his powers are Cast from Lifespan, so he usually either Fights Like a Normal or uses guns.
  • Queen Of All Cosmos: Mother of Existence.
  • Retcon: Spawn: Resurrection is a Continuity Reboot of sorts that undoes most of what went on between Al becoming a Hellspawn and his suicide: God is now a good guy, the Man of Miracles arc never happened, and Al Simmons had a son who was stillborn rather than a daughter he aborted himself.
  • Scary Black Man: Doubly Subverted. Al Simmons is viewed by the public as a handsome war hero who died sacrificing himself for his country. But in reality, Al was a paid assassin guilty of not just multiple murders but violently and horrifically beating his wife. Al was arguably scarier (and definitely far crueler) when he was alive than he is now that he's come back as an undead monster. In fact that's why he came back looking like such a monster.
  • Shout-Out: Early in the comics, Spawn is hanging out with two homeless men in an alley, one's named Frank, the other Alan. Frank's drinking Miller brand beer, and Alan's drinking Moore brand beer. Alan also has an epic beard, like someone we know.
    • Many of the more recent covers are shout-outs to other classic superhero comic covers, including Spider-Man and Superman.
    • The effects of the war mask, at least in the HBO series, are possibly a reference to JoJo's Bizarre Adventure, where a similar mask results in vampires.
  • Skull for a Head: There's really not much left of Al under the symbiote.
  • Spikes of Villainy: Spawn can project them at will from his body, and so can many other characters. Jim Downing took this Up to Eleven earlier in his run by eschewing the cape for a carapace of thorns.
  • The Symbiote: Spawn's outfit. It acts on its own to save Spawn several times. And boy is it pissed when Spawn tries to get rid of it due to having been convinced it's killing people vampire-style while he's asleep.
  • Take That: In Spawn #256, Mike is reading Todd McFarlane's autobiography and making derisive remarks about how ridiculous a man with spider powers is.
  • Ugly Guy, Hot Wife: Twitch and his wife Helen is a very straightforward example. Not that the difference in appearances seems to ever have put a damper on their passion - They have seven children.
  • Variable-Length Chain: One of Spawn's main means of offence.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Angela appears in one episode during the HBO Animated Series in Season 1, and is presented like she'll become a big part of the story. Instead, she never appears again, and another bounty hunter named Jade appears to hunt Spawn during Seasons 2 and 3.