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 dying and going to Hell, Al meets a demon lord by the name of 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 '90s 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 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 hand waves 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 Snap Backs. 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 co-created by Neil Gaiman (Angela - who eventually was sent to the Marvel Universe because of this - Cogliostro, and Medieval Spawn), and which he assumed to have purchased the rights to (Miracleman, who was also sent to the Marvel Universe). 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 1997 movie adaptation placed Michael Jai White in the lead role, Theresa Randle as his wife, Martin Sheen as Wynn and John Leguizamo as cartoonish arch-foe Clown/Violator.
A new Spawn movie is due to release in 2019, written and directed by McFarlane himself.
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 Cape: Forget about all the others. Spawn has the cape. It's part of his living costume, and can act as Combat Tentacles.
- Badass Normal: Many of Spawn's allies, especially NYPD detectives Sam Burke and Twitch Williams. These ordinary detectives takes on some of the weirdest cases and dukes it out with superhumans such as cyborg assassins, genetically-enhanced hitmen, and even vampires. Although they don't have superpowers, they have their own skills and training to compensate. Sam Burke's large fatty built allows him to fight the superhuman Udaku and vampires up close and personal, while Twitch William's marksmanship and knowledge of trigonometry allowed him to defeat the bulletproof cyborg killer Overt-Kill by shooting a bullet through his ear canal.
- 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 Gray 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 and salvation army volunteers. The comic, paralleling this, confirmed that heaven had successfully recruited Atilla at some point (mostly to keep Hell from getting him).
- Bowdlerise: The action figure packages referred to Hell as "The Darklands", for obvious marketing reasons. Shadow Hawk's action figure bio also excludes any mention of the character having HIV. Despite the amount of gore the toys DID get away with, the bio notes do tend to pull their punches when necessary
- 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.
- Canon Foreigner: The tie-in action figure line often had free reign to create characters meant to be action figures that never appeared in the fiction. This was rather common until the focus shifted to doing scene-specific statues, giving us toys such as Interlink 6, Top Gun & Bottom Line and a slew of other characters.
- Canon Immigrant:
- Jessica Priest went from the movie to the comics, in part due to rights issues with Chapel
- Cy-Gor was created for the toy line, but proved popular enough to become part of the comics.
- 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.
- Cosmic Chess Game: Lampshaded word for word in the story by various characters like Cogliostro and Mammon. Much of the story of the series is based on a cosmic Cold War between God with the forces of Heaven and Satan with the forces of Hell to obtain ownership over human souls to serve in the eventual full scale war of Armageddon between Heaven and Hell that will destroy the world. Good or bad deeds have no weight when it comes to choosing which souls fight for Heaven or Hell since each side alternative picks a soul in a 50-50 split (first heaven, then hell) so neither sides gets an advantage. Quality of the souls in terms of who is better at war and can fight with more savagery is the deciding factor of victory that tips the scales which is why the souls of individuals such as Genghis Khan, Atilla the Hun, and Jack the Ripper were heavily fought over. Spawn himself was seen as the greatest of such souls due to his love of killing and vicious combat skills, which is why Hell made him a Hellspawn in an attempt to gain ownership over him.
- The Cowl: Probably the best example other than Batman himself.
- 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, and the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 online HD ports of Soul Calibur II.
- Dark Is Not Evil: Spawn is an undead soldier of Hell who fights crime.
- 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.
- 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.
- Disproportionate Retribution: In issue #166, a guy brutally beats his disorganized roommate to death with a statue. Why? Because he left the cap off the toothpaste.
- 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.
- 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 vs. Evil: God Vs Satan.
- Evil Twin: Inverted, Heaven creates a good-infused anti-Spawn with The Redeemer. "Good" being a highly subjective term here...
- Spawn is more or less a demonic version of Venom (another McFarlane co-creation) with Ghost Rider's chains and supernatural powers, topped off with a big scary cape resembling the Prowler's. 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 monstrous appearance - his claws and 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.
- Spawn also bears not-insignificant resemblance to the Prowler, another black anti-hero that McFarlane had previously drawn when he was still pencilling Spider-Man comics. This hasn't gone unnoticed by some of the fans.
- Sam is pretty similar to Harvey Bullock.
- The toy line had Quartz, a giant orange rock monster that was essentially The Thing with long quartz spikes poking out of him.
- 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.
- God Is Evil: Prior to the retcon, God was just as bad as Satan.
- God and Satan Are Both Jerks:
- Even their creator, The Mother of Existence, is disappointed with their petty rivalry since 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, trying to kill their mother Wanda, 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, but even MOM refused to help stop Armageddon due to the event needing to happen according to rules that MOM created.
- After the retcon removing MOM from the continuity, God is not as much of a jerk as Satan, persuading Al Simmons to come back to life to save his wife's soul, providing him with a sword capable of permanently killing demons, and sending the Archangel Michel to help him out.
- 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: Prior to the post-Resurrection retcon, 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:
- 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 is a demon trapped in the form of a monstrous clown.
- 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 forms a fanged mouth with a slavering tongue.
- 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.
- '90s 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.
- Oh, Crap!: In the animated series, Chapel has one.
- One-Winged Angel: Clown transforms into the huge, demonic Violator for physical fights with Spawn.
- 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.
- Religious Horror: The story of Spawn follows conventional Christian stories except it shows that God and Satan are actually using human souls as proxies and pawns in a Cold War that will build up to Armageddon and that the morality of those souls has no significance whatsoever. Demons from Hell ritually come to attack or torment Spawn by coming to Earth to torment his loved ones or kill loads of civilians and the Angels from Heaven are displayed as being just as if not more immoral.
- King of All Cosmos: Mother of Existence, McFarlane's take on Miracleman.
- Resurrected for a Job: Spawn is brought back from the dead to become the leader of Hell's army. Except ... it's much more complicated than that.
- Spawn: Resurrection is a Continuity Reboot of sorts that undoes most of what went on between Al defeating Malebolgia and his suicide: God is now good, the arcs involving the Man of Miracles never happened, and Al Simmons had a son who was stillborn rather than a daughter he aborted himself (later revealed to be his lost humanity). Al being a wife beater probably counts too, considering it hadn't even been hinted at early on. It just got shoved into continuity at some point.
- Prior to Resurrection, Spawn's suit was revealed to be an ancient symbiotic demon with ambitions of its own. After Resurrection, it was created by Malebolgia from the souls of Al Simmons' victims.
- 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.
- 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 is essentially a demonic version of Venom, and is even called a symbiote. 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 while on the toilet and makes 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.
- Wretched Hive: Rat City. Filled with reprobates, prostitutes, mobsters, gangsters, drug dealers, murderers, crooked cops, and homeless people.