Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Spawn: The Armageddon Collection Part 1 (2006)

I've spoken at length in the past about how Spawn should be the most popular African-American, multi-platform, superhuman badass in an action/horror milieu (with apologies to Blade, whose franchise was entirely dependent on Wesley Snipes, who is now over.) Instead, Spawn is an emo bitch who somehow managed to spin his wheels and shed his tears for 150 issues before making any really progress in the story department. To summarize those fifteen or so years, Spawn fought a whole lot of non-threatening demons who made for silly looking action figures that were supposedly articulate, but sculpted in such a way that you could only stand them just so without their falling over and breaking. Spawn built up a pretty solid supporting cast, but around his ex-wife rather than himself, so that Wanda acted as the anchor around the guy's neck. Lose the chick, which after 100 issues of mooning was a desperate need, and you lose Terry, Cyan, Grandma, the twins, etc. Spawn did kill his big bad Malebolgia, but that just opened the door for a bunch of weaker retreads.

At the start of this trade, one such Malebolgia Lite (who looked just like another deceased antagonist, Jason Wynn) called Mammon had wiped Spawn's memory, and he was predictably being a tittybaby about it. He picked a fight with an angel, got ripped to pieces, and then those pieces got stolen by demons. Spawn was sewn back together, absent his heart, so that he could be tortured by Mammon. Meanwhile, Spawn's heart became a little white kid named Christopher, who is sent on a quest by not-Marvelman/Miracleman, because Neil Gaiman sued that character into the Phantom Stranger. Fucking Billy Kincaid shows up, the child killer Alan Moore created that will not go away, despite just begging for another lawsuit to cause even more of the Spawn library to become radioactive. Some signs of the apocalypse and a greatest hits collection of lame super-villains later, the anniversary issue wraps.

After that busy, confusing, yet still somewhat plodding start, the run of incoming creative team David Hine and Billy Tan starts in earnest. The story of Christopher brings to the fore the EC Comics influence that has always been one of the redeeming qualities of the series, and establishes the potential for Spawn to become a one-man anthology series along the lines of (amusingly enough) Neil Gaiman's The Sandman. For about the first time ever, the cartoonish grisliness of the series is worked into legitimately horrifying imagery that disturbs the senses. The Spawn supporting cast, including Sam and Twitch, are used very effectively. Building in the background is an end of days epic that, while leaning heavily on the usual Judeo-Christian plagues, is smart enough to also delve into world myth, beginning with Kali.

There is more energy and story potential in the six issues collected here than large swaths of the previous 149. Phillip Tan is clearly not as polished an artist as McFarlane, Capullo or Medina, but he's able to shift gears from the usual over the top shtick to more varied storytelling modes. Functionally, this is much better than his later, more stylized work. Rather than the whining associated with Spawn as a character, David Hine elicits real pathos through the tragedies and existential dread of his characters. My only complaint is that once all the balls are in the air, this collection ends exactly when and where you would least want it to. On to part 2, then.

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