Recently it has been announced that Jamie Foxx could possibly be playing Spawn in the new adaptation, Spawn got an movie adaptation in 1997 and a HBO cartoon around the same time. Spawn is from one of the largest non-Marvel/DC comics and he's really the character which launched the publication, Image Comics. In the early 1990s several comic book writers and artists were upset that DC or Marvel owned their characters so they banded together, largely under Todd McFarlane although there were many others, to form Image. Here the creators would own the characters, not the company. Spawn, by McFarlane, until relatively recently remained Image's biggest character, The Walking Dead in the last few years may have just eclipsed Spawn in popularity, and he is still very popular among comic book fans. Spawn constantly appears on the top comic book character lists. As Spawn has been Image's largest figure for around twenty-five years we'll largely just look at his origins and some other key aspects of his history.
Real World Origin
Spawn made his debut in 1992's Spawn #1 as one of Image's first publications. Image had just been formed and several big name writers had formed it together, including Deadpool creator Rob Liefeld. Spawn stood out compared to the other titles was because one name was attached to it: Todd McFarlane. McFarlane had been one of Marvel's biggest creators with his run on The Amazing Spider-Man being not only one of the highest selling titles but also some of the best received. McFarlane's name was a badge of quality. Thanks to this Spawn soon became incredibly popular. Luckily for the new title, and publisher, the early 1990s comic books were seeing high sales in a speculator boom which you can read about here. This boom, the excitement over a new big publisher, and with McFarlane's name attached to it Spawn quickly became extremely popular with the first issue selling 1.7 million copies. In May 1997 it was even the highest selling title! The stories, which attracted writers including Watchmen's Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman, (who wrote one of my favorite books, American Gods), were dark, violent, and all things 1990s but as they were imaginative and very well written Spawn managed to outlive the 1990s. The upcoming adaptation shows how popular he still is and calls for him to appear in Mortal Kombat X and Injustice 2 (of which I took part in as well) shows he is still very popular.
Spawn's origins were very much in line with other characters from the 1990s. Unlike earlier decades during the 1990s a character would be introduced but their origin would be explained in future issues or even titles. This, to an extent, continues today although it depends title to title. Spawn is dropped in Spawn #1 with few memories and an urge to punish the wicked. He doesn't even know what his powers are, never mind their extent, until he stumbles upon them by accident. The first four issues deals with Spawn remembering about his past, what has happened five years since his death, and why he's returned to the mortal world after dying. One memory is that of a woman and Spawn uses this to remember his past; he was called Al Simmons and the woman is his wife Wanda. Simmons had made a deal with a Hell lord to see her again. Al decides to find Wanda again and finally manages to control his ability to change his shape; Al is surprised that he can make himself look very different to his original form as he turned into a Caucasian man when he is actually African-American. When he visits Wanda he finds out that she has remarried, to a friend of his, and has had a daughter. Al becomes distraught and has to be comforted by them as he realizes that he cannot ethically come back to Wanda as it would mean destroying a family and Wanda's dream; she had always wanted to be a mother. This is interesting as normally anti-heroes, like the Punisher, have a moral compass but it is largely outweighed by their negative actions. Wolverine is perhaps a good example of an anti-hero along Spawn's lines. Spawn decides to leave Wanda be and then remembers his past. He was a special-op CIA agent performing assassinations and covert war which hurt many innocents and he knew about it so when the CIA decided to remove him he was sent to Hell. There he met the Hell lord Malebolgia who allowed him to see Wanda one more time.
However, a contract with Malebolgia often has strings attached to it. If Al wanted to return to see Wanda he had to come back as a Hellspawn. In Spawn #4 we find out what exactly a Hellspawn is and does. Hell lords like Malebolgia, and after Spawn #158 Satan, want to go to war and destroy God but they are in the weaker position. They need an army made up of the souls of the damned and the wicked in order to do this, and in order to build said army Malebolgia requires Hellspawn to take the souls of the wicked. Although the wicked can be sent to Hell when they die naturally, as what happened to Al, a Hellspawn killing them ensures that they are brought into Hell's army. A Hellspawn's suit is made up of something called necroplasm and each starts with 9,999 units of necroplasm which gets depleted every time they use their powers. When all units are used the Hellspawn is sent to Hell where they'll eventually become lieutenants of Hell's army. Throughout Spawn's existence he wants to protect the innocent but he cannot use too much of his powers or kill as this will increase the army of Hell.
Violator and Cogliostro
In Spawn #2 we encounter an insidious clown called the Violator tearing the hearts out of mafia bosses. The Violator is an interesting character offering comic relief despite being incredibly sadistic - imagine the Joker as a demon. In later issues we find out that the Violator was one of several major demon brothers who became Malebolgia's key assistants. He, however, loathed mortals and thought that he, instead of the Hellspawn, should lead Hell's armies instead. Malebolgia sent Violator to Earth to mentor and groom the Hellspawn for their time leading his armies which infuriated the demon. Instead of staying low, occasionally collecting souls, until a new Hellspawn arrived he opted to take matters into his own hands by tearing the hearts out of the mafia. In Spawn #4 he encountered Spawn and hoped by killing Al off he could reap the rewards of claiming souls so he tore out the Hellspawn's heart only to find out it had no effect. As they began fighting they were interrupted by Malebolgia who was angered by the Violator for attacking the Hellspawn so he cursed the demon to be stuck in his clown form. Trapped in clown form he wanted revenge on Spawn and had to deal with the mafia sending a mercenary called the Admonisher to kill him in his own mini-series. After Spawn #37 he even worked with Spawn's killer, CIA Director Jason Wynn, in order to bring Spawn down.
In Spawn #9 Spawn met a homeless man in an alley calling himself Cog, a character partially created by Neil Gaiman. Despite being outwardly a homeless anonymous figure Cog knew a lot about Hellspawn and he is the one who informed him about how eventually he will run out of energy and be sent to Hell. Throughout the early issues Cog would act as the counterpoint to Violator; as the Violator wanted to take Spawn down and for him to use his powers Cogliostro wanted him to do the opposite. In Spawn #77 we find out why - Cogliostro was once a Hellspawn who went against Malebolgia who has one 'tick' of energy left, and if he uses it that would mean the end of his existence. After over a hundred issues of comics we find out Cogliostro's origin. He was Cain and following his murder of Abel in envy he became the first person sent to Hell and eventually became a Hellspawn.
|For some reason Image had a habit of making all their female warriors, like Angela, wear little. Angela is fairly modestly dressed compared to Witchblade if you can believe that...|
After eliminating mafia bosses and serial killers Heaven feared another Hellspawn on Earth. In their eternal war Heaven had sent angels to Earth in order to eliminate Hellspawn before they could help build up the army of Hell. However, very much in Gaiman's humor in order to do so they needed a Hunting Permit from the Terran Affairs Headquarters, led by Gabrielle. A prolific hunter who would become very popular, Angela, obtained a license in order to hunt Spawn. As Angela had often eliminated Hellspawn in the past she assumed this newest one would just be as easy but this turned out to be a mistake. Al was very resourceful, even without advise from Cogliostro, and managed to trick Angela during her fight. Angels are armed with Dimensional Lances which can pierce the suits of Hellspawn so during the fight Spawn managed to separate Angela from her Lance. As one of his powers is reality manipulation he engulfed Angela in his cape and teleported her away. In her own series in 1995 this would serve as a major plot point. Gabrielle saw Angela as a free lancer and when Spawn disarmed her all records of the Hunting Permit vanished so she wanted to use that to take down Angela. At her trial Spawn is summoned as a witness where he helps her escape. Since then Angela and Spawn would sometimes be enemies and sometimes be allies. Marvel fans may recognize Angela; Neil Gaiman in 2012 was given full ownership of her, and when he came to Marvel he brought her with him who later bought her rights. She was formally brought into the Marvel universe with Age of Ultron.
Spawn #16 featured Heaven's next major attempt to bring down Spawn. After Angela's failure Gabrielle decided to beat Hell at their own game by creating an Anti-Spawn, aka a Redeemer. Gabrielle chose Jason Wynn to become the first Redeemer where his soul and body were molded together with Elemental Fire in constant pain. The pain would only end when Spawn was defeated. Driven to insanity he attacked Spawn and beat him to an inch of his life. Spawn was only spared when the bums which Spawn protected distracted him. This allowed Al to fight back and defeat the Redeemer. However, when he was about to the infused with more Fire it failed as his soul was not pure thanks to him organizing the the covert CIA operations. After Wynn more Redeemers would be made. The Heaven vs. Hell aspect would remain a constant in the Spawn comics.