Sunday, February 26, 2012

Black Superheroes: Spawn

Behold! The Amazing Spider-Man Spawn!
Name: Albert “Al” Simmons

First Appearance: Spawn #1 (1992)

History: Al Simmons had a life once. He was a top notch CIA assassin, working for a top secret division. After a while however Simmons began questioning his boss Jason Wynn after series of increasingly morally depraved assignments. Unable (Or unwilling) to indulge his underlying Wynn ordered Simmons’ death, which was carried out by his own partner Bruce Stinson (AKA Chapel). But death wasn’t the end for Al; due to his many evil deeds as an assassin his soul went to hell. There he meets the demon Malebolgia who offers him a sinister deal: become a Hellspawn and in exchange he’ll be allowed to return to Earth to see his wife one last time. Simmons agrees and is subsequently sent back. However upon his resurrection he is amnesic, his body is burned and disfigured, and worse of all its five years later and his wife has already moved on…marrying his best friend! However Spawn, as he is now known, possesses the Hellspawn powers. Emotionally devastated he becomes a violent antihero and soon becomes a crucial part of a conflict between Hell and Heaven

Beta Says: I am not what you’d call a Spawn fan. I’m more of a superhero comic enthusiasts and the darker route of this comic never really got my attention. In fact he’s probably the poster child for the violent 90s hero archetype I dislike (Though at least he makes sense for his world, unlike a certain claw wielding fellow). Plus the book gets pretty goddamn hard to follow after a while. But the title was one of the highest selling books of the day, reaching rare heights of popularity and ultimately putting Image comics on the map and making its creator Todd McFarlane one of the richest men in the industry. It also led to an critically acclaimed HBO cartoon (One of the few adult cartoons that wasn’t a comedy or porn) and a less than critically acclaimed live-action film, not to mention numerous video game appearances. With the high sales and the exposure Spawn reached a level of mainstream exposure that almost no other African American hero, especially a solo hero, could lay claim to. Though his notoriety has gone down in the last ten years or so (For the most part) he may be in fact be the most successful black character in American superhero comics.

More on Spawn after the jump.

Like a bat outta hell!
Spawn was one of the original titles created by Image Comics. I plan on revisiting this company at some pointing he near future but basically the legend behind them is that they were made of several hot shot artists from Marvel Comics who walked out of the company to form their own after becoming tired of creating some of the most profitable characters in the business but not receiving a piece of the pie (As is typical for Marvel and DC Comics, actually). Each founder creator had their own sub-studio that they owned making it more like several studios working under one banner (Spawn was a product of Todd McFarlane Productions). Anyway Spawn is one of two comics (The other being Savage Dragon) that has been running consistently since the company’s founding. Well, more or less consistently. Throughout his twenty years of existence Spawn’s book has been pretty strange and hard to follow. Even with the research for this blog I still find his history so convoluted that I don’t really want to open the Pandora's Box and even begin to try to chart it here. Needless to say he fights Hell, he fights Heaven, a lot of stuff happens, he gets the powers of God for bit, he ultimately kills himself. Currently there’s a new person with the Hellspawn powers that's not Al Simmons, though I don't know much about the newbie.

You might have noticed that Spawn kind of looks like Goth Spider-Man, especially during the early days of his creation. This is almost certainly because McFarlane had been drawing Amazing Spider-Man and (Non-Adjective) Spider-Man right before this and likely utilized unused concept drawings while creating his signature character, though I’m just assuming here. Speaking of McFarlane the guy made crazy money during the Dark Age of Comics due to the success of the comic. Well that and such money making strategies as forming McFarlane Toys and McFarlane Entertainment. In an ironic twist McFarlane, who himself helped form a comic book company all about creator rights, once came to legal blows with a writer who co-created some of Spawn’s most famous supporting cast members (Including Angela and Cogliostro). The writer was Neil Gaiman, critically beloved comic writer, novelist and one time Doctor Who writer. Basically Gaiman was paid royalties for years for his creations until McFarlane decided to stop paying him and a lawsuit soon began. 

When I think "Justice" and "Heroism", oh yeah, I think Spawn
Anyway Spawn was once a super famous character and even though he’s nowhere near as relevant as he once was there is still something to be gained with the character’s existence. Of course the sad fact is I don’t care. Seriously guys, if they canceled Spawn tomorrow I wouldn’t care even a tiny bit; I’m no more interested in Spawn now than I was seventeen years ago. He’s historically relevant though so I felt it was important to talk about. 

Next time we’ll talk about a character that continues to not be utilized to his full potential despite being given chance after chance to succeed. And also his awesome creator. However for more on Spawn click here.

@JasonBetaMagnus

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