The PC Thug: Image Comics and Spawn


I was glad to see the documentary “The Image Revolution.” Seriously, if you grew up during the nineties, you’ll fondly remember how Image dominated pop culture for a while. They were so popular even Marvel and DC began imitating them, even though Image primarily trotted out Marvel clones when they ran out of ideas. Which is not a statement meant to devalue their influence or impact, but come on.

True I mock Rob Liefeld these days. A lot. To an obscene degree. In fact, I try to squeeze in a Rob Liefeld jab every other week. Where was I? Oh yes, though I mock the man, he and Jim Lee had real influences on me as a child. I was an aspiring artist whose entire life was built around art, and trying to get in to the comic books. So Rob Liefeld and Jim Lee became the artists I cut my teeth on. The line work, cross hatching, and body models became the bases for much of my art work.

I remember a lot of the Image titles and while a few of them were pretty damn good, so much of it was disposable junk. Much of their classic titles could probably be bought for a buck, give or take. Hell, there are some people that still think the first issue of “Spawn” is worth a ton of money, but it’s not. It’s really not. It’s worth just about nothing.

While everyone at Image really had a hand in changing comics, I remember Liefeld and Jim Lee mostly for their stuff at Marvel Comics. I bought X-Men #1 the day it came out and loved it. As for “Spawn”? He seemed to really branch out as his own entity. Grim and dark were big in the 90’s, and “Spawn” was the poster child.

I didn’t get into the craze when the “Spawn” series unleashed itself onto audiences back in the early nineties. Suddenly, everyone wanted to create a Spawn of their very own, and heroes took on a darker edge to compete with the indie cred Image comics spewed. Of course now the rebel has become the machine. I wasn’t one of the people who bought into it, because I found “Spawn” boring. It was too dark for my tastes, and well… I was too poor to buy comics most times.

“Spawn” was basically Faust, except in a comic setting, sans the deep myths, and bringing on the whole superhero vibe, with McFarlane milking his burnt cow for all it was worth. “Spawn” was a comic I wasn’t accustomed to, and in spite of owning the first issue, its sophisticated storyline, and being generally optimistic towards Image comics and the interchangeable array of titles, I didn’t click with the character.

And the “Spawn” television series on HBO wasn’t much to scoff at either. He was a bad guy who made a deal with the devil, and became a burnt hero with a live costume that was beyond bad-assnessness (I know it’s not a word). Yet I found it boring, go figure. But this is coming from a fan of Superman and Daredevil. So judge me, or agree. It’s too bad the movie never had a fighting chance, either.

The studio wanted a superhero action shoot em up and I’m sure McFarlane wanted the Faustian, convoluted, tale of heaven and hell and the anti-hero with the obscenely large cape. “Spawn” has to be one of the worst comic book movies ever made, next to Tim Story’s “Fantastic Four,” and “Superman IV” with Kryptonian Bon Jovi. I should make a list someday of the worst. It would include “”Superman III,” “Catwoman,” and “”Howard the Duck,” another childhood favorite.

The day I went to check it out, my family and I took in a double feature. First, we went to see “Air Force One,” and then “Spawn.” I wasn’t looking forward to “Air Force One.” But little did I know this circumstance resulted in me utterly loving this Harrison Ford action flick of featuring ass kicking president. Then we went to see “Spawn,” and… my most anticipated movie of that year ended up being an awful waste of time and money. From the minute the credits began to roll, the movie rubbed me the wrong way.

We were in the theaters on a Saturday night, and the theater in which we went to see the film was utterly empty. That should have been a warning sign. Even for a young boy like I, it simply wasn’t an enjoyable experience. The movie was deafening, the direction was dark, and I couldn’t sit through most of it. In the 1997 film, Spawn is now a superhero in the vein of Batman, who looks like a meatball, and wears a live suit that he rarely uses in battle until it’s convenient to the special effects.

And his cape is almost non-existent. Michael Jai White, miscast from the get go, stars as Al, a soldier who makes a deal with the devil after being burned alive. Spawn rises as the burnt meatball, and learns how to use his live costume thanks to a Spawn of the past, who is his own “Obi-Wan,” English accent, poetic insight and all! Out goes the darkness, out goes the lore, and in comes the horrible action.

Pair that with an over the top performance by Martin Sheen, and one of the worst performances by John Leguizamo, and we’re in for a rather awful action film. Spawn is no longer a torture soul, but a young man who spouts action one-liners, and prefers to work with a shit load of guns instead of remembering that he was told frequently that his suit can do anything it wants, heal him, and mold to his hearts content to fight evil!

And he still wants to use guns that never penetrate the villains–of course he can’t catch on. But that doesn’t stop him from continuous use of machine guns, and more machine guns. Even with Melinda Clarke co-starring, nothing could save this movie from being crapalicious. Al/Spawn hangs out in the alleys with the poor, groans and whimpers about his hot wife Wanda, and really does nothing else, except when he’s egged on by Violator. Leguizamo, in an awful dwarf costume is one of the most boring and ridiculous villains in action movie history.

To add insult to injury, they took an awfully menacing villain and turned him into Quasi-Joker. He eggs Spawn on, and he makes bad jokes at his dispense, all of which are safe enough to garner the PG-13 rating. “Spawn” was an assault on my pre-pubescent ears. I just sat there in the theater with a mixture of disappointment at the poor pay off to a potentially excellent film, and in pain from the endless explosions and bad dialogue inflicting horror on my ears.

Suffice it to say when all was said and done, no one wanted to admit the film was awful, and we played mock enthusiasm until the ride home when we all agreed: “Spawn” was shit. And all we did afterward was talk about “Air Force One.” Years after, I feel inclined to give it a chance and watch it again, and to this day I’m still disappointed, and horrified at the complete missed opportunity. But I still can’t help but laugh in sheer embarrassment when Leguizamo proclaims, “You’ve been violated Girly Man!”

I think it’s a contractual obligation or something for McFarlane to announce development on a new “Spawn” movie every two years. I’ve heard about a new “Spawn” movie being developed since 2000, and yet there’s really no sign of the anti-hero in theaters. There’s not even a television show in development. Not that I’m complaining, mind you. Although it’s tough to dismiss McFarlane. He is a self made man, love him or hate him.