So turn off your lights, 'cos here's Spawn.
- Todd McFarlane, from original introduction to the HBO series.
It was the 1990s, and North American media was covered in darkness. Everything was leather trenchcoats, rainy nights and malevolent technology. The world of superheroes was no exception. One got a lot of attention partly due to the dedication of his creator. The 1990s had Spawn comic books, movies and even an animated miniseries, one of the first of its kind in North America.
A reboot in full-length feature movie form has been confirmed after years of speculation. Here's what you need to know about Spawn before you turn off your lights again.
It was a great decade for comics. Dark Horse gave us visceral titles like Alien vs Predator. Japanese cartoons and comic books were making their way into the realm of North American media. More conventional comics were still getting a lot of love with collectors finding new treasures on every shelf.
There's a reason that characters like Spiderman, Venom and Spawn all look similar. It's because Todd McFarlane had a hand in creating and illustrating all of them. Marvel Comics was his professional home originally, but he wanted to take a different route and founded Image Comics in 1992. Spawn first appeared on the shelves that same year.
After his time at both Marvel and with mage Comics, Todd McFarlane was known for his edgy creations. He was looking forward to bringing them to the big screen. He had seen Akira in the 1980s, both the manga and the movie, and was inspired by the stunning visuals and compelling story.
His next project was to bring the colorful world from Japanese manga and movies to North America. The introduction of manga and anime inspired the comic books featuring the character and the HBO animated series Spawn, which was released on HBO in May of 1993.
Spawn #1 sold 1.7 million copies, making it the best selling independent comic book to date. This ensured a bright future for Image Comics specifically and independent media in general.
Was there ever a time when HBO wasn't killing it? When cartoons were still for kids, HBO took a chance on an animated series for adults. HBO's Spawn was the first R-rated animated miniseries, and an R-rated Director's cut of the film was released even though the movie was PG-13. Move over, Deadpool. Michael Jai White starred as Spawn in the 1997 movie, making him the first African American superhero in a full-length, live action film. That precedes Wesley Snipes as Blade by a year.
"Where do you think someone who slaughtered people for a living would end up when he's dead?"
-The Violator, HBO's Spawn the Animated Series.
The whole thing starts when the main character dies. Even at the very beginning, Spawn literally begins at the most unconventional place possible. There's no ambiguity here, unlike with other certain superheroes that we won't mention. Simmons actually dies and goes straight to Hell. And this is literally just the beginning.
There is as much staccato action here as the fantastic adventure and emotional drama. References to the Biblical concept of Armageddon and some historic names are thrown in for a touch of visceral myth and cold realism. What is an angel? What is a demon? Where do they come from? What would the Ultimate Battle of Good and Evil actually look like? How can you eat a hoagie at 3 am while investigating a gory crime scene? Get into the lore of Spawn and find the answers.
Instead of being a central figure in the film, Spawn will lurk in the shadows while the police track him down. A bold move, as the film's main character barely makes an appearance at all and won't even have any lines.
In yet another break with convention, as that's how Spawn and his creator roll, the film won't be an origin story. The script is still getting a few edits, but we know it will revolve around cops Sam Burke and Max Williams. These characters are featured in the animated series and have their own spinoff with Image Comics, Sam and Twitch.
The storyline of the upcoming film is told through the eyes of Officer Maximillian Percival Williams, also known as Twitch.
"Good and evil. They're like shadows, cast on the same wall." Jade, HBO's Spawn the Animated Series.
In the Spawn narrative, the war between Heaven and Hell is a very literal one. These opposing forces aren't described in terms of good and evil. Heaven's Hunters are portrayed as villains, such as the ruthless Angela from the animated series.
Sometimes it's fun to root for the bad guy but we can't help but ask who the bad guy is and why. Venom is a good example of another Todd MacFarlane superhero that walks this line. Deadpool is another popular figure who even breaks the fourth wall constantly to insist that he's not a hero just in case the audience forgets.
Spawn was lurking in the dark before it was cool.
The storyline of Spawn is slightly different between the comics, the animated HBO series and the live action film from 1997. Each incarnation refers to the other in some ways. The Hunter Angela makes a short appearance in the live-action film at Wynn's fancy dinner party.
In the comics and cartoons, Cyan is the child of Wanda Blake and Terry Fitzgerald, a realization that drives Spawn closer to the brink of madness. In the film, she's the child of Al Simmons and Wanda, giving the main character a more tangible human connection. Spawn human alter ego, Al Simmons, was named after one of Todd MacFarlane's personal friends. They met when he was playing baseball for a semi-professional team in Kamloops, British Columbia, during their university years.
The 1997 film contains several satirical references to cheerful old movies about dreams, death or the afterlife. It's a Wonderful Life, The Wizard of Oz and Monty Python and the Holy Grail are a few examples.
Jamie Fox as Spawn and Jeremy Renner as Twitch. Both of these names are a great start, and we don't care how it happened. We do know that Foxx has been waiting for this opportunity for some time. He approached MacFarlane personally as early back as 2012 for a shot at the role.
Stuntman Clay Fontenot, who worked with Marvel on the Iron Man suit, and Greg Nicotero of The Walking Dead are designing the Spawn costume. MacFarlane seems to have his heart set on directing and keeping a substantial amount of creative control, just like the old days.
Blumhouse Productions is overseeing the new Spawn. The studio is mostly independent and has a reputation for releasing low-budget horror films, so the match seems ideal. This is not a summer blockbuster. It's a gritty thriller and Macfarlane is determined to keep it that way.
Filming was originally scheduled to start early in 2019 when MacFarlane teamed up with Blumhouse about a year ago, but that schedule has changed. We can now expect filming to start in June 2019 in Toronto, Canada.
The 1990s was a quiet decade for idealistic heroes like Superman. Dark and aggressive figures like Batman and Wolverine dominated the media's attention. Ghost in the Shell brought the flooded streets of New Tokyo to North America. The X-Men animated series featured a Dark Phoenix that was actually dark.
There was a live-action remake of Ghost in the Shell in 2016 and another Dark Phoenix film is on the horizon. It's exciting to see they aren't the only ones making a comeback.