If the impending arrival of “Image United” isn’t enough to satisfy your thirst for new sequential art from Todd McFarlane, fret not: the “Spawn” creator has heard your pleas loud and clear, causing him to break out the pencils for a very special occasion.
As announced at Comic-Con International, the 200th issue of “Spawn” will feature a brand new story penciled and inked by Todd McFarlane, the legendary comic book creator that first brought the hellish hero into existence. Alongside trusted colleagues Whilce Portacio, Greg Capullo and Brian Holguin, McFarlane has worked tirelessly to reinvigorate the “Spawn” comic book universe with “Endgame,” a storyline launched in issue #185 with the apparent suicide of Al Simmons and subsequent handoff of the Spawn mantle to amnesiac Jim Downing. McFarlane has kept his fingers on the pulse of the series ever since by writing the story and providing inks on each issue, but the milestone issue #200 sees the Image founder holding a pencil to Spawn’s shadowy visage once more. CBR News spoke with McFarlane in an exclusive interview about the announcement.
“It’s issue #200, a big anniversary book, so I thought I’d come in there,” McFarlane told CBR News of his return to “Spawn’s” pencil-based interiors. “I’ve got some ideas for the story where I might have some pages done by guest artists for some flashback sequences. I’d do the A-story, and then within the confines of that there would be three or four little B-snippet flashbacks. So it’d kind of put together an all-star team, but until I get them to fully commit, I’ll hold off on the names.”
Asked what he was most looking forward to about penciling “Spawn’s” 200th issue, McFarlane offered a simple, if not obvious answer: “Just drawing again! It’s very relaxing, where before – because I was doing so much work and trying to keep up with the business aspects of it, starting my other companies – it sort of became a bit of a burden in terms of time management. But now that I’ve got a well-built infrastructure and good people that help me with the other companies, it allows me now to start thinking about spending more time going back at [drawing].”
Indeed, it was never the Clown or the late Malebolgia that proved to be the greatest adversary for McFarlane’s penciling output; it was always a matter of not having enough time. “At the end of the day, for a guy like me and for most artists, that really is sort of your biggest enemy. If you’ve got time to do it right, it turns out better. If you don’t, you can sort of get it done. The whole reason I left ‘Spawn’ in the first place was I thought I could get it done, but I felt like I was sort of hacking it out a little bit more than when I had the luxury of doing nothing but comic books, when I could just sit there and noodle or render to my heart’s content without feeling like there was a clock over me all the time,” he explained. “If I have to do a book in 30 days, and I’m spending 10 or 12 of those days doing another business, I still have to get that book done – but now I don’t have 30 days, I only have 18 days. Very few artists could say that their 18-day effort is better than their 30-day effort.”
So, what’s changed to allow the artist to illustrate issue #200? Not much, according to McFarlane, but after writing and inking the last several issues of “Spawn,” he’s willing to take some risks. “I’m just trying to figure out where my efficiencies are,” he admitted. “I’m going, ‘Wow! I think I can actually do a little bit more here, a little bit more there, and it wouldn’t actually take that much more time because I’m getting sort of comfortable with how I schedule my time.'”
McFarlane said that the 200th issue – which he has yet to start drawing – isn’t so much of a conclusion to the “Endgame” arc as it is the beginning of a new phase in “Spawn” lore. “There’s a bit of a ‘wow’ [moment] that kick-starts a new chapter,” he teased. “Obviously, we’ll have threads to the previous 200 issues and what we’re trying to do in ‘Endgame.’ But it’ll be more like, ‘Whoa… so how do we deal with that?’ Boom. Then you move forward. Instead of being the climax of something, it’ll be the big giant catalyst of [the next act].”
That next act will feature a slew of new rogues intent on causing trouble for Spawn. “If I’m gonna have a new Spawn, I’m gonna need a set of new villains that makes people go ‘Wow! Those guys rival anything you did in the first 200 issues,'” McFarlane reasoned. “The new villains coming out are going to be my Small, Medium and Large guys, if you will, so that they’re not all the same. There’s a smart, cerebral sort of guy, but he’s still very formidable so I put him in the Magneto and Doctor Doom league – guys that are smart, but if they want, they’ll still kick your ass. He’s the intelligent tough guy.
“Then I’ve got a guy coming that’s a little bit more of what I’d call your classic muscle head,” he continued. “Someone in the category of Juggernaut or even Overtkill. A guy who’s just a little bit bulkier in size – not giant – more brawn than brain, if you will, whereas the first guy we talked about has both.
“The third guy is built the same as Spawn, has the same cockiness and demeanor as Spawn. He’s just a badass who goes, ‘Mano y mano, you and me in the ring for fifteen rounds. Let’s go, bud.’ Before he even lifts a finger, you know he has a chip on his shoulder. Not a crazy guy, not a Joker type, but he’s sort of like Punisher meets Wolverine. ‘You want a piece of me? Let’s go.'”
But the next phase of “Spawn” will have plenty of familiar faces in addition to the new ones. Sam and Twitch will appear, said McFarlane, as will the Clown – a character who is putting aside his court jester role and becoming a power player. “The Clown sort of has a piece of the puzzle in all of what’s going on right now. He’s lining up some of this stuff. If people are paying attention, they’ll notice that he’s not funny anymore. He’s said out loud that him being a clown was all an act because the eyes of the boss are on him,” McFarlane described. “With the death [of Al Simmons] in #185, he sees his moment and says, ‘If there’s ever a time that the high-ranking bosses aren’t keeping their eye on the ball – that is, Earth – and if Spawn is gone, then I’ve got a window of opportunity here… the fucking kids gloves are off now!'”
Then there’s the matter of the current Spawn himself, a character that is at once familiar and foreign to fans. Although Al Simmons is no longer donning the chaotic costume, his replacement Jim Downing is close enough size-wise that McFarlane doesn’t see much of a difference in terms of physicality. The artist even intimated that by the time the 200th issue rolls around, Jim’s visual similarities to the old Spawn would be much more defined than they are now.
“By #200, he’ll be fully formed, but right now his costume is in flux,” he said of Jim’s mastery over the Spawn costume. “The reason that the spikes are flaring up and that the cape only shows up every now and then, think about the costume coming onto Jim like a heart transplant – the doctors go, ‘If you make it past the first month, you have a fighting chance.’ We’re still in that first month of the heart transplant that the host is trying to bond with the symbiote, and vice versa. It’s still acting crazy, so you’re getting some crazy looks. But eventually Jim will learn to control the costume and some of those looks. One that comes to the forefront is how he controls the spikes. He’s gonna have different powers than what Al had. That’s one thing I wanted Jim to do – I didn’t want a different character to jump in the costume and do the exact same things that Al could do.”
Still, perhaps the biggest difference between Al and Jim comes in the form of their comfort level as Spawn. Whereas Simmons often loathed his monstrous nature, McFarlane said that Jim is going to be quite fond of these new powers – a fondness that borders on addiction. “The power and the bonding [of the suit] is going to be a little bit like a drug to Jim,” McFarlane teased. “I could argue that Al was never really comfortable in the costume, but this character is going to grow to get very comfortable. He’s going to love it, because he’s going to see that he can use it. Because of that, there’s the whole ‘with great power comes great responsibility’ element.”
It also doesn’t help that Jim, not Spawn, is going to find himself under public scrutiny. “By #200, Jim is going to become a media darling. Not Spawn, but Jim. He’s going to come across as sort of a messiah because of this subplot where people are getting cured around him,” said McFarlane. “All of sudden he becomes popular. People want him on Oprah Winfrey, people are going, ‘We hear that you cure the weak and the sick and the frail.’ The world is eventually going to build him up as a messiah – but nobody knows that he’s also Spawn! The more that Jim controls the costume, and as he begins the search into the mystery of his own background, he’s going to be very no-nonsense. This weird thing is happening where Jim the person is going to be looked upon as a new messiah. He might be going, ‘Hugs and kisses, hugs and kisses!’ But at night, he’s gonna go kick some ass because he wants some answers and he’s tired of not knowing who he is. Celebrity is very seductive to people, and if you combine that with the costume being a drug to him, then unlike Al who sort of shied away from the public, this guy is sort of gonna go, ‘It’s cool being a rock-and-roll star!'”
Even as life goes down dangerous and seductive paths for Jim Downing, McFarlane himself is clearly invigorated by the new creative direction of “Spawn.” Beyond the comic book, McFarlane said there are other irons in the fire for the franchise: the rights for the animated “Spawn” series revert back to him on January 1, 2010 and he’s fielding pitches for a new live-action film “every two weeks.” There are even a few new resin statues on the way as well. Understandably, then, McFarlane might not have the time to pencil “Spawn” on a full-time basis after the 200th issue – but that’s not stopping the creator from thinking about how much he can devote to the book’s interiors going forward.
“Let me just say that I’m going to find out how far I can take this,” he teased about his penciling work on “Spawn” beyond issue #200. “That experiment, if you pay attention, will happen before issue #200. By then, I should know if I’ve got it down or not. I don’t want to come into #200 completely cold – I don’t want to find my comfort zone on issue #200. I’d rather get back into artistic shape, if you will, by using some scenes and pages in an issue leading up to it. Then the question is, to what extent am I doing the lifting of it, and where will other people lift it themselves? That experiment and that mindset have already begun.”
Todd McFarlane will write, pencil and ink “Spawn” #200, due for release in 2010. “Spawn” #195, the next issue in the series, hits comic book stores on August 19.