A Hell of a Comic: David Hine Talks "Spawn"

When "Spawn" was launched at Image Comics in 1992, Todd McFarlane's ghostly character and enterprising series quickly captured the imaginations of comic fans. Now, 15 years later, "Spawn" is still around but has become the Rodney Dangerfield of comic books; it just can't get no respect. With the aid of illustrator Brian Haberlin, writer David Hine is looking to change that, and spoke with CBR News about the series of eerie, twisted and horrific adventures they hope to take "Spawn" readers.

Chronicling the exploits of Al Simmons AKA Spawn has been an incredibly liberating experience for David Hine. "I've been given a tremendous amount of creative freedom on this book," the writer told CBR News. "The Spawn saga has generated an incredibly rich background of characters, situations and settings and I'm allowed to play with them in a way I could never do in the Marvel or DC Universes. There are no limits to the kind of book I can write and I try to go off in new directions all the time, so readers are going to be kept guessing about what's coming up next. I've already written an issue set in 13th century China, and coming up we have the story of Gunslinger Spawn, set in the 19th century West of America. Further down the line is a story set in the trenches of the first World War.

"'Spawn' is essentially a horror story but there are elements of the superhero genre, science fiction and film noir," Hine continued. "When Sam and Twitch appear, the book mutates into a crime thriller. Then there's the whole religious angle where I get to write stuff that would have had me burned at the stake in less enlightened times. We can deal with serious issues or just go apeshit crazy and have fun for a couple of issues. We had one episode where a teenage Japanese girl goes ninja on a town full of zombies and I'm planning a point-of-view story, coming up in a few months, where the entire issue will be seen through the eyes of an amnesiac vampire. What's not to like?"

Many comics fans are familiar with the basic concept of "Spawn." Al Simmons, an assassinated government operative, chooses to return to the world of the living and his wife, but the catch is he comes back as the grotesque Hellspawn, a supernaturally powerful warrior destined to lead the armies of Hell into battle against the forces of Heaven.

A lot has happened to Simmons since Hine took over "Spawn" almost two years ago. "Spawn rebels against his master and promotes a Third Way, rejecting both Heaven and Hell," Hine explained. "When the Apocalypse comes, Spawn destroys the world and annihilates the human race, leaving God and Satan to fight their eternal battle on a devastated Earth. Meanwhile the true creator of the Universe, the mother of God and Satan, gives Spawn the power to recreate the world and resurrect the human race. Unfortunately this is a flawed version of the world and the cracks are beginning to show. That's a basic rundown of the first 18 months of my run on 'Spawn.'

"Now we have a weakened Spawn who is struggling to protect the world from the supernatural forces that are leaking in through the cracks," Hine continued. "We're learning that everything Spawn has been, everything he does, is being manipulated by the mysterious Mammon. Spawn has recently encountered the Sin-Eaters, who feed on human guilt. They manifest themselves in the form of an individual's greatest sins and they've dredged up hidden memories from Al's past. Mammon has been suppressing the memories of his childhood but now Al has learned that he and his brothers may have committed a murder back when they were still teenagers. In issue #172 we see what really happened to Al and his brothers in the summer of 1980. And believe me, there was some very weird and scary shit going down."

The summer of 1980 isn't the only shocking memory Al's recovered lately. Recently, Simmons also remembered that he deliberately caused his pregnant wife to have a miscarriage when he attacked her the night before he was killed. "It's not entirely clear how much is deliberate suppression by Al," said Hine. "Since the first issue of 'Spawn' it has been clear that his memory has been messed with. It looks like a lot of this has been Mammon's work. Now we're uncovering those suppressed memories a little at a time. In the latest story we go back to his childhood but the truth goes a lot deeper and in the coming months we'll be exploring his ancestors' stories too. The upcoming Gunslinger Spawn story is vital to understanding how the Simmons blood-line has been tapped into by Mammon for generations."

The guilt brought on from recovered memories of past misdeeds is just one of the forces motivating Spawn's current actions. "On the one hand, Spawn is suffering from intense guilt and self-loathing because of the terrible things he has done, particularly since he has been forced to admit that he caused the miscarriage of the child Wanda was carrying before he died. This is why he chooses to remain in the stinking back alley that Malebolgia first sent him to. It's his purgatory," Hine explained. "But he has also reluctantly accepted that he has a responsibility to protect the human race. With the help of the Wiccan, Nyx, he's starting to realize that he may be able to earn some kind of redemption for himself.

"Nyx is the perfect companion for Spawn. In the past she has been Al's lover. She also betrayed him at one point, but for the best possible reasons. They've both been through some tough times and done some things they regret. Nyx is also developing her powers of magick to a pretty high level so she's a lot more than just a sidekick. My favorite scene is where she sets out to persuade Spawn that he is not a monster. She uses magick to try to restore him to human form. She only succeeds in transforming his hand but she sees that as a triumph. A first step on his road to regaining his humanity. Then the human hand splits open and disgusting bugs crawl out. Spawn still believes that the monstrous side is the reality. But Nyx isn't going to give up on him."

There are few reasons why Nyx isn't going to give up on Al Simmons. "She feels guilty, she feels a responsibility for him, and above all she's in love with the guy," Hine said. "It's unconditional love. She knows his most terrible secrets and she still accepts him because she sees his true nature. It's more than saying Spawn is essentially good. He is unique. He is really something that goes beyond good and evil. We have still only scratched the surface of Spawn's nature."

When Spawn recreated the world he believed he was sparing humanity any more grief from the destructive war between Heaven and Hell by sealing off those realms from Earth. However, it seems the infernal realms aren't as cut off from mankind as Spawn would like, as portals to hell were opened on two separate occasions by Spawn's old nemeses; first by Clown and then by Ab and Zab.

"Two things are going on," Hine explained. "First, the world he recreated is far from perfect. It's like in the movie, 'The Fly.' The teleportation device breaks a human being down into molecules, zaps them to a new location and reconstructs the original. But can it be the same person? And what if you throw some fly DNA into the mix? That's kind of what has happened in 'Spawn', but on a massive scale. Those cracks that allow Hell to seep back in are just one example of the flaws in Spawn's Brave New World.

"Secondly, everything seems to be controlled by Mammon, who has been lurking in the background for a long time, pulling everyone's strings," Hine continued. "Spawn's story is one of continual battle to assert his freedom. He has always been controlled by someone or something, whether as an agent of the US government, a servant of Malebolgia or the Green World. Even the angels of heaven have tried to recruit him. Spawn has always rebelled against these influences, but Mammon is so subtle in his maneuvers that it's impossible for Spawn to know if he's acting from free will or still doing exactly what Mammon wants."

The details behind and the reasons for Mammon's machinations are one of the big mysteries in "Spawn" right now. "Mammon is always there, even when we don't see him directly, but he makes a personal appearance in most of the upcoming issues," Hine explained. "He is definitely playing a long game, a game that began centuries ago. You'll remember he even appeared as the emissary from Hell in the Mandarin Spawn story and that was over seven hundred years ago. He's about control but just how big his plans are remains to be seen."

At the end of "Spawn" #171, readers saw the blood ties between Al Simmons and his two brothers ran deeper than genetics; the three brothers also had blood on their hands . In issue #172, in stores this month, Hine examines the intense relationship between the three brothers and the horrible crime in their pasts. "We'll see the build-up to a single terrible event that changed their lives and made them what they would become in later years," Hine stated. "Nothing is held back. Al has always assumed that he had a happy family background but we'll discover that his existence was blighted from a very early age. Even his parents concealed dark secrets behind the respectable suburban facade. These events have been buried in Al's subconscious for decades. They define what he is and what made him the perfect candidate to become a Hellspawn."

The bombshells about Al Simmons's family will continue to be dropped even after the current storyline, "A Tale of Three Brothers" wraps. "Once he starts digging up the past the revelations come thick and fast. Issues #174 and #175 tell the story of Gunslinger Spawn," Hine said. "This comes from the journal of Al's great grandfather, Henry Simmons. Henry was a Buffalo Soldier who was involved in an incident when a black cavalry soldier was killed by a white civilian. This is based on an actual historical incident. In our version Henry is forced to go on the run and ends up in a small mining town called Bane. The town is completely cut off by a blizzard and Henry is caught up in a bloody feud. Ol' Job is a psychotic primitive mystic whose family has been slaughtered by a local gang boss. Both Ol' Job and Henry Simmons face a lynching and they're made an offer that one of them can't refuse. Every generation has its Hellspawn and this one is about to be set loose on Bane. It's a situation where the characters are trapped in an inescapable situation and then all hell is let loose on them.

"This story will be another perfect jumping-on point for new readers because it works as a self-contained story but it's also a vital part of the ongoing Spawn mythos," Hine continued. "The key to Spawn's destiny lies in the past and there are a couple of stories coming up that will uncover a lot of answers. One is the Gunslinger story; another is the World War One Spawn story that will be featured in issue #180."

Hine enjoys telling tales of Hellspawn from other time periods and hopes to do more following The World War One story. "There are a lot of periods of history I'd like to tackle," he said. "Revolutionary France would be cool. The Spanish Inquisition. The witches of Salem. A pirate tale. There are endless possibilities."

Upcoming stories will take Spawn to a variety of locales both earthbound and extradimensional. "Gunslinger is obviously the Wild West and there's the story set in the trenches of the Western Front during the battle of the Somme in 1916. Eventually Spawn will be returning to Hell, where he'll be confronted by every Hellspawn that ever existed," Hine said. "But that's a way off yet. We want to do more of the intense personal stories before we have another epic confrontation like that. One locale I want to take Spawn to is the Japanese cemetery in Koyasan. I went there recently and it's the most awe-inspiring place. It's a vast sprawling cemetery in the mountains that just spreads up into the pine forest and is filled with the most amazing tombs and monuments, many of them rotting away with age. I couldn't help but imagine all the hundred of thousands of dead spirits rising up out of the mist."

As he ventures to these various settings, Spawn will encounter a variety of characters both new and familiar. "The Monster in the Bubble is a character inspired by the work of the master mangaka Katsuhiro Otomo," Hine stated. "Al's brother, Marc is a major character in that story too. Gunslinger and Warspawn are new characters. The amnesiac vampire I mentioned will lead into another major storyline a little way down the line. We'll learn a lot more about Mammon and the mysterious cloaked figure that has been lurking about in the background. Ab and Zab will be back, as will Sam and Twitch and Nyx is going to have a leading role in this series from now on. I want to keep a few core characters in the book on a regular basis and rotate others like Clown, who keeps coming back like yesterday's bad seafood."

Hine's creepy and cool characters and the eerie events of his stories have set the tone in "Spawn," but the writer feels it's the work of his artistic collaborators that really drives home the dark, psychological horror style of the series. "I think for the first time on the main 'Spawn' title, we've established a visual style that moves away from the Todd McFarlane/ Greg Capullo era," Hine said. "Phil Tan was very different but still fitted with the Todd's school of art. I love that stuff but we all (including Todd) felt it was time to make the book look completely different. There's a warped realism to the book now. It was perfect for Spawn's reconstructed world. It looks like reality, but there's something off about it. Something hyper-real that shows this is a construct rather that the world we know. We really did destroy the world and the human race in the Armageddon arc. It's gone forever. The world you're seeing in this book is a simulacrum, created by Spawn. Brian has brilliantly realized that false reality.

"Andy Troy is one of my favorite colorists and has been since he colored David Yardin's art on my early 'District X' books," Hine continued. "He puts a lot of soul into his work. I can tell he actually reads the scripts and you'd be surprised how many colorists don't. Andy and Brian have worked together a lot and their work really gels. I think we've created a unique look for Spawn that sets it apart from anything else on the shelves."

Hine and his fellow "Spawn" creators have been surprised by the antipathy many comics fans have for Spawn given its illustrious beginnings, and they've set out to prove the naysayers wrong by making the title one of the most unique and enjoyable reads on the comic shelves. "When I started writing 'Spawn' I couldn't believe how much sneering there was in the online community about the book; about the whole concept of Spawn," remarked Hine. "The put-downs were unjustified because the book has been consistently good with some of the best artists in the business and Brian Holguin was turning is some terrific scripts before I came on board. I guess there was just a massive backlash after the high the series started on.

"It was an uphill struggle to regain some credibility for the book," Hine continued. "We've succeeded to an extent. We're getting good reviews and fan response has been great. The one last hurdle is the falling sales. 'Spawn' is still one of the best-selling independent titles out there, but we should be doing better. I don't hear that there are unsold copies sitting in the stores, but I do often hear from readers who can't find the latest issue. The problem seems to be to get through to store managers. There's a huge amount of product crying out for their dollars and it's tough convincing them that 'Spawn' is worthy of their attention. Mike Malve of Atomic Comics is one guy who has been supportive. I'm hoping we'll get the message across to more people and put 'Spawn' firmly back on the radar."

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