Welcome to Adventure(s) Time's eightieth installment, a look at animated heroes of the past. This week, we're returning to Todd McFarlane's Spawn, HBO's blood-soaked adaptation of the comic.
"Dominoes," from showrunner Alan McElroy and director John Hays, is the fourth episode. It's clearly the story's midpoint, as it advances the ongoing plots without presenting anything terribly new. Well, there is a significant character debut this episode. But, we'll get to that later.
The episode opens with mobster Tony Twist attempting to regain favor from Italy, following Spawn's evisceration of cyborg assassin Overkill. It's a crude conversation scene that reestablishes this world. Shadowy figures. No clear good guys. Secret meetings. Numerous references to characters having their genitals in various state of metaphorical distress.
A little of this is fine. But this is an episode that almost entirely consists of those scenes. Spawn has one action segment this episode, and even describing it as "action" is a stretch. The scene has Spawn keeping an eye on his former wife Wanda, who's investigating a conspiracy to convict the wrong man of a child killing. A private investigator hands over previously buried police files in the park, as a mystery man takes photos.
Spawn confronts the photographer, breaks one of his arms in two, growling out his threat. The mystery man responds by...pulling out a gun and killing himself. It's bloody, gross, and...not so shocking, really.
It's too early in the story for the full conspiracy to be revealed, for one thing. Having the guy kill himself does add some gravity to the threat of the conspiracy, admittedly. But in the context of the episode, which features some of the most insane histrionic voice acting in the show so far, it comes across as more overkill.
Later, during yet another extended conversation sequence, this one between detectives Sam and Twitch, we learn the victim was in fact a pool photographer for the House of Representatives. The Washington conspiracy is essentially an invention of the show. And, overall, it's a solid idea. (A politician with connections to Spawn's former boss is covering for his son, a child killer.) Previous episodes tied the conspiracy into actual actions by the characters quite well. Not so much, this time.
Look, another conversation in a dark room! But this one is more promising. Spawn's theft of CIA weapons in the previous episode is irritating Jason Wynn, the all-purpose evil government spook. He's called in Terry Fitzgerald, Spawn's former best friend (also now married to Wanda), to investigate. Terry's inquiry could uncover details Wynn would rather keep hidden, putting the "desk jockey" in a dangerous position.
The inspiration for this is one of the better storylines from the early Spawn comics. Todd McFarlane was honestly on to something there. Spawn's been stealing CIA files and military hardware, killing mobsters, and thinking nothing of the consequences. Clearly someone's going to investigate these things. And who's the government employee with traceable ties to Al Simmons, Spawn's former identity? Poor Terry Fitzgerald, his best friend.
This culminated in "The Hunt," a multi-part comics storyline that featured Terry as a target of the CIA, NYPD, and Mafia. It also marked Greg Capullo's debut as Todd's ongoing co-artist.
Spawn's put in the position of saving the man who "stole" his wife, who provided the child Spawn could never give her. (And he's only in trouble in the first place thanks to Spawn's thoughtless actions.)
Todd very likely didn't have any of these connections planned when penning the earliest Spawn issues. But, he pulled it together into a memorable storyline. The next season of Spawn takes more inspiration from "The Hunt," actually. Until then, we have the child killer story to resolve.
And, diverting totally from that plotline, is the debut of Angela.
In a sequence that had to be puzzling for viewers unfamiliar with the comics, Angela appears in New York, dressed as a white-collar office worker. She examines a newspaper announcing Wanda's legal victory for her client, which apparently annoys her. Maybe. It's hard to discern what her response to this is intended to be. Since the story draws so much attention to the newspaper, you'd think Angela has some future role in the child killer story. Nope.
What she does have is a gratuitously violent introduction, as two street punks accost her, then respond to her invitation to follow her into the nearby alley. She brutally attacks the men, leaving both for dead it seems. Maybe this sequence could've been saved with decent animation, but even the producers didn't seem to have any faith in it. The action is edited in a bizarre fashion, apparently in an attempt to spruce up the bland animation.
But Angela's not done diverting from the main plot. In a sequence heavily inspired by a scene in Spawn #9 (written by Neil Gaiman and penciled by McFarlane), Angela enters the Terran Affairs Headquarters.
She demands to know why she wasn't contacted about this new Hellspawn. A flash on the screen establishes Angela's killed the previous two. (Another moment inspired by Spawn #9.)
Gabrielle, apparently a Heaven-employed bureaucrat, smugly responds that she won't be issuing the hunting permit. This is also inspired by Gaiman's original story, which established numerous levels of behind-the-scenes office politics in the war between Heaven and Hell. It'd also seem to be a necessity in this canon. After all, if there is an army of Heaven, why would they tolerate Hell sending soldiers to Earth? You've got to have some reason to prevent every story from being a Spawn vs. Angels plot.
As for its significance to the HBO series? Zilch. Likely there were plans for future seasons, ones disrupted by Gaiman and McFarlane's falling out. Regardless, the sequence sticks out like a sore thumb today.