When Todd McFarlane's Spawn made his debut fifteen years ago in the pages of "Spawn" #1, he quickly became one of comics' most popular characters. Since then, a number of factors have caused the character's popularity to wane, relegating him almost to a "Where are they now?" style status. Writer David Hine hopes to change that. Over the past few months in the pages of "Spawn," Hine has been telling an epic tale which reaches it's conclusion in today's issue #164 and sends the title in a new direction focusing on darker, psychological style horror. CBR News spoke with Hine about "Spawn"
Hine and artist Phil Tan have kept Spawn AKA Al Simmons very busy recently. Lots of dramatic developments have come to a head and "Spawn" #164 wraps up a number of plot threads, while at the same time spinning many new ones. "#164 is the last of the 15-part 'Armageddon' arc," Hine told CBR News. "Phil and I have been having fun destroying the world as we know it with an epic story line that delivered the long-awaited Apocalypse. A hell of a lot has happened in the last year, but the essentials are that Spawn attained the power of a God, destroyed the Earth and every living thing on it, including every last member of the human race. He tricked God and Satan into believing that he too is dead. Then he set about rebuilding the planet and bringing the human race back to life. All this with the help of the Man of Miracles, who turns out to be an androgynous being who is mother of God and Satan, self-professed creator of the Universe and in a past life, became human and lived among us as Jesus the Nazarene.
"I know that's a lot to take in, but once you get used to the idea it's pretty simple. Spawn has recreated the world. God and Satan are banished and the portals to Heaven and Hell are sealed so mankind is free to follow its own destiny without the interference of angels and demons."
At the conclusion of "Spawn" #163 it seemed like Al Simmons had accomplished everything he desired; Spawn saved the world and remade it into a better place. So some readers might be thinking it's time to celebrate. Wrong. "Issue #163 was billed as the last of the 'Armageddon' arc to fool everyone into thinking we had given the story a happy ending where Spawn reverts to his human form and is about to return to his beloved wife, Wanda," Hine said. "But just as the credits roll and the fans start thinking about canceling their subscriptions - well, let's just say that issue #164 hits the stands this week with the real end to the 'Armageddon' story. There is nothing Disneyworld about it.
"Throughout the run of 'Spawn' there was this idea in Spawn's mind that he would one day be back in the arms of his wife and that somehow everything would turn out right," Hine continued. "But there is one big flaw in the dream. Something that he has completely forgotten about. Strangely enough most of the readers have forgotten, too. But you'll have to read the issue to find out the truth."
"Spawn" #164 takes place shortly after Earth and all life on it was completely obliterated, and that fact is still very much on the minds of the planet's populace. "I wanted to avoid a simple reset with the Earth recreated and everyone forgetting what happened during Armageddon, so let's be clear - everyone did actually die," Hine explained. "Spawn used the powers he temporarily gained with the help of the Man of Miracles to rebuild the Earth and resurrect mankind, but it soon becomes clear that this is a flawed version of reality. Everyone has a different interpretation of what happened during Armageddon. Some believe this was a false Apocalypse imposed by God to test the faith of his followers. Others prefer to believe it was a mass hallucination, but everyone has been left disturbed, more aware of the fragility of what we like to call reality. On the surface the world looks as identical as before, but everything is a little askew and the new art by Brian Haberlin will reflect that. From issue # 166 [Haberlin's debut as the series new regular artist] the art has a new hard-edged realism set off by a monochromatic palette of colors that Brian is using to heighten the almost hallucinatory quality of the new world.
"I just got another three pages from Brian so that's about half the first issue done," Hine continued, "It's looking great. It's a total change from previous artists on the monthly 'Spawn'. 'Gritty realism' is an overused term, but it's appropriate here. If you run your fingers over this art you can actually feel the grit. It's useful having the same guy editing and drawing, too. When he screws up the art, I just ring him up and he gives himself a good spanking."
One aspect of Spawn's new darker, grittier reality is that it's currently free from the machinations of both divine and infernal forces. "For the moment the forces of Heaven and Hell are sealed into their respective kingdoms, but they will be doing their best to break back into our world and after the debacle of Armageddon they're going to be after Spawn's slimy green blood," Hine stated.
The new Earth may currently be free from the influence of God and Satan, but it is still populated by familiar faces both friend and foe, human and inhuman. "Sam and Twitch will continue as major supporting characters," Hine said. "We're making them more like the hard-boiled detectives of the 'Sam and Twitch Case files,' both finding it tough to come to terms with the fact that they have died and been reborn. The Clown and the demons Ab and Zab will also be returning. Unlike most angels and demons who are sealed in Hell, these three had been barred from Hell for various reasons and are trapped on the reconstructed Earth. The Wiccan Nyx will be returning later this year and I can promise you we haven't seen the last of the devious Mammon."
With forces like Ab, Zab, The Clown and Mammon still wandering around, Spawn's new Earth is far from Paradise, but readers can rest assured that even though he appeared to be human again at the end of issue #163 Al Simmons is still quite capable of defending himself. "It's hard to pin down Spawn's powers. They have always fluctuated. I like to think that his power level reflects his current health and state of mind. He certainly no longer has the awesome godlike powers that he attained at the end of the 'Armageddon' arc, but even he will be uncertain of what he can actually do until his powers are put to the test," Hine explained. "He will be back in costume, though, and we're going to have the animated costume that reacts to his mental commands; lots of chains and lots of necroplasm. Brian has some specific visual ideas he wants to play with regarding the necroplasm, so for those fans who like to obsess on those details, we are putting a lot of thought into the way Spawn's appearance will continue to evolve."
Spawn's new look and perhaps new abilities will fit the new direction Hine and Haberlin have in mind for the book. "We're aiming for a very different mood from issue #166 onwards," Hine stated. "This is a complete overhaul of the style of art and storytelling. Todd, Brian and I all have a similar vision of a cinematic style of horror. Think early Polanski movies like 'Repulsion' and 'Rosemary's Baby.' And even more so the recent Asian cinema that has given us classics like 'The Ring,' 'The Grudge,' 'Dark Water' and 'A Tale of Two Sisters.' We're thinking of stories in terms of two and three-issue arcs. Maybe even a few one-shots. But they will all progress the plot towards another epic story a couple of years down the road. There are still some mysteries in Spawn's past that I want to deal with and to answer once and for all the questions about Mammon and the background to why Al Simmons was chosen as Spawn. I also have a couple of specific revelations that will top everything we did with the 'Armageddon' arc. There are clues scattered through the first 150 issues of 'Spawn' so for those who are willing to pick through those story lines, it is actually possible to work out what will happen. Believe me; it all makes sense in the end."
Hine isn't able to talk about the the huge epic adventures that await Spawn, but he was able to shed some light on some of the adventures in Al Simmons's immediate future. "I'm not able to spill any more beans regarding issue #164 but there is a final twist or two in there," he said. "It also sets things up for the first arc following the Mandarin Spawn issue [#165]. #166 - 168, 'The Voice Hearers' tells the story of an apartment building where the tenants are hearing a whispering voice that tells them that the rules of civilized behavior no longer apply. With the boundaries gone events spiral into a nightmare of murder, suicide and mayhem as each tenant answers the question, 'How far can too far go?' Following that we have a two-parter featuring the coolest demons since Ashteroth the Grand Duke of Hell. Ab and Zab are back and they volunteer to help a Baptist Minister construct a Hellhouse to demonstrate to youngsters, what awaits them if they turn from the strait and narrow and follow the path of sin."
Clown, Ab, Zab and Jason Wynn will be causing trouble for Spawn in these stories, but there are a host of foes waiting in the wings. "After the Hellhouse story there will be a surprise return," Hine said. "There's no way I can reveal that because for reasons that will become obvious it has to be a page-turn reveal; so no clues to that one. Mammon is sill lurking in the background and also that mysterious cloaked figure from issue 162. There has been a lot of speculation about who that is. It's actually a brand new character and he or she was wearing a cloak because we aren't sure what he or she actually looks like yet. So, that's one mystery cleared up. I can promise that the character is going to be kick-ass cool though. It's a concept Todd has been prodding me to introduce, but this will be at least two years from now. We'll be dropping in a few teaser scenes between now and then, just to remind you that we do have a long-term plan for this book. The real conflict for Spawn though is to come to terms with the monster he has become and to find a purpose to his existence."
In future issues, Spawn's existence will be a peripatetic one. "We have a one-shot issue featuring Mandarin Spawn in issue #165, which is set in 13th Century China," Hine stated. "This issue is a breather before the new look begins in issue #166. It's a story I'm very fond of and it's drawn by one of my favorite collaborators, the wonderful Lan Medina who penciled 'District X' at Marvel. Then Spawn is back in New York for the first arc of the re-launch in issue 166 - 168. After that he'll be heading for the Southern States. And I've got the germ of an idea for a story set in England. I unearthed a spooky legend about my hometown of Wellington, so who knows, Spawn may even turn up there."
Hine is very excited for readers to see the new direction of Spawn that launches with issue #166, but he's equally excited about the one-shot Mandarin Spawn story in issue #165. "We've been planning this one-off story for a while," he said. "Originally it was intended to give Phil Tan a break, but as it turns out Phil has moved onto the new 'Spawn: Godslayer' monthly so this will mark the transition between Phil's run on the book and Brian Haberlin's arrival. Mandarin Spawn has long been one of the best selling Spawn figures and Brian asked me to come up with a cool origin story for him. Hellspawn are recruited more or less once every hundred years, so I had a look at Chinese history to pick a suitable period. The story is set shortly before China was conquered by Kublai Khan. The Mongols were constantly raiding across the borders so there was a large regular army that was expensive to maintain. The peasants were heavily taxed by the central government and it was the governor's job to raise those taxes. In our story a village fails to raise the required tribute so instead they give the governor a 'human monster' - a contemporary version of the Elephant Man. The governor and his court use the poor creature as their entertainment until he gets an offer he can't refuse; an offer that gives him the chance to wreak a terrible revenge on his tormentors. Lan has really gone to town on this one. Terrific actions scenes and unbelievable attention to detail. I supplied him with some period reference for costume, backgrounds and architecture and he just went apeshit and put in every costume detail and these wonderfully detailed drawings of the governor's palace. It's his best work ever and the inks and colors are superb too. It's kind of a watershed issue but I'm hoping it doesn't get overlooked because it's an issue I'm very pleased with."
Hine would love to tell more one-off stories featuring Hellspawn from other historical eras. "I'm putting pressure on Brian to let me do a story based on another of the Spawn toys. If you've seen Gunslinger Spawn, you'll know why. So, yeah, a horror western tale could be on its way. I also spent some time in Japan last year and I shot hundreds of photos in an amazing cemetery in Mount Koya. It's one of the most sacred areas of Japan where Buddhist monks built over 100 monasteries and there are quite a few local legends that could be the basis of a terrific story. Buddhist Spawn?"
Hine's imagination is brimming with story ideas for "Spawn" but he is aware that some readers out there might be a bit skeptical and feel nothing new or interesting can be done with the character. Hine hopes that former fans and new readers give him and his fellow creators a chance to show off Spawn's potential before dismissing the character. "Spawn has a history as one of the most successful independent books of all time," he stated. "Recently it has been largely ignored and I've noticed that online feedback by former readers can be pretty cynical, but I'm hoping people will give the book a chance. There's a real buzz building around the character again and with the 'Godslayer' monthly by Phil Tan and Brian Holguin, a new graphic novel, 'Spawn: Architects of Fear' by Arthur Clare and Aleksi Briclot, and the monthly 'Adventures of Spawn' by Jon Goff and Khary Randolph, 2007 looks like it may be the year 'Spawn' makes a comeback."