Welcome to Adventure(s) Time's seventy-third installment, a look at animated heroes of the past. This week, we're returning to Todd McFarlane's Spawn, HBO's experiment in adult animation. The pilot episode of the series effectively set the mood, borrowing from the source material while streamlining the narrative. Can the second episode do the same?
Debuting on May 23, 1997, "Evil Intent" continues writer Alan McElroy's probe through the early Spawn comics, looking for various moments to thread together into a season-long arc. The episode opens with child killer Billy Kincaid, using an ice cream truck to lure his victims. This bit comes directly from the comic's fifth issue. (The issue so graphic, it was reportedly banned for sale in Australia. Todd's wife was so grossed out by the contents, she told him to take her name off the book as editor.)
Billy Kincaid is given a bit of a redesign for the show. His hair is now red, and overall, he's more clean cut. A more significant change is to his origin. The Billy of the comics murdered a senator's child, yet escaped prosecution when sentenced to a mental hospital. The animated Billy actually is the son of a senator. Spawn's former mentor, and shadowy government bigwig, Jason Wynn is covering for Billy. In return, he demands this episode that Billy's father run for President.
McElroy connects Billy to Spawn's alley by revealing Billy leaves the remains of his victims there. Interestingly, in a scene designed to make us sympathetic towards Spawn's homeless neighbors, they aren't shown having much of a reaction to this. The most genial of the homeless, Gareb (a minor player in the comics, named after the founder of now-defunct fanzine Wizard) has a small moment of disgust. Yet, he never once considers contacting the police. A few seconds later he assures Spawn, "we're good people"...but, hey, not so good they're above looking the other way when it comes to child murder.
Ignoring this, McElroy's portrayal of the homeless cast surpasses McFarlane's. The comics tend to play them as Spawn's childlike followers. Many even view him as their king, for unfathomable reasons. McElroy gives the homeless distinctive personalities, different perspectives on having a vampire-looking creep in their home.
Abruptly, a team of mobster hitmen enter. They're looking for Spawn, who killed some of their own in the pilot. (Who were in turn killing two reporters close to learning the truth about Kincaid. See how McElroy is tying this together?) This is a variation on a scene from Spawn #6, which had Spawn's homeless confidants targeted by mobster Tony Twist. Spawn deals with them as Spawn does. Bloody violence, just perfect for HBO.
Does it lead anywhere this episode? Not really. There are a few scenes establishing Overkill (not "Overt-Kill" in the cartoon), the cyborg assassin Twist hires to deal with Spawn. But before it goes anywhere, the episode's on to the next plot. A domestic scene, checking in on Spawn's former best friend, Terry, and his former wife, Wanda.
The comics never quite knew what to do with Wanda, giving her a vaguely defined office job and few details to flesh out her own life. McElroy has recast her as a lawyer, one overseeing a case that will entangle her with the Billy Kincaid controversy. Smart writing on McElroy's part, filling in a mostly blank canvas and tying into the larger story.
Hey, what's one more seemingly random plot element? Just a few minutes before the episode's end, the Clown reappears. He once again berates Spawn for being too weak, for not appreciating what Hell's given him. Spawn dismisses him, so the irritated Clown morphs into the demon Violator. The comics always opted for a traditional morphing transformation. The cartoon, however, actually depicts the demon physically ripping out of Clown's human form, leaving a bloody mess behind. It ain't TV, and it ain't good taste. It's HBO.
The fight ends with Spawn defeated, the Violator proving his point and walking away. Spawn's mysterious guide, Cogliostro, stands above Spawn, warning him of his waning powers. The idea of Cogliostro mentoring Spawn, serving as a counterpoint for Violator, apparently came from McElroy. McFarlane adopted it for the comics, but McElroy's scripts for the movie and TV show seemed to get there first.