"Spawn." That's one of the few words guaranteed to elicit a response from comic book fans without saying anything more. It seems that everyone has his or her own opinion on Todd McFarlane's popular creation that has spawned (no pun intended) successful multi-media incarnations, in addition to maintaining a strong fan base over ten years. The series followed the resurrection of CIA Agent Al Simmons, who was reborn with demonic powers after being killed by his own people, causing him to make his own deal with the very real Devil. Considering that "Spawn" was created by McFarlane in the early nineties, with no connection to a popular Marvel or DC Comics franchise, it's quite the achievement for a creator and a character…though that doesn't seem to silence the many critics of the series. With writer David Hine having joined the book as of issue # 150, the series has seen an upswing in both fan reaction and critical response, though it still remains a punch line for many comic book fans. CBR News recently spoke to Hine about the book and asked him about the infamous reputation of the series.
"I have heard this and I think it's totally undeserved," asserts Hine. "I've been able to read the entire run of 'Spawn' from issue 1 to 150 and I'm very impressed by the coherence and complexity of the story. The problem is that it works on so many levels that a lot of the intelligence of the work is lost beneath the surface. I've dipped into the book over the years and felt baffled by what was going on, but if you make the effort to read the body of work in its entirety, it's a very rewarding experience. Second and third readings reveal a lot more. Unfortunately most people expect an instant hit from their comic reading experience.
"Artwise the book has always looked great and the production values are as high as any thing on the shelves. The package of pencils, inks, colors and lettering are of a consistently high standard. I can think of a lot of books that deserve to be ridiculed but Spawn isn't one of them. It's a terrific book to write. I don't know of any other comic that has so many possibilities. Spawn is such a fluid character. He's incredibly powerful and at the same time vulnerable and tortured. His reactions are unpredictable and unrestrained. In a way he's the manifestation of Todd McFarlane's frustration at the restrictions of working in mainstream comics. With 'Spawn,' the rules just do not apply. I think a lot of people have forgotten how refreshing that was, and still is.
"With the current story-line, I'm trying to make the book more accessible, especially to people who have not been reading it for a while, clarifying the sub-plots and tying up some loose ends, giving the book more focus and impetus."
Never read "Spawn" or been away for a while? No problem: Hine's here to guide you through the basics of the series. While he's incorporated some fan favorite characters, he's also introduced a bevy of his own characters to provide some added drama and action in "Spawn." "Spawn for those who have never read the book, is Al Simmons, a former marine and government agent who was betrayed and murdered while on a covert mission. The demon lord Malebolgia offered Al the chance to return as a Hellspawn, with the intention that he lead the forces of Hell in the Final Battle against Heaven. Spawn refuses to recognize the authority of either Heaven or Hell and this has brought him into conflict with such characters as The Violator, The Redeemer, Mammon and more recently The Disciple. A mysterious character known as Man of Miracles has been manipulating reality, testing Spawn and revealing that he is host to a Legion of Dead souls, which he is able to summon up to help him in his quest to prevent Armageddon.
"Al Simmons' widow, Wanda married Al's best friend and has had three children: Cyan and the twins Jake and Katie. All three children are set to play a crucial role in the fate of mankind when the Apocalypse gets into full swing. We'll also be seeing more of Zera, the most powerful of God's angels, who incidentally is totally insane.
"In the run-up to Armageddon, the boundaries between reality and myth are breaking down and we've seen an outbreak of zombies in Tennessee and Kali the Hindu goddess of death has been creating mayhem in northern India. With rivers of blood, plagues of mutated toads, flood, famine and general chaos breaking out all over, Spawn has enlisted the help of detectives Sam and Twitch to keep track of events, and you can read Twitch's journal at the end of each issue for extra background information.
"In the current issue the Twins are revealed as possibly the most dangerously psychotic toddlers in the history of comics."
As Hine mentioned, Spawn has quite the array of souls mucking about in his mind, allowing for some unique storytelling opportunities. While characters like DC's Hawkman are very much in control of their "lives," Spawn is more at the mercy of his "memories" and Hine intends to exploit that storytelling potential. "There are a hell of a lot of possibilities," he smiles. "We haven't yet revealed all the background on who these souls are, but I've seen this referred to as a 'Lost' -style gimmick. The chance to reveal all kind of retrospective backstories. We've done three so far - a kid called Christopher who drowned in a water tank, but who swears to fulfill his promise to come home to his mother, even if he has to drag his rotting corpse every inch of the way. Then there's Kumiko, the queen of Tokyo's Arcade game-players, who along with her grandfather was killed by yakuza, and a Hindu couple whose wisdom saves Spawn from the clutches of Kali."
While he hasn't been working on "Spawn" for too long, Hine has managed to infuse the book with an interesting mix of both psychological and visual horror, exploring the tortured psyche of Spawn while also showing how terrifying it can be to live in Hell. The fan reaction has been all over the place, but the bottom line is that Hine has fans passionately talking about the book, which puts a smile on his face. "There are fans of Spawn who will always want to see Spawn get righteous on the bad guys. Ripping out of guts, searing of eyeballs, grievous loss of limbs will occur. But there will always be a mystic or horror element to the battles. Spawn's costume is necroplasm, not lycra! Spawn is about to feature in a book opposite Batman. This is the second time they've faced off and the Batguy is one of the few mainstream superheroes who is dark enough to make a successful pairing with Spawn. They are both creatures of the night and they both have an element of moral ambiguity that gives them that edge over other characters. So yes, a bit of both but the emphasis is swinging towards horror."
Naturally, any book dealing with heaven and hell will have some religious overtones, but Hine's own way of life allows him to approach the subjects with a more "objective" perspective than many who are steeped in their own personal faiths. "I don't have any religion of my own so I have a fairly objective overview of religious mythology. I'm happy to use material from Hinduism, Buddhism, Wicca, Pantheism. Anything related to the mystical and the unknown. Our main source is clearly Judeo-Christian mythology but we're playing around with it. Todd has a vision of the forces of Hell and Heaven as equally manipulative and destructive. They are fighting a seemingly endless war that uses Mankind as cannon fodder.
"Biblical mythology paints Satan as a far more heroic figure, constantly going up against a God he cannot possibly overthrow. Christianity assumes a predestined victory for God. We're offering even odds."
Equally unique is Hine's approach to the fights in "Spawn" and it's been this approach that has caused the most controversy among fans. Hine's approach has been to create a much more gradual build up to fights, instead of providing obligatory fights in each issue, and then showcasing the fights in all their glory when they finally occur. "Fight scenes should be special," asserts Hine. "If Spawn beats the crap out of everybody he meets then there's no surprise. Spawn has actually lost or wimped out on a lot of fights since I took over the book and that hasn't gone down too well with some readers. But there is a method to this. Like you say, there is a slow build-up occurring and when we get to the Final Battle, Spawn will be really awesome. That's an over-used word, but it's applicable here. Awesome!"
Joining Hine on "Spawn" is artist Phillip Tan, known for his work on "Uncanny X-Men" and, as Hine contends, the perfect artist for this new project. "Phil is the most enthusiastic artist I've ever worked with. He really loves the book and he has a tremendous feel for the organic nature of Spawn. He gives the book a dark horror-movie feel, which is rooted in the tradition of EC comics and people like Bernie Wrightson. I loved what he did with the zombies and the portrayal of Spawn himself is the spookiest yet. He reminds you that this guy is a walking corpse, crawling with bugs and worms. Phil's also great with the more heroic figures like Zera and the Disciple. It's the perfect balance between superhero and horror art that Spawn needs."
While Hine may be enthusiastic about Tan's work, a quick perusal of the Image Comics message boards reveals quite the controversy over the artwork in "Spawn." Before you jump into the debate, Hine cautions, "There's a division over most artists. Taking over the art on Spawn has to be a challenge. The previous regular artists were Angel Medina, Greg Capullo and Todd himself. Those are tough acts to follow. And I think some of those initial doubts came from Phil's previous work on superhero books where I know he came under a lot of pressure to produce pages very quickly. His art on 'Spawn' has evolved to a level where I think most of the doubters have been converted."
Speaking of Todd McFarlane, one of the most famous (or infamous, depending on who you ask) creators in comics, he's still got quite an influence over his baby. While Hine may be the one scripting and breaking down each issue, he has made sure to receive the blessing of McFarlane. "We talked at length about the direction the book should take before I started on the current storyline. Todd's input is more to do with the feel and philosophy of the book than specific directions on the script. Brian Haberlin is the hands-on editor, but I send everything to Todd as well. Scripts, advance plots, notes and ideas. He gives me feedback but its more in the role of mentor than dictator. He occasionally tweaks dialogue on the final script but he is allowing me a lot of freedom within the parameters of what we initially discussed. We both want the book to head more in the direction of psychological horror. After the Apocalypse story reaches its grand climax, we'll be hitting the re-set button. In future the book will be more firmly grounded in reality as opposed to the large-scale 'demons and angels' scenarios. That doesn't mean we'll forget about all the characters and sub-plots of the past. We'll be bringing back a lot of old characters. I have an itch to write stories featuring Ab and Zab, Nyx and Violator among others but we'll be dealing with them in a lower-key style of horror more reminiscent of recent Japanese horror movies. Todd is after a more cinematic story-telling approach that gets into the heads of the audience and spooks them from the inside and that's very much the way I want to go too."
Lest fans of David Hine's work think he's limited only to "Spawn" this year, he'll be making a splash at quite a few of your favorite companies. "The big project from Marvel this summer is 'Civil War: X-Men' with Yanick Paquette. That's probably my highest profile book to date. Then I have a six-issue mini-series and a 36-page one-shot in the works. Neither have been announced yet, so I'll have to leave you guessing as to what they are. I'm also going to plug my OEL manga from Tokyopop again. I know this has been a long time coming but the schedule was delayed by a year from our original intention. The artist Hanzo Steinbach was going to alternate between his own Tokyopop series 'Midnight Opera' and 'Poison Candy.' In the end it made more sense for him to draw the first three volumes of 'Midnight Opera' before he switched to my book. He's just finishing up that third volume so he'll be starting in on 'Poison Candy' any day now. Tokyopop should be announcing the release date in the near future. And you'll be able to check out my drawing on an 8-page strip in 'Elephantmen' #6 from Image comics. It's a good thing it is only eight pages because I've been working on it for months and I'm still two pages away from finishing. I am in awe of artists who can turn in a book a month. They deserve serious respect."
Okay "Spawn" fans, you're probably looking for some teasers, right? A hint of things to come? Well, you're in the right place, and Hine reveals, "It's a good time to get back on board. The current arc is an attempt to fulfill the promises of the past decade and a half. Armageddon has been a repeatedly delayed climax and we've decided to bite the bullet and head for the Final Battle. The Apocalypse story line really picks up from issues #155 and the current issue #156. I don't want to give too much away, but the next couple of issues have some huge surprises and answer a lot of questions that have been hanging over Spawn since the comic began. Issue #159 is our Rapture issue so our advice is 'if you're not saved, avoid flying in August.' After that it's full-on for the Final Battle. Issue #163 is the end of the world. Issue 164 is… oh wait… 'the end of the world?' …damn…"