Amazingly, it seems as though not much has really changed over the course of two hundred issues. Spawn is still fighting against his destiny, demons are still fighting amongst themselves for the right to fight Spawn, and the art is still the main attraction in this comic.
The main difference between then and now is that the man under the Spawn mask isn't Al Simmons. It's Jim Downing, but that's not important now. Well, it kind of is, but it turns out it might not really be as important as the fact that Simmons isn't Spawn. All the Spawn-ing has unsettled the ruling class of Hell, so naturally there's Hell unleashed upon Earth. Following an intro that sets up the Omega Spawn, the story is a long-winded scuffle between Violator and Freak, with Spawn and Omega Spawn on the edges of the skirmish. The battle lingers a bit too long, threatening to lull the reader to sleep or boredom. The art tries to pounce in every now and then, just to make sure the reader is still conscious.
There are panels that I could swear were swipes from McFarlane's early issues of this title. Other panels look like they were woefully underdeveloped or perhaps their origins rest as parts of pages that were blown up on a photocopier. Kirkman's pages, although light on detail are a pleasant surprise. I found them reminiscent of Greg Capullo's early work or even that of Travis Charest.
McFarlane's pages are the most distinguishable of the bunch, littered with scritchy-scratch detail and excessive lines. It's nice to see Spawn in his McFarlane-drawn glory again, but it rings hollow across a story that just fails to deliver any sort of punch. The big reveal doesn't come across as a big reveal, and the rest of the issue is set-up and wind down from said reveal.
The story, for me, was a challenge to slog through. I had to stop more than once steel my resolve and carry on. For a "super-giant sized anniversary issue!" this issue didn't do much. The most intriguing bits of this issue were the three pages of Jim Downing and Al Simmons, and the epilogue. Everything else just hit me like the mumbled adult-speak from the Charlie Brown cartoons.
I haven't checked in on "Spawn" in a while, and after reading this issue, I'm reminded why. This, quite simply, is not my cup of tea. It's violent, gory, and offensive largely for the sake of being violent and offensive. I understand that's the "appeal" of one of "Hell's Soldiers," but it appeals very little to me.