How Spawn Transitioned From Comics to (Very R-Rated) TV

From there, both the comic and the cartoon have a bewildered Spawn discover his face now resembles hamburger meat. He then encounters...why, it's another foul-mouthed, crude character.  It's the Violator, the demon sent to keep an eye on Spawn while on Earth. He disguises his demonic form with the facade of a short, dirty clown. (Officially deemed "The Clown" once Todd began making toys.)  Violator teases Spawn in both stories, although we're five minutes into the pilot and two issues into the comics series by now.

Both stories also have Spawn, still with partial amnesia, seeking out his wife. There's a major variation here. In the cartoon, he dons a coat and spies on Wanda, discovering she's married his best friend Terry. In the comics, Spawn decides to use his magic powers to restore his true appearance first.  The magic doesn't work, transforming Spawn into a blond white guy.  "This can't be! I'm a black man!" he shouts in disbelief.

Almost twenty years passed before McFarlane acknowledged this odd plot point. Apparently, this other guy is Jim Downing, according to the Spawnworld fansite, "one of the Legion of Lost Souls, hidden within Al Simmons." Not relevant at all to the cartoon, which ignored all of this.

The comics Spawn goes along with the disguise, actually interacting with his wife briefly. The HBO series is more consistently bleak; Spawn can only watch from the distance. Violator taunts Spawn again, reminding him that he is indeed dead. Spawn decides to visit his grave to make sure. You'd think this would be an easy call to make, given the reality of this world. In the comics, however, it didn't occur until issue #16.  (The first guest issue of the series, written by Grant Morrison and penciled by Greg Capullo.)

It's a memorable scene in the comics. The animated series, however, out-creeps it by a mile. Spawn is howling over his own corpse, when it's open jaw snaps back to life. The corpse then grabs Spawn, berates him for making such a stupid, stupid deal.

Whether or not this scene is purely symbolic is irrelevant. It works, successfully establishing this as not just another superhero story. It's one thing to say your hero made a deal with the devil and now has cool powers. Establishing what that means, having that evil follow him around, leap out at him when he leasts expects it, is another.

From there, Spawn stops a group of cops from brutalizing an Internal Affairs officer investigating them.  It's a fairly gratuitous action scene, but it is brief, and works to emphasize Spawn's capacity for violence. Violator observes this, encourages Spawn to give into these dark urges. The rest of the episode features two shadowy characters discussing the earlier murders. Mobster Tony Twist is furious that his hitmen were killed doing a favor for bureaucrat Jason Wynn.  Wynn dials the politician he arranged the favor for, warning him he can't keep his child-killing son a secret forever.

Is this "try-hard," as the kids now say?  Of course it is. But the producers were adamant about establishing this world, letting viewers know this wasn't Saturday Morning TV. (HBO wanted nudity in the TV-MA series. The animators worked it in by surrounding Twist with nude women in all of his appearances.)

NEXT PAGE: Why Tony Twist's Animated Spawn Incarnation Is Such a Surprise

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