The forces of darkness! The depths of Hell! Exacting vengeance upon the wicked of the Earth!! Those phrases go hand and hand with the hero in today’s article: the dark avenger known as.. Spawn.
Spawn is the brainchild of legendary comic creator Todd McFarlane. McFarlane became a superstar among comic fans as both a writer and artist with his work on Spider-Man. His biggest contribution to comics prior to Spawn was as the co-creator of the popular Spider-Man villain turned anti-hero, Venom.
In 1992, McFarlane left Marvel and joined a collection of other acclaimed artists including Jim Lee and Rob Liefeld in the formation of Image Comics. This new imprint was created so comics creators could publish material of their own creation without giving up the copyrights to those properties like they had to do at DC or Marvel. The founding of Image Comics was seen as an event that changed the way in which current comics are produced.
Among the first imprints released by Image Comics was the debut of Spawn. The first issue of Spawn was a massive hit with sales of 1.7 million copies. The popularity of the book’s release made national news as printings were selling out all over America. Wizard Magazine noted that “The top dog at Image is undoubtedly Todd McFarlane’s Spawn, which, without the added marketing push of fancy covers, polybagged issues, or card inserts has become the best-selling comic on a consistent basis that is currently being published.” (Spawn (comics), Wikipedia, 2020).
To this day, Spawn and its various offshoots are consistently strong sellers in the comics market.
Al Simmons was an African-American Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps from Detroit, Michigan .
FACT: “Al Simmons” was the name of a roommate of McFarlane.
Simmons also works for the U.S. Secret Service and the Central Intelligence Agency. From the CIA, Simmons becomes a high ranking assassin for the U.S. Security Group — an umbrella agency encompassing the CIA, the NSA, and the NSC under Director Jason Wynn.
Eventually, Wynn hires Simmons’ partner Chapel to kill him during a mission in Botswana. After being murdered and set on fire, Simmons’ spirit is sent to the depths of Hell due to his sins as a killer for hire. Simmons then makes a deal with ‘The Devil’ (really, it is a demon known as Malebolgia).
The Deal: If Simmons is allowed to see his beloved wife, Wanda, one last time, Simmons agrees to serve Malebolgia and become a Hellspawn— a specially powered soldier to lead the armies of Hell against Heaven with Earth as the battlefield.
Reborn with a badly burned body and nearly all his memories gone (Spawn only knows his name, ‘Al Simmons,’ and the fact that he died), Simmons arrives on Earth and makes his home in a Skid-Row-like series of alleys known as ‘Rat City’. His pain and lack of memory has him in a constant state of uncontrolled rage.
Refusing to return to Hell, Spawn finds a new purpose in life by using his Satanic powers for justice. Spawn becomes a violent antihero, going against the scum of New York City like street gangs, Italian mobsters, serial killers and pedophiles — in all such brutal fashion.
Spawn’s first multimedia appearance was in an adult-oriented animated television series called Todd McFarlane’s Spawn. The animated series aired late nights on HBO from 1997 through 1999.
Spawn was voiced by veteran actor Keith David, known for his work in many mainstream blockbusters like Platoon, The Thing, Crash, There’s Something About Mary, Barbershop, They Live and Armageddon. His deep baritone voice has given him an extensive voice-over career with roles like Goliath on Disney’s Gargoyles, The Black Panther on UPN’s Fantastic Four cartoon and as the narrator for The Monday Night Wars series on the WWE Network.
David has recently been doing a lot of work in television like the NBC series Community and the Oprah Winfrey Network drama Greenleaf. He also returned to the role of Spawn when the character was featured in the video game Mortal Kombat 11.
The series faithfully showcased the saga of Spawn. The origin is faithful to the comic book version: Al Simmons is shown as a commando and black ops assassin who is betrayed and murdered by a man he believed to be his close friend Chapel. Upon his death, Simmons’ soul goes to Hell and makes the pact with Malebolgia to become “Spawn“.
Variety stated in 1997 that “It’s as dark and complex as anything HBO has attempted in the live-action arena. And visually, it’s quite the stunner. HBO wanted different, and it surely got it.”
Despite some criticism for its violent and graphic nature, Todd McFarlane’s Spawn won an Emmy in 1999 for Outstanding Animation Program (longer than one hour). It also ranked 5th on IGN’s list of “The Greatest Comic Book Cartoons of All Time” and 23rd on IGN’s list of “Top 25 Primetime Animated Series of All Time“.
Spawn made his feature film debut in 1997. Negotiations for a Spawn movie started when Columbia Pictures showed interest in making a film adaptation of Spawn after the comic book’s phenomenal launch in 1992. They fell through when the studio refused to allow Todd McFarlane enough creative input on the project. Eventually, New Line Cinema made a good enough deal that McFarlane sold the film rights to Spawn for $1 in exchange for creative control and rights to the merchandise.
FACT: George Lucas made a similar deal with 20th Century Fox for Star Wars (1977).
Spawn was originally green-lit with a budget of $20 million but it grew to $45 million due to the visual effects needed (approximately a third of the project’s budget was spent on the effects). The shooting schedule was only 63 days.
SPAWN IN THE FLESH
Wesley Snipes, Cuba Gooding Jr., Snoop Dogg, Tony Todd, Allen Payne, Denzel Washington, Samuel L. Jackson, Ving Rhames, Tupac Shakur, and LL Cool J were all at one point originally considered for the role of Spawn.
FACT: Will Smith was also considered for the role of Spawn but he declined as he felt Spawn’s dark nature would tarnish his squeaky clean “Fresh Prince” image. He chose to play Agent J in Men in Black (1997) instead.
Michael Jai White had endure “two to four hours of make-up work, including a full glued-on bodysuit, yellow contact lenses that irritated his eyes, and a mask that restricted his breathing”. He said that his long-time experience with martial arts helped him to endure the uncomfortable prosthetics, giving him “strong will and unbreakable concentration.” (Spawn (1997 film), Wikipedia, 2020).
Directed and co-written by Mark A.Z. Dippé, the film shows the origin story of Spawn beginning with the murder of Al Simmons (played by Michael Jai White). He is then resurrected as Spawn with the intention of him being the demonic leader of Hell’s army. Spawn refuses to lead the army in the war against Heaven and sets out on the path of revenge against those who killed him and prevent the release of a biological weapon world-wide. The film co-stars John Leguizamo (as Clown, Al’s demonic guide), Nicol Williamson (as Al’s mentor, Cogliostro), Martin Sheen (as Jason Wynn) and Theresa Randle (as Al’s widow Wanda).
Spawn was released in the United States on August 1, 1997. It grossed $87 million worldwide against its production budget of $45 million, but received generally negative reviews from critics and fans. It grossed $19,738,749 that opening weekend, ranking second behind the Harrison Ford movie Air Force One.
- Spawn is one of the first films to feature an African-American actor portraying a major comic book superhero. Although Robert Townsend’s The Meteor Man (1993) was the first major black superhero film, Spawn was the first to be based on a major comic book.
- The 2nd ever black comic book movie, Shaquille O’Neal’s Steel (1997) was also released later in the same month as Spawn.
- Michael Jai White is not a fan of the film: “There is no footage of me ever saying that I liked Spawn. I have never said that I thought that was a good movie.”
- White was actually set on fire for one scene.
- During the scene when Clown eats a piece of pizza covered in maggots from the trash, there were actual maggots on the pizza and actor John Leguizamo ate them.
- This film is the first time that White had starred in a comic book movie. The second comic book movie that White had starred in was as a crime boss killed by The Joker in The Dark Knight (2008).
- The film was released five years after Spawn debuted in the comics.
- In January 2018, Complex magazine listed Spawn at number 2 out of 22, on its list of “The Best Black Superheroes In Movies”.
In early 2015, Todd McFarlane announced a new Spawn adaptation for the big screen. In February 2016, McFarlane confirmed he had completed the script for the film with a larger-than-normal page count because he’s “putting in details for myself” in conjunction with his hopes to direct.
In July 2017, it was officially confirmed that McFarlane would direct the film himself, which is being produced under Jason Blum’s production company Blumhouse.
In May 2018, it was reported that Oscar winner Jamie Foxx would portray the title character. This would be the 2nd comic book character played by Foxx after his portrayal of Electro in The Amazing Spider-Man. After the financial success of the R-rated comic book film Joker, the film restarted development In November 2019. Due to the Covid-19 Pandemic, no additional news has been made of this project.
Spawn is considered one of the most popular superheroes of all time and has been ranked on several ‘Best of’ lists since his debut:
- He was ranked 60th on Wizard magazine’s list of the Top 200 Comic Book Characters of All Time.
- He was ranked 50th on Empire magazine’s list of The 50 Greatest Comic Book Characters.
- He was ranked 36th on IGN’s 2011 Top 100 Comic Book Heroes.