ComicsAlliance Reviews Todd McFarlane’s ‘Spawn’ Year One, Part 2: Justice & Payback
Two weeks ago, Image Comics shipped the 220th issue of Spawn, marking 20 years of continuous publication of the supernatural antihero series created by Todd McFarlane. To help commemorate the 20th anniversary of Spawn, ComicsAlliance is embarking on a venture that is every bit as ambitious: a four-part overview of the first “year” of its publication (Being an early Image book, Spawn sometimes shipped late)! Last week we covered issues #1-4, “Questions,” and all the awesome disembowelments, so-bad-it’s-good dialogue, and endearingly unnecessary leg pouches of the character’s grim origin story. Now we delve into issues #5-7: “Justice” and “Payback” Parts 1 and 2! Exclamation point!In Part One of our four-part look at the first year of Spawn, we covered the character’s origin story: Al Simmons, former mercenary, has made a deal with the devil-like Malebolgia to be resurrected as a Hellspawn; his former wife, Wanda Blake, has moved on by marrying Al’s best friend, with whom she has a daughter named Cyan; New York City Detectives Sam and Twitch are on the trail of a mob-connected murderer who removes his victims’ hearts; and Violator, the true culprit of said murders, has been demoted by Malebolgia and locked in Danny DeVito form. With the origin story and first arc completed, Spawn #5 finds McFarlane getting down to the nasty business of Spawn’s encounters with the evil and depraved. And there’s no better candidate for a chain-and-spike beat-down than Billy Kincaid.
Todd McFarlane has been accused of a lot of things, but it’s a safe bet that subtlety has never been among them. Fortunately, in this instance, that’s kind of a good thing, because the nature of Billy Kincaid and his heinous crimes is made undeniably clear on the first page. Bathed in darkness, an off-page voice goes on about how the man has been cured and is now free to leave the “Windgate Institution.” It only takes one look at the face McFarlane draws to know that “Kiddie Killer Kincaid” is definitely not cured.
“Just look at his eyes…” says Detective Burke, “…and tell me that man’s cured!” It almost feels like McFarlane’s bringing attention to his own fantastic cartooning — bad things are obviously happening in that man’s head, and The Todd does an insanely effective job of conveying the sickness of the character in one drawing. Further explanation is almost unnecessary, but luckily Sam and Twitch are there to help flesh out the backstory: as an ice cream truck driver, Kincaid kidnapped, tortured, and murdered 27 children. Unfortunately, Sam could only make one murder stick, Amanda Jennings, the eight-year-old daughter of a disgraced former U.S. Senator. With time off for good behavior, a hard-working scumbag lawyer, and some obviously shady behind-the-scenes doings, Kincaid’s sentence was reduced to a paltry five years.
(Which is pretty much 100% totally unbelievable. Not just that a convicted child murderer would be released so soon, but that he would immediately be able to go out and find a job as, you guessed it, an ice cream man. Really? Does Mister Softee just hand out keys to their trucks?)
Kincaid’s back on the streets, singing “You scream, I scream, we all scream for ice cream.” Naturally he comes into possession of another victim, whom Kincaid tortures by chopping off his fingers for “finger-painting” before before murdering him. But Sam and Twitch (whose office is numbered #201 but seems to be on the 30th floor of the NYC skyscraper) are on the case, and so is one resurrected, pissed-off, super-powered antihero.
It turns out that in his former life as Al Simmons, Spawn was hired by Senator Jennings to kill Kincaid, murderer of the Senator’s daughter, for no less than one million bucks. Before Al could pull the trigger, though, Kincaid was arrested, evidence was “lost,” and the Virginia shack where Kincaid hid the remains of his other 26 victims was blown up. It was all part of the shadowy government guy Jason Wynn’s web of conspiracies: Kincaid was hired to kill Senator Jennings’ daughter, on assurances that he would serve minimal time. Hungry to make sense of the world, Spawn dishes out some poetic justice to Kincaid in short, gruesome order.
Violence of this kind hadn’t been seen by many Spawn readers at this point in their young lives. Even during the darkest days of the grim and gritty age, Marvel and DC comic books were subject to the Comics Code, which restricted graphic and topical content to the degree that those publishers were unable to present more than a hint of the repercussions of horrific physical acts. And though Frank Miller’s Sin City could certainly go toe-to-toe with Spawn on the level of violence, Miller’s book still carried a “Suggested for Mature Readers” tag, which ensured that most 12-year-olds wouldn’t be able to walk into their comics local shop and snag a copy. Spawn had no Comics Code seal of approval and shipped without any warnings or labels. As such, hundreds of thousands of preteens were given access to some of the craziest, goriest scenes in comics.
And. We. Loved. It. Over-the-top, mad, sensationalistic violence that never once toned things down or treated us like children. It was magnificent.
The uber-violence continued in the two-part “Payback,” which introduced the Mafia hitman cyborg (good name for a crappy band) Overt-Kill. Who was referred to as Overkill. So why wasn’t he just called Overkill? Because Overt-Kill doesn’t really mean anything and Overkill is just a better name, right? Well, because there was already a comic book character named Overkill in Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy. But c’mon, look at this guy. When a character is co-created by McFarlane and Rob Liefeld as a challenge by none other than Stan “The Man” Lee, visually, no other name works but Overkill.
Inflamed by the killing (and heart-removal) of several bosses, the Twistelli Crime Family enlists the cyborg to take out Spawn, believing him responsible (though it was actually The Violator). After having several of Spawn’s homeless companions killed in order to draw him out, Overt-Kill (ohmygawd, I feel dumber every time I type that) confronts and quickly wipes the floor with Spawn, who doesn’t want to use any of his limited powers (gauged by the Spawn Power-o-Meter). Instead, the former merc takes his beating, bides his time, and robs an advanced weapons armory he used to frequent in his work for the government. Armed with several big fuggin’ guns that look like hairdyers from the future, Spawn blasts the cyborg to smithereens, taking a certain amount of sadistic joy in reducing the stupid-named villain to atoms. Find your pleasures where you can, folks.
Seven issues into the series, McFarlane’s art and storytelling had seriously progressed. Layouts got wilder and more inventive; the cartooning — a seriously overlooked aspect of McFarlane’s style — continued to get better and better; and while the violence kept getting crazier, Spawn’s backstory nagged at him through trippy, Steve Ditko-like visions that became stronger. Was everything really covered in “Questions?” Who else was to blame for his situation besides Jason Wynn and Malebolgia? Who was the skeleton-like figure who called Al a traitor and blew him away?
Perhaps we’ll find out in Part 3 of Spawn Year One!
We won’t, actually, you’ll have to wait until Part Four, but still…read Part 3 next week!