“Spawn’s Universe #1 puts its focus in entirely the wrong place, across 56 pages of story it’s a little bit too reliant on what already exists. I was hoping this would be a place for me to start reading Spawn and something to be excited about, but ultimately I feel like I could’ve picked up any issue of Spawn to have this experience.”
Script/Plot: Todd McFarlane
Art: Jim Cheung (Main Story), Brett Booth (Gunslinger), Stephen Segovia (Medieval) & Marcio Takara (She-Spawn)
Inks: Adelso Corona & Todd McFarlane
Lettering: Tom Orzechowski & Andworld Design
Colours: FCO Plascencia, Andrew Dalhouse & Peter Steigerwald
Cover Artists: J. Scott Campbell, Brett Booth & Todd McFarlane
Creative Director: Todd McFarlane
Editor: Thomas Healy
A disclaimer: Despite my seemingly endless curiosity, I barely know anything about Spawn. I’ve read the first trade and I’ve read Spawn #300, everything in between is an absolute mystery to me, but what’s twenty five years between friends? However, for reasons that aren’t entirely clear to me, I’m always curious about Spawn, so how could I resist Spawn’s Universe?
The first forty or so pages of Spawn’s Universe read like a regular issue of Spawn, or so I assume; there’s plenty of asterisks telling me which issues of Spawn are being referenced, which gives the immediate impression that you’re not meant to start reading Spawn here. I’d actually go as far as to compare this to how I felt when I first got into DC Comics, picking up an event book and being utterly clueless as to what was going on.
Aside from that feeling of being lost in the woods, Spawn’s Universe #1 treated me to a bit of a disinterested catch up on some of the lore and what’s happened lately. Angels and Demons are at war, both sides are as bad as each other, and since Spawn closed off the ‘Dead Zone’ portals to Heaven and Hell there’s no way for those pesky supernatural types to get to Earth…or leave if they’re already here. Meaning there’s some knocking about disguised as humans.
Buckle up, I’m going to try and tell you the plot. There’s a bloke called Cogliostro, he has a pet cat briefly, ol’ Cog gets abducted by a demon-type we’ll later learn is called Jericho and taken to ‘Omega Island’ (that’s where Omega Spawn used to live, don’t worry I don’t know who that is either). That’s where your boy, original recipe Spawn, comes in. For reasons that aren’t really explained he decides to go to Omega Island, accompanied by Cy-Gor, a erm, cyborg gorilla. I’m not sure I could give you spoilers, but that’s where our characters all meet up, our villain Disruptor gets introduced, and Spawn meets his new friend Gunslinger Spawn!
But wait, there’s more! After a full issue of Spawn we’re treated to three previews of things to come “Medieval”, “She-Spawn” and “Gunslinger”.
Firstly, “Medieval” follows the story of…Medieval Spawn as he goes into battle against a mysterious wizard who’s recently burned an encampment of villagers to death, presumably with the help of the dragon he’s riding. Along the way this wizard makes reference to ‘our lord and saviour Cogliostro’, hinting that Cog is a recurring problem for Spawns past and present.
Next we’re introduced to She-Spawn, or Jessica Priest as she’s known when she’s out of costume. In the five pages that her story occupies we’re told that Spawn classic has gotten Jessica involved in…whatever he’s getting people involved in, and that’s led to her visiting her daughter Annie, who thinks Jessica is her aunt, before heading into battle. We see a brief argument between Jessica and her mother, who’s looking after Annie, about her not showing her face enough and nothing being good enough for her.
Lastly, We meet Gunslinger Spawn who is seemingly dead, with three arrows buried in his chest and no skin on his face. After nearly a year he rises from the grave and after putting his face back on, sets out for vengeance accompanied by his pack of wolves.
It’s…a lot to unpack, part of the problem is that I just don’t know what’s been happening in Spawn as an ongoing series, and I naively thought this issue was going to be a jumping on point. However, it also feels like there’s no real intention of this being a starting point, and having read this and Spawn #300 two years ago I’m not actually sure Todd McFarlane wants any new Spawn readers. “Medieval”, “She-Spawn” and “Gunslinger” do feel like the beginning of something, though there’s clear indications that’s not really the case, and if even a preview tells us that I can’t help but feel like the series’ to come will follow suit.
My next complaint is with the narration boxes, while there’s some nice opening letters, y’know the big scripty kind, there’s just not a lot of attention to detail. There’s definitely a few instances of words being missed for example “For something deep in the depths of that black water. Something had be reborn.” Had be reborn doesn’t seem right to me, it doesn’t seem right to my spelling and grammar checker either. Really for something that’s being touted as such a big deal I’d expect more attention to detail. There’s also the fact that a lot of narration boxes that tell you exactly what you can see. It’s the kind of narration you’d expect from comics in decades gone by and it makes this issue feel very dated.
In terms of artwork, Jim Cheung takes on the main art duties, with Stephen Segovia, Marcio Takara and Brett Booth tackling, “Medieval”, “She-Spawn” and “Gunslinger” respectively. In the case of each artist there’s clear indications they’ve all served their time working on superhero books for Marvel or DC, and while that’s certainly not a bad thing, it doesn’t always lead to the most interesting of art. Credit where it’s due Segovia’s artwork does have a more unique feel to it and Medieval Spawn’s appearance is definitely worth some praise. The sheer massive scale of this Spawn feels like it’s taken onboard recent influences and Daniel Warren Johnson’s character designs immediately come to mind. I also think Takara and Booth’s artwork make more of an impact than Jim Cheungs, which ultimately gets the most pages. In particular Brett Booth’s artwork captures such great gruesome detail and really suits the western aesthetic of Gunslinger Spawn…ludicrous stovepipe hat aside.
While the bulk of Spawn’s Universe #1 isn’t really capturing my interest, there’s something about these other Spawns that does pack more of an appeal. I think we could get something really interesting from an epic fantasy or western with a version of Spawn as the protagonist. It’s also true that She-Spawn actually gets the most character work of anyone in this oversized issue, but it’s all so painfully cliche that I really don’t know if that’s anything to praise. I’m also concerned that we don’t get any indication of where her story might be heading, and I do have to question the fact that the female character is the only one who’s story focuses around her family life and not an action sequence.
Also I have to say if you choose to shoot a cat in the face two pages into your comic, you’re off to a very bad start.
To round-up, I think Spawn’s Universe #1 puts its focus in entirely the wrong place, across 56 pages of story it’s a little bit too reliant on what already exists. I was hoping this would be a place for me to start reading Spawn and something to be excited about, but ultimately I feel like I could’ve picked up any issue of Spawn to have this experience.