There and Back Again selects a character to highlight, then showcases iconic stories and moments within that character’s history.
Well, here we are once more, our weekly series “There and Back Again.” As we stated last week, this month we’re covering Spawn, and more specifically, this week we’ll be discussing issues one through five. Why? In my opinion, if a reader wanted to get into Spawn, these five issues give you exactly what you need to know. A new reader could flip through these books and get a decent grasp of who Spawn is, and with just a little more help, they could literally skip over the next two-hundred and thirty issues and pick up where the current story-arc is playing out. That sounds crazy, I know, and there are some awesome stories within those two-hundred issues, but for new readers who don’t want to drop a metric ton of cash on trades and issues, after these five issues, you’d know enough to have fun currently.
So, for the sake of today’s post, I’ve broken up how I’m attacking these five issues. We’ll start with the first four issues, then I’m singling out issue five because…holy crap it’s crazy. Also, allow me to give a warning. I’m going to speak vaguely, as best I can, about these issues without sacrificing what needs to be said. There may be spoilers, but in my opinion they’ll be very light, and shouldn’t ruin anything. With that, let’s get into what happens in issues one through four.
Written By: Todd McFarlane
Art By: Todd McFarlane
Published: March – October 1992, by Image Comics
Issue one takes us all the way back into Al Simmons life, before he becomes Spawn, however it does so alongside the reader. We’re introduced to Spawn as he’s introduced as Spawn. Yes, you read that correctly. We the readers learn of Spawn as Al Simmons discovers he’s now Spawn. He has some rather specific memories of who he was, and why he chose to become Spawn, and through that we’re introduced to what is honestly the foundation of who the character is, even today. Al Simmons was killed, but chose to come back as Spawn, through a deal with an unscrupulous character, to protect his wife. The details of that I’ll leave to those who wish to read the series, but there’s nothing more foundational to the character than his overwhelming love for his wife (Wanda). Even today, at issue two-hundred and fifty-six, Wanda is still the driving force for Spawn.
Over the next few issues we’re introduced to how his powers work. We learn that although Spawn is crazy powerful, Al Simmons’ ability to use and control those powers is somewhat lacking. We also learn that Al was something of a rough individual before becoming Spawn. I say rough, the comic says government trained military assassin for hire. We’re also introduced to one of my favorite villains of all time the Violator, mostly because he somehow brought a sense of levity, albeit dark, to the rather serious tone of the book. By the end of issue four, you know Al Simmons’ past, you’ve met Wanda, Cyan, Violator, Malebolgia, Sam, and Twitch, while also getting a great feel for Spawn’s powers and weaknesses. In these four issues Spawn really set itself up to be one of the greatest books in the 90’s. Then issue five hit the stands.
What’s so special about issue five? It is in this issue that we see Spawn become the anti-hero that really marks him as who he’ll be for the next 20 years. Yeah, Spawn goes through some crazy transformations, literally and figuratively, but at the core Spawn is someone who’ll do what it takes to get things done. He isn’t concerned with being seen as a hero, instead he’s focused on stopping vile and evil creatures, some of which turn out to be downright nasty people. It just so happens that the person who needs to be stopped in issue five is a horribly appalling child murderer. As the issue eludes, Billy Kincaid, aka Killer Kincaid, has possibly killed over 30 children, and in this issue this scum wrapped in flesh is being set free from prison. Al Simmons actually remembers being contracted to assassinate this horrid turd of a human, but before he’s able, the cops capture him and throw him in prison. Al ends up losing five years, turning into Spawn, resurrecting back on Earth sans-memory, and is kind of dealing with a lot. The first four issues are really like Spawn puberty now that I think about it.
I’m not sure there was ever a mainstream comic that used such a dark and sinister evil like Billy Kincaid before Spawn, issue five. I’m sure there’s some comic-phile out there who could point to some exceptions, but I think it’s hard task to challenge…the dude was dressing up as an ice cream man, and tricking kids into his van to murder them…that’s pretty flipping dark. However, because of the popularity of the book, what we see over the next decade is a decent into darkness within the comic industry. There are dozens, possibly thousands, of contributing factors to this swing from lighthearted hero work into the now regular serious tone of most books. Yet, make no mistake, the popularity and sales numbers of Spawn during its first year was without a doubt a contributor in what was to come.
Besides laying the foundation for an exceptional character, especially in the 90’s, the first five issues of Spawn were absolutely trend setting for the next decade, and it’s my belief that some remnants of those trends still exist today. Say what you will about the story and character of Spawn, but it’s tough to argue that before it had even reached its sixth issue, it had caused some huge ripples within the world of comics.
Next week on There and Back Again: Death and Resurrection: The Effects of Two Decades On A Single Character