From 1997 to 1999 HBO ran an animated version of Image Comics’ Spawn. Each episode began with Todd McFarlane channeling his inner crypt keeper as he thematically laid out the night’s episode from a dark B-Horror movie set. It was corny but it set up what was at the time groundbreaking and in my mind a sorely overlooked demonstration of how both comic books and animation were no longer relegated to the media preferences of younger kids. Here are 6 reasons you should add this series to your watch list.
1) Explicit Sexuality and Graphic Violence, But Not Gratuitous.
While this a bold claim I stand by it. The frame never lingered excessively on the titillating sequences nor, pulled away. This was a character driven series despite the fantastical elements. Sex and violence are both necessary elements of Al Simmons’ world and each scene of graphic content had a true emotional resonance to it. In 1997 the first season was released in both its R rated format and an edited PG-13 version on VHS. If the sex, violence and language was constant this would have been impossible, though I know some parents still found it too intense and they were correct.
2)Keith David Leads a Stellar Voice Cast.
If you don’t know Keith David this article isn’t for you. As Al Simmons he brought both an emotional intensity to Spawn, with a wounded confusion making him even more dangerous. Ronny Cox, Denise Poirier, Robert Forster Kurtwood Smith, and Jennifer Jason Lee also make appearance bringing a true gravitas to the world of Spawn.
3)Shirley Walker’s Score
Don’t know her, she did the music for Batman the animated series as well as conducting for Danny Elfman on multiple occasions. She was also involved with True Lie, Backdraft and a score (get it) of other major action blockbusters. Her music sets a dark tone for the vivid images on screen.
4) Amazing Animation
Let’s be honest a late night HBO cartoon based on a relatively new superhero property that failed theatrically is a pretty risky venture. I don’t know what the budget per episode was but this is not a cheap production. The action sequences are top notch and the camera is not static.
5)Well Developed linear storytelling.
At a time before binge watching, DVD sets and easily downloadable episodes Spawn took another risk in telling large stories that could not be contained in a 30 minute episode. As a viewer you were rewarded for paying attention and tuning in each week. And more importantly they did it all without any jump the shark moments.
6)Dark, Dark, Dark.
While different versions of Spawn are currently available on DVD (I recommend the 10th anniversary tin because it is the only version with episodes broken down separately) binge watching this series is difficult. Spawn is a tortured soul being toyed with by the devil as he watches evil consume the world around him. He is defined by suffering, and while the audience never expects him to die he often loses the challenges before him. The storyline where he re-enters his daughter’s life, without telling her who he is, is heart breaking. The bare bones plot synopsis of Spawn is, a murdered veteran makes a deal with the devil to see his wife once more in his exchange for his soul. When Al Simmons returns years later she is happily re-married with his best friend and he is burnt beyond recognition and robbed of all his memories. This cannot end well. HBO produced 18 high quality true to the book episodes that defied the odds to be a memorable and mature comic book adaptation.
If you’ve never seen Spawn, you should remedy that right away. If you caught it back in its original run its worth revisiting.