|Spawn: The Animated Collection (2007)
Starring: Keith David, Richard A. Dysart, James Keane, John Rafter Lynn, Michael Nicolosi, Dominique Jennings, Michael Beach
If there’s one thing everyone seems to agree on when discussing the many incarnations of Todd McFarlane’s “Spawn,” it’s that the HBO animated series is far better than the live-action film. Truth be told, there’s really no point in comparing the two, because while the animated version is discernibly better than the vilified B-movie, it’s still a major step back from the original source material. Nevertheless, HBO does deserve some credit for adapting McFarlane’s cult classic without sacrificing its style, and though the demonic antihero may have lost some of his edge in the jump to the small screen, at least it isn’t completely missing.
Based on the Image comic book of the same name, “Spawn” tells the story of Al Simmons, a former CIA assassin who makes a deal with the devil, Malebolgia, after being killed in the line of duty. Not exactly clear on the details of selling one’s soul, Al is transported five years into the future with virtually no memory of his past, and in the form of a hellspawn, a superhuman soldier of Hell forced to repay his savior by committing acts of terror on the world. Tasked with making sure that he does just that is Spawn’s watchdog, Clown (McFarlane’s version of Beelzebub), a vulgar, wisecracking demon who can also shed his skin to reveal a much nastier version of himself.
If Batman worked for the Devil, he’d be a lot like Spawn. Both are tortured souls fighting crime (and the occasional supervillain) in a rundown metropolis, and both are doing so as a direct result of disjointed relationships with their loved ones. But whereas Batman’s internal struggle was more about character development and backstory, Spawn’s simply dictates his entire life. As a result, Batman has since become one of modern literature’s greatest tragic heroes, while Spawn’s popularity has continued to decline. It’s not that he isn’t a cool character, but there’s a big difference between style and substance, and “Spawn” has very little of the latter. The one-note story eventually grinds on the viewer (OK, we get it – you’re pissed off), and though the writers have several opportunities to remedy this with more interesting story arcs, they instead choose to spotlight secondary characters that really shouldn’t be getting involved so early in the game.The series has a ton of style, and the casting of Keith David in the role of the dark, growling anti-hero is absolutely spot on, but it’s simply not enough to keep you coming back for more. Though the third season features some stunt casting certainly worth mentioning (Eric Roberts, Robert Forster and Jennifer Jason Leigh), it’s better known for ending with a most unsatisfactory cliffhanger. Still, it’s nice to see HBO has decided to re-release the complete series in honor of its 10-year anniversary. The four-disc set is presented in collectible Steelbook packaging (what should be an industry standard) and includes a bevy of new extras including audio commentaries by Todd McFarlane and a handful of behind-the-scenes featurettes. Plus, with rumors that “Spawn” may return in 2007, this is the perfect time to get acquainted with McFarlane’s twisted world.