Retro Review: Batman/Spawn

Writers: Frank Miller (Image) Alan Grant, Chuck Dixon and Doug Moench (DC)
Artists: Todd McFarlane (Image) and Klaus Janson (DC)
Color Artists: Steve Oliff (Image) and Klaus Janson (DC)
Letterers: Tom Orzechowski (Image) and Todd Klein (DC)
Review by Carl Bryan

Batman/Spawn – The Stories

In 1994, Image and DC Comics provided the comic book world with a dynamic duo no one was expecting. Batman/Spawn: a match made in hell.

In Spawn/Batman Image comics brought in Frank Miller, author of The Dark Knight ReturnsBatman: Year One and Sin City, who weaved a tale of  Batman going New York City in search of an arsenal of high-tech weapons and robots that use decapitated human heads as their processors.

Todd McFarlane, creator of Spawn, was the artist for this Image creation and what a creation it was.

Simultaneously, DC released a Batman/Spawn story in which The saga of Virginia Dare and Roanoke is retold by writers Alan Grant, Chuck Dixon, and Doug Moench.  Klaus Janson rendered the art for this special issue.

Spawn visits Gotham City and initially finds himself in conflict with Batman. However, after his costume mysteriously “holds back” in his battle with Batman, they find mutual respect and ultimately battle “the demon Croatoan” who was working for Satan, collecting souls for the devil’s army. Eventually in the battle, Spawn and Batman defeat the demon and close the door to Hell.

NYC – Concrete Jungle Where Dreams Are Made

Kudos to both companies for allowing Batman to visit NYC in the Image issue and for Spawn to visit Gotham in the DC issue. It’s clear there’s a home field advantage in the storytelling as the turf war is evident, but somewhat mediocre in the DC story.

Frank Miller’s Batman is basically a Clint Eastwood voice playing in your head when you read this book. Miller constantly has Spawn facing the ire of Batman’s dialogue. The Dark Knight frequently calls Spawn “a punk” and “undisciplined.” He even calls Spawn a “boy” at the end, and I’m not sure that was politically correct then nor now given that Spawn is African-American, but I actually just see it as Batman calling hos opponent a child and a novice. This isn’t the Batman we’re used to, but then again, Miller writes a bitter Bat and it’s clearly stated that this Batman/Spawn story isn’t in continuity, but rather a companion piece to Miller’s Batman: The Dark Knight Returns.

It’s evident that Miller and McFarlane wanted Spawn to have the upper hand as he basically kicks Batman’s rear all over NYC.

Miller’s Batman clearly has issues with any superbeing who threatens him in combat and power, while Spawn clearly recognizes that Batman is a hero in his own right, but he doesn’t give an inch.

Miller writes a great story and provides a voice for each character that’s true to each character. In fact, Miller portrays Alfred as great as any author ever has. Who knew that Alfred was such a “smart-ass” to Bruce?

Guess Who’s Coming To Gotham?

Spawn’s visit to Gotham is rather more camp. The setup is historical and provides a solid origin, but apparently to get Spawn to Gotham, it takes some convenient amnesia. DC’s Batman/Spawn tale turns the tables.

At this time in the Spawn story, Al Simmons was subject to having memory flashbacks. So it’s convenient in the story to have him appear in Gotham.

Batman isn’t necessarily the best “Welcome Wagon” for Spawn, and DC conveniently has him being bested by the Dark Knight. Powerless as the suit recognizes Batman as being a “hero”, they both team up to defeat a demon.

Ah, where are JL Dark when you need them? Or the Gotham City Monsters? Spawn fits right in there! Sadly the dialogue is weak for this version of Spawn.

It’s clear that DC wanted Batman to be the “model hero” and for Spawn to demonstrate some sort of “hero worship” at the end where he wanted to be the same type of hero that Batman is. “He gives and asks for nothing” and is “a man who knows what his real face is and offers no apology”… that’s not Spawn.

And In This Corner: With a Better #2 Pencil Than Anyone…

Todd McFarlane is known as the “Todd Father” for a reason. He’s drawn Batman before, and provides a sharper pencil than anyone in the business. While he’s better known for Spider-Man and Venom, McFarlane illustrates with such precise skill that the capes certainly flow in the Image version of Batman/Spawn.

In fact, you wonder how much fabric can there be swinging around NYC! Between the capes and chains, who can fight?

The culminating art piece… a batarang firmly implanted into Spawn’s burnt skull with green cytoplasmic ooze dripping down his face. Again, McFarlane loves his violent pictures and this one leaves a lasting impression.

Klaus Janson’s art work is solid, but it isn’t McFarlane. His art and colors are “busy.” The care that was taken in the Image production is simply not there in the DC issue. The larger frames in the DC comic are worth a glance or two, but the comic is a blur of color and blunt lines.  Advantage – IMAGE

What Could Have Been

Todd McFarlane later unveiled a glimpse of a planned Spawn/Batman crossover that never saw the light of day. In what the Image Comics co-founder characterizes as “a bit of fate,” the project was to have been drawn by legendary Batman artist, and longtime McFarlane collaborator, Greg Capullo.

McFarlane took it on his shoulders that with scheduling conflicts, the issue never came to light, but it would have been Batman and Spawn battling the Joker and the Clown.

Sigh… who better than the Joker and the Clown/Violator to be pitted against the Dark Knight and Spawn. Alas, some things are not to be.

Come on Todd… you and Capullo could easily put that together! McFarlane’s storytelling has become stronger and Capullo’s art could easily compliment both Spawn and Batman as he’s worked with each character a lot.

But to see the Clown and the Joker in a frame together…. well… it would look like this!

Why the Visit to 1994?

Batman has been teamed with a lot of characters in DC, and he’s even battled Captain America before in a DC versus Marvel series in 1996.  In 1994, for DC comics to recognize Image Comics’ main hero and for both companies to allow other authors and artists to “play” with them in their own sandboxes, that was unheard of. These Batman/Spawn crossovers are hellaciously great.

Given the recent events of COVID-19 and print issues being on a hiatus, it would sure be great that when the comic world returns back to normal for heroes like Batman and Spawn to reunite. Maybe Spidey could join as well, as McFarlane draws some mean capes and webbing! a DC/Image/Marvel crossover! Can you imagine?

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