When Image was founded, Todd McFarlane created a character he intended to become as popular and as well known as Spider-Man and Superman. And with all the marketing that’s been done with the character, Spawn has gotten very close indeed.
Spawn is really Al Simmons. In life, Simmons was a black ops agent who was later killed by those he worked with. As his spirit began to move on, a voice in the darkness asked what he wanted most. Al said he wanted to see his wife Wanda again and would exchange anything for that. The bargain was struck and Al woke up in New York five years later. He got to see Wanda again, but she had since remarried to his best friend Terry. Al couldn’t even approach her because he had come back not as a living human being but as an animated creature of necrotic flesh, adorned in a parasitic costume of necroplasm. And in exchange for seeing his wife again, he had unknowingly agreed to become the new Hellspawn, the first in 400 years he was told, a warrior-in-training who would be a commander in Hell’s army when the apocalypse came.
Although given incredible magic power, it was limited. The sooner Al used it up, the sooner he’d return to Hell. Living on borrowed time and forced to make the alleyways his home, “Spawn” became a hero to the homeless and would sometimes take down criminals and super-villains he came across. Eventually, he became more involved in the cosmic battles of Heaven and Hell, concluding that both sides were corrupt and just saw human souls as fuel. Refusing to take sides, Al decided to forge his own path.
After years of more battles and wars, including a brief stint where Al became King of Hell, Earth was laid waste and God and the Devil were left to war over the remains. Meanwhile, Spawn was given enough power by the Mother of all reality to create a new version of Earth that would be free from the influence of either Heaven or Hell. Initially he attempted to live a new life as a human, his past wiped clean, but being with Wanda again proved tragic. So Al has returned to his role as a Hellspawn, serving penance for the things he’s done in life, living in the alleys again. Despite his remaking of Earth, Spawn has found that some of his enemies have survived into this new reality. Even in a new world, Spawn’s battles are never truly over.
There have also been other Hellspawns over the years. There was a Medieval Spawn and it turned out that Al’s great-grandfather was actually a Gunslinger Spawn in the Wild West (gotta keep it in the family, I guess). So let’s take a look at these different styles. Joining me for this column will be Spawn himself.
ALAN KISTLER: So let’s look at this first outfit of yours.
SPAWN: It’s actually a symbiote. A parasite. It was forged in Hell itself, made from necroplasm.
ALAN KISTLER: It looks like cloth.
SPAWN: It’s a symbiote.
AK: With a detachable cloth-like mask?
SPAWN: So the symbiote likes to look like cloth and separate into pieces. Is that a problem?
AK: Makes you seem less supernatural, don’t you think? You’re essentially a demonic zombie from Hell. Other than the skull, what here says “Hell-powered” or “demon”? The cape is a great indicator of that, it definitely is very dramatic and looks like a living thing (which it is). And while it’s unrealistic, that’s okay because this is meant to be something evocative of old sorcerers and warlocks, a creature that messes with dark forces. That cape could easily be worn by a ticked-off vampire who had just heard about Twilight and was now in a justifiable mood to kill a lot of whining teenagers.
SPAWN: So you like the cape but not the main costume itself?
AK: It’d be nice if the costume seemed more demonic instead of circus-like. You don’t seem intimidating so much as garish, honestly. I distinctly remember having one of your early issues as a kid and then my mother saw what I was reading and asked if you were a circus performer superhero.
SPAWN: Circus? No way! I look bad-ass!
AK: You kind of look like Mr. Miracle’s grumpy older brother.
SPAWN: Who’s Mr. Miracle?
AK: There. That guy.
SPAWN: … Okay, I guess aside from the color scheme, there are a few similarities to-
AK: Similarly over-complicated outfits for one thing.
SPAWN: What’s so complicated about my look?
AK: Some stuff doesn’t need to be there. Like that belt with the pouches around your thigh. Sometimes it was silver, sometimes it was red. That’s annoying enough, but why is that there at all?
SPAWN: It’s a utility belt.
AK: You have demonic powers, can’t really be physically injured, are protected by a living costume, and you don’t need to eat. What would you NEED to store in those pouches? You never used the thing. Did the symbiote feel a strange need to accessorize? Also, why are most of the decorations on the one side of your body? The spike straps, the belt… I’m not against asymmetry, but this looks like your weighing down your right side considerably more. To be fair though, that strap around the arm was around the other arm at times, occasionally balancing things out. Your parasite costume enjoys being a bit inconsistent, huh?
SPAWN: I like pouches.
AK: Fine. Moving on, WHAT IS WITH THOSE CHAINS?! I realize you use them in combat and that’s actually cool. But the rest of the time, they’re just floating and snaking around? It’s a distraction more than anything else for you to be standing perfectly still with your chains having a spasm.
SPAWN: They move to show that they’re alive. My costume’s a living thing. You want me to get rid of the chains?
AK: No, chains can be great if utilized properly. When you go into battle, it makes sense to me that they would start flying around, frenetic and violent. But when you’re standing or creeping around stealthily, I’d prefer that they become static, shrinking and wrapping around you like a belt. Guard dogs are more intimidating when they seem to be stock still and then suddenly pounce when you don’t expect it. If they bark all the time for its own sake, it becomes white noise to people who pass by. You get what I’m saying?
SPAWN: I think you’re wrong. If anything, I need MORE weapons. What’s the point of having demonic energy and spells if you also have to use them? Better to use guns instead.
AK: Ah. Well, yes, that solved the problem of over-complicating the costume. In that “not at all” sort of way.
SPAWN: How can you dislike this suit? Look at all those pouches!
AK: I’m beginning to hate you. Screw it, let’s look at the second suit you wore. Which is really just the first suit after the parasite altered its appearance.
AK: Hmmm. You know… I like it a lot better. Removing some of the colors makes it a stronger overall design. And the asymmetry is interesting. Makes you stand out from many other costumed, super-powered characters.
SPAWN: I’m surprised you don’t think that’s too many spikes on my bracers.
AK: Oh, it’s an absurd amount, absolutely. But it just goes back to why an over-the-top cape actually works for you. As a demonic agent of Hell rather than a human being, why should you be bound to certain laws of physics or practicality? This design says that you mean to inflict as much damage as possible. It’s a bit silly, but it fits you. The chains still bother me, though. The spikes and cape already work well, but then the chains flapping around like streamers just takes it too far. They’ve got to have some “rest” setting, right?
SPAWN: So, what about this scene from a later comic where the chains are smaller since I’m not using them? That better?
AK: Sure, that could work. I still think a belt would be better than just having the chain hang in front of your crotch.
SPAWN: What about this scene where I lose the chains entirely?
AK: Hmmm. No, I think the chains actually work for you if done right. Let’s face it, being beaten by chains is scary. And besides, now you have a skull belt buckle with nothing resembling a belt for it. It’s just there. It looks weird. Come to think of it, I think you’re overdoing it a bit with the skulls. The cape clasps work fine, but do you need a third skull? It’s already pretty clear from the spikes and grumpy face mask that you’re likely a bringer of death.
SPAWN: You want excessive? We can do excessive.
AK: Well, now this is just silly.
SPAWN: This was a future version of me. The Ipsissimus. He took over the Earth and everything. Turned Manhattan into a demonic capitol.
AK: Right, in the WildC.A.T.s/Spawn mini-series by Alan Moore. I enjoyed it. But still… just look at you, man. What if you have to scratch yourself? You’ll lose a limb! Again, over-the-top can work but even that needs limits unless you’re doing a parody. And wait… did you add yet MORE skulls? Seriously, three weren’t enough, you needed skull knee pads too? If you fell to your knees, wouldn’t the teeth of those things dig into your flesh?
SPAWN: But they look cool. It’s extreme!
AK: Fine, whatever.
SPAWN: You know they tried to make me look like an angel a couple of times? Gave me wings instead of the cape.
AK: Yeah, it’s okay for a single story, but as a new standard look, no. Now you seem like some kind of Heavenly ninja. When I see you, I want to think “this guy looks dangerous,” not “wow, how weird.”
SPAWN: How about this time when I went a little under the radar?
AK: Is this really your idea of undercover? You don’t think you might still attract attention? Okay, kidding aside, this actually isn’t a terrible look for you. But here’s the thing. You can wear the hood or you can wear a mask, but doing both just seems silly.
SPAWN: What if I lost part of the hood and made it kind of like a scarf?
AK: So you wouldn’t catch cold? Aren’t you already dead? Again, silly.
SPAWN: Your mom is silly.
AK: Now this is hilarious.
SPAWN: What the-?! I don’t remember this! I look like a Saturday morning cartoon!
AK: Better than that! You got Kirbified, my friend.
AK: Jack Kirby. King Kirby. One of the most innovative and inspired artists in comics, my corpsified companion. Check out the bold, angular shadows, the focus on bright colors that embrace the two-dimensionality of the image. Look at that Jack Kirby crackle around your hands, complete with Kirby energy dots.
SPAWN: I don’t like it. It doesn’t seem extreme enough. And my chain looks like a belt now.
AK: I TOLD YOU IT WOULD WORK!
SPAWN: Now this is what I’m talking about. This is back to normal. And look how intimidating I am with all those weapons.
AK: Are you frakking kidding me? If you’re a demonic force who’s in training to be a commander in Hell’s army and you need that many Earthly weapons and pouches, I’m forced to think that Hell is not that powerful to begin with.
SPAWN: You’re just jealous of my raw power. And don’t say “frak,” the show’s over.
AK: Moving on. Some comics later showed you with more spikes, sometimes actually growing out of your costume. That’s something I can get behind. That truly gets it into my head that your costume is a weapon. Nicely done.
SPAWN: Definitely makes sneak attacks easy to counter.
AK: And years after you first appeared, artists began really drawing your costume in a way that didn’t resemble cloth. The suit had merged with your own necrotic flesh and it gave artists an excuse to take a cue from the live action movie (as lame as it was), making it seem like a second skin.
SPAWN: That satisfy you?
AK: It does, actually. Now I never forget that the suit is a creature, a parasite that is not meant to be of this world. Just being told it was alive wasn’t enough when it looked like cloth. A Disney film can feature a living piece of cloth or furniture.
SPAWN: But this looks like slime instead.
AK: Exactly. Now it’s worthy of the name “necroplasm.” Well done.
SPAWN: And those other Hellspawns around me are cool too, right? I mean, I’m cooler, but check out that guy’s sword.
AK: Swords HAVE been shown to add 32% coolness to any hero. And I like their looks. Which reminds me, lets look at the other Hellspawns that have appeared in other times and cultures.
SPAWN: This is Medieval Spawn. Didn’t last too long, but he looks cool, right?
AK: A little garish, but yeah, not bad. The armor is a nice look for him and it complements the chains nicely. Speaking of the chains, notice how they’re at rest when he’s not in a fight? You see that, right?
SPAWN: Yeah, yeah.
AK: Also, considering how often you wound up with holes or gashes in your body, I’ve gotta give Medieval Spawn credit for thinking ahead to protect himself. Now he won’t constantly have to expend precious energy on repairing his body.
SPAWN: And he’s got the sword.
AK: Yes, yes, swords are still cool. Don’t know about that shield, though. I mean, it basically has his face on it. Do medieval knights usually paint their face on their shields?
SPAWN: That’s my symbol.
AK: Yeah, it’s okay. It’s not AWFUL. I just think maybe a fanged skull or demonic glyph would work better. Maybe some kind of magic sigil that let the shield protect him from magic attacks as well. Make it more than just decoration.
SPAWN: There were other Hellspawns during the Dark Ages. This guy was definitely more savage.
AK: I like that parts of the costume are now war paint. But the spikes here may be a little TOO big even for a Hellspawn. Still, not a bad design over all, even if it does make me thing they really should’ve called this Spawn the Barbarian.
SPAWN: I guess it does seem a little derivative.
AK: Make him fight James Earl Jones and you got yourself a new movie.
SPAWN: You don’t think half your readers are too young to get that reference?
AK: I’m pretty sure I just have 12 readers anyway, I’m not sweating it.
AK: Moving on.
SPAWN: You know, Japan had a Spawn too.
AK: Yeah, I saw there were a few toys. You know, Japanese armor looks scary anyway, so throwing a little Hellspawn decoration on it really isn’t a big leap and it seems to be a natural fit. I would be terrified if this guy came after me.
SPAWN: And this one’s sword actually glows!
AK: OOOH, SHINY!
SPAWN: There was a Mandarin Hellspawn too.
AK: Again, very nice, very demonic. The one criticism I really have with this is that the chest plate with the dragon eyes can be mistaken for breasts. Cool boots, though.
SPAWN: This was a Hellspawn in a post-apocalyptic future. He had a series called Curse of the Spawn.
AK: Wow. You know what? I love this look. This is a great way of taking your design but really emphasizing that a Hellspawn is one of the walking dead. The bones, the mask merging with the face, the sharp teeth. He looks not just dangerous but insane, as if he’s wearing the bones of enemies he’s taken down and is displaying them out of sheer glee.
SPAWN: I’ll give it to you, this guy’s intimidating.
AK: I’m all about this look. And it’s hard to notice at first, but he also has these weird wing-like things coming out of his shoulders. I say make them bigger into full bat-wings and lose the cape. You can have wings OR a cape. Both are silly. This guy is so intimidating that if he did have a cape, I’d like to see it vanish when he actually went into battle. Or detach itself and act as back-up, the way you’ve sometimes used your cape. Just a thought.
SPAWN: This guy definitely had some chops. Look at him. Ready to kick some ass.
AK: He’s a zombie.
SPAWN: So am I. Sort of.
AK: No, but he’s a literal zombie. Like the brainless, not-speaking kind. Doesn’t that make him less cool than every other Hellspawn?
SPAWN: Okay, he’s not exactly a Hellspawn. But he’s close.
AK: And wait, his name was actually Hatchet? That was his name BEFORE he turned into this blade-wielding zombie?
SPAWN: What’s your point?
AK: Actually, I think it’s pretty funny.
SPAWN: So you’re a vampire fan, right?
AK: Of the non-sparkly variety, yes, tremendously.
SPAWN: Well, instead of Vlad the Impaler, this is Spawn the Impaler. Creepy looking guy, right? And check out those bat-wings. Not for me, personally, but they work for him.
AK: I’m going to say you’re right. This is definitely “Spawn meets Dracula.”
SPAWN: I could take Dracula.
AK: Dude, you’re so needy. Relax. Also, the purple works very nicely with the evil green eyes. And a nice touch turning the usual Hellspawn torso design into bat-wings.
SPAWN: DAMN! It’s Omega Spawn!
AK: I’m sorry?
SPAWN: He’s like me. But more evil. That’s why he has horns.
AK: So visually it’s just… you with horns.
SPAWN: AND BAD-ASS TEETH!
AK: Yes, they’re very pointy. I’m amazed at you right now.
SPAWN: LOOK AT THE TEETH!
AK: Next, please!
SPAWN: Oh, yeah. The Spawn of France.
AK: He’s not called “The Spawn of France.” I mean, yes, he was in France, but c’mon. There are better names than that. We don’t call you “New York Spawn,” do we? Wait, do we?
SPAWN: No. And this guy, he was in France in the early 20th century, some decades before me. Fought in a war. Wait, how is that possible if I was the first Hellspawn on Earth in 400 years?
AK: Don’t bring logic into this. Let’s focus on our boy, here. He wasn’t just a soldier, he was in the Battle of Somme in World War I. You know about it? July 1, 1916. One of the bloodiest fights in history, with 58,000 British troops lost on that day alone. This guy died on the battlefield and came back as a Hellspawn, now acting as a soldier in a larger war. That’s pretty cool, actually.
SPAWN: What about his suit?
AK: Well, we’ve seen from other Spawns that the outfit seems to reflect who you were in life. In your case, that makes no sense because you were a black ops assassin in life, not a superhero or a comic book fan. But for this guy, you can definitely see what kind of guy he is at his core. This is a great mesh of what a soldier would wear and what a Hellspawn is normally adorned in. The helmet may seem clunky, but it’s kind of a sign of the age and reflects the environment this guy lived in.
SPAWN: He needs a cape.
AK: No, he does not. Moving on.
SPAWN: The Gunslinger Spawn. Wait, another one? I was told several times that I was the first Spawn in 400 years? How was there one in World War I AND one in the Wild West? And this guy just happened to be my ancestor? Seriously?
AK: You know what? I don’t care at this point. Besides, he looks great. Western heroes can be tons of fun and he’s a great mix of Hellspawn and Wild West bounty hunter.
SPAWN: I don’t know, I don’t think he has enough chains. And a cape is cooler than a leather duster.
AK: That depends entirely on what you’re doing and what you’re all about. And again, the Hellspawn should look like what he was in real life or what he’s trying to be. This guy would have probably laughed at anyone who even considered wearing a cape. Then he would’ve called them “pansy” and shot them. This look works for him. Why wasn’t HE in a movie? Get on that.
AK: Okay, that wraps it up for now. I thank Al Simmons AKA Spawn AKA New York Spawn for joining me today to discuss the fashion choices of his… brotherhood, I guess you would call it. We didn’t list every single Spawn here, but I think we talked about enough of them to give you a good idea.
SPAWN: Have you ever seen Mexican Spawn?
SPAWN: Mardis Gras Spawn? Easter Island Spawn? Mime Spawn?
AK: Congratulations to Spawn for making it to issue #200 after first appearing almost 19 years ago. So good-bye for now, folks. Until next time, this is Alan Kistler, Agent of S.T.Y.L.E., signing off.
Alan Kistler is an actor and freelance writer living in New York who has been recognized by Warner Bros. Films and major media/news outlets as a comic book historian. He is also the creator/host of the web-show “Crazy Sexy Geeks: The Series.” He knows entirely too much about the history of comics, Star Trek, Doctor Who, time travel, and vampires that don’t sparkle.