Positive Cynicism – Todd McFarlane, don’t ever change

Aaron Davis

Aaron R. Davis

According to a recent interview with MTV, Todd McFarlane wants Leonardo DiCaprio to play the lead in his new Spawn movie.

I’ll bet a bunch of you just asked: “They still make Spawn?”

I’ll bet some of you even asked: “What the hell is Spawn?”

Hell, I was a huge Spawn fan back in the early nineties, and I had no idea it was still around, either.

For those who may not know, Spawn was – or, apparently, is still – a comic book. It’s published by Image Comics, which made a splash back in 1992 when seven comic book pros walked out on Marvel Comics and founded their own company where creators would own their characters. The loudest of these pros was Todd McFarlane, who had become renowned as the very popular and overrated artist of The Amazing Spider-Man.

From the moment McFarlane started writing his own stories – he was given his own title, Spider-Man, when Marvel wouldn’t let him introduce his own creator-owned character in-continuity – he became a sort of polarizing figure. Some people immediately found his writing laughable. Others thought his take on Spidey was interesting even though it was so odd. Certainly the stories were much darker-toned than those his art had accompanied before. But there was also something about them that was silly. The dark tone was there, sure, but as a writer McFarlane wasn’t as interested in exploring the dark as he was in being cool.

So, when he went off to create Spawn – the character he’d wanted to do for Marvel – it was no surprise that the book reveled in the dark and the disgust and heaven and hell and angels and demons and magic and the undead. Spawn is some kind of special forces soldier who died on a mission and sold his soul to a devil called the Malebolgia (the name says it all, doesn’t it? Think about it) and is sent back to the world as some sort of costumed creature who’s basically the undead child of Moon Knight and Doctor Strange. The premise was always that whenever Spawn used his powers, they would drain him and, when his power meter ran down to zero, he would have to go back to hell. The Violator, a fat midget clown who is really a demon in disguise, would try and needle Spawn into using his powers.

And I frankly can’t remember anything else about the comic (except that a couple of cops were chasing after him). It was never really memorable, despite McFarlane’s yammering about how cool he was and how cool his comic was and how important it was an example of independent publishing and how everyone who didn’t like it should just shut up and leave him alone. McFarlane has been a blowhard ever since, even after he stopped writing Spawn to focus on his line of action figures and collecting baseballs.

The thing that became clear about Image Comics is that it was really much ado about nothing. I’ll always stand up for Erik Larsen’s Savage Dragon, but most of the comics Image published weren’t very good. Most of the people involved had “Cool Syndrome,” something I just made up right now. Cool Syndrome is when a person has no aspirations – or ability – beyond being cool. And it’s always self-conscious. And Image sales started to flag when it became obvious that most of these “cool” books were simply ripping off what the creators had already done when they were with Marvel. And though Image Comics still survives and has become a successful publisher, those early years turned off a lot of people and sent them back to the major publishers.

Spawn, by the way, will never use up his powers and die. McFarlane used to point out that what made Spider-Man bullshit was that there is no suspense – no fear that he might die – because Marvel had so much invested in the property. Ironically, the same has been long true of Spawn; he’s not a creator-owned character, he’s McFarlane’s little industry.

The thing that really sent sales on Spawn plummeting was the terrible movie that New Line put out in 1997. HBO had already put out an animated series that was interesting, but the live action movie with John Leguizamo as the Violator was pretty terrible. It had pretty good special effects, but it played like something that should’ve gone straight to the SCIFI Channel. It was a financial failure and it seemed like we weren’t going to have to hear from Spawn ever again.

And now Todd McFarlane announced that he wants Leonardo DiCaprio to play the guy chasing down Spawn in a new movie. And the news just makes me smile. Not because I want to see another Spawn movie – dear gods, no – but because McFarlane is still out there spouting his silliness and believing that Spawn is the most awesome thing ever to come down the pike and bluffing and blowharding as if he’s even going to be able to get a studio to agree to make another one in the first place. It’s just somehow touching that he really thinks this can happen.

And he compares his movie idea to Jaws and The Departed and The Godfather, because he really does believe he’s in that league. He thinks he has a shot because DiCaprio’s father liked underground comics – which shows that McFarlane doesn’t understand the difference between independent and underground comics, and that Spawn is really neither. For years, he’s cheerfully and greedily been blocking the rerelease of the legendary Miracleman, a great comic written by great creators (Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman), because the world already has Spawn. And Spawn is, to hear him tell it, The Godfather of comic books.

That none of his stories have been memorable is beside the point. That no one cares about seeing another Spawn movie is beside the point. Todd McFarlane has no doubt of his own importance, and that’s all that really matters.

Todd McFarlane, don’t ever change. You still make me laugh.

Aaron R. Davis lives in a cave at the bottom of the ocean with his eyes shut tight and his fingers in his ears. You can contact him at samuraifrog@yahoo.com.

Comments (1)
  1. Lariste Kaplan February 22, 2017

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