Spawn X 2

If you look at all the shows HBO has to offer, and focus on the ones that are fictional series, there aren’t a lot of animated options. I did a review on their The Adventures of TinTin and now I’d like to move onto something a little more fitting for the HBO network.

In the late nineties, comic books were on a popular up-swing, that was in no-small-part fueled by the animated versions popping up on children’s broadcasting. X-menSpiderman and Batman had already been through a few seasons by the time Spawn hit HBO. By the year that it ended, a movie was made and I’ll get to that immediately after. For now, let’s focus on Spawn, the Animated Series.

Todd McFarlane, creator of Spawn, stayed with his baby all the way through the animated series that would bring it to life and it shows. The animation looks like the comic is moving, while you read it, but you get the added benefit of voice actors, doing the voices better than you can. McFarlane‘s animated show is the perfect introduction to the epic tale of Spawn.

Spawn, the show, is also available to watch, for free, on youtube. I’m not going to post all six videos in this post but, if you search for them, you’ll find them. I couldn’t believe it, but they’re there. If you don’t mind streaming from youtube all fucking night, you can save yourself cash.

Time

Spawn, the animated series, ran for three seasons, with 18 episodes. You won’t be able to find it like that, though. Most of the time you’ll only be able to find it in parts, one through six, or two parts per season. In my, particular, case, it was more like a six hour movie because I watched every minute of this gem in one night. I was supposed to watch one part and go to sleep but I ended up staying up until 5AM, watching Spawn.

Not dividing it up, into smaller episodes, comes with its advantages. For one, there are less “Previously on…” sequences, so you don’t spend more time catching up than you need to. For another, Spawn came from comic books first. As short as each issue is, it’s the entire serial that creates the story. To put that same system in a television show form, you wouldn’t want to start and stop as often, so you don’t lost the audience. Spawn never lost me. Every single episode is amazing and I pray that, some day, Todd McFarlane will bring it back.

Acting

There aren’t a ton of main characters in Spawn but there is a steady steam of new voices. The big kahunas are all gold and the side characters are still unique enough to tell them apart, when you have to. Much like my TinTin post, though, I’m going to stick to the ones consistent across the show and the movie. Basically I’m picking the hero, the villain, and the other villain.

Oh, wait. Did I say “hero”? I meant ant-hero. Spawn is ba-a-a-ad mother fucker who just got back from Hell, literally, and doesn’t quite know if he’s fighting for good or evil. Primarily, Spawn just fights for himself and his own selfish desires. However, he was human once and; as that goes sometimes, he still has a heart.

He takes shelter in the slums of the city, surrounding himself with homeless people. I don’t mean Spawn is making buddies with anyone. He’s just not pretty enough for the well-lit parts of the city.

Spawn is voiced by Keith David, another bad mother fucker. You might know David from The Gargoyles (he was Goliath) or the Halo (the video game, that is) series, as far as his voice goes anyway. Spawn is a bad ass. Keith has the voice of the baddest of asses. So, it works out pretty naturally. Though, I will say, if you watched Gargoyles, the voices are very similar and it might take away from the performance a little. Just a little, though.

Clown is Spawn’s liaison to Hell, his watchmen and bad conscience. Spawn is supposed to be working for them but won’t do as he’s told. Unfortunately for him, Clown (and Hell, I guess) can trick Spawn into doing what he’s told by tempting him and luring him to his own impulses, much like a conscience. Clown also turns into the Violator, which is one of the coolest designed demons ever, in my opinion.

Clown is voiced by Michael Nicolosi, a guy I never heard of until I looked him up for this comparison. Nicolosi’s clown is high-pitched and raunchy. His evil intentions come through with the position of laughter, around the gruesome shit that he says. I’d be afraid of him, if he called me on the phone.

Jason Wynn may not be the devil, but he’s the antagonist in Spawn‘s story. Responsible for his death and disfigurement, Wynn is Spawn’s nemesis even though Spawn has super powers and Wynn doesn’t. Wynn doesn’t need super powers because he has political and financial power, which is a sweet alternative. Wynn uses his soldiers like puppets, unknowingly building Hell’s army. Wynn is voiced by John Rafter Lee, another guy I never heard of. Lee‘s Wynn is slow and driving, but still very serious.

Directing

I’m not sure why it isn’t standard practice to get the actual creator of the comic book to either direct, write or produce for a show based around his or her creation. I mean, don’t you think the X-men movies would have been a little better if Jack Kirby was on the set every day? Todd McFarlane created a masterpiece, with Spawn, and saw it all the way through with the animated interpretation. The style of McFarlane became recognizable within the first fifteen seconds and I was hooked.

In the early 2000’s, there was talk of bringing back or starting another animated series based around Spawn. I’ve been looking and looking but I can’t find any information since the last time it squashed, so I don’t think it’s going to happen. I’ll just keep my fingers crossed that McFarlane will need the money or something.

Writing

I can’t remember the stories of the Spawn comic books well enough to tell you if this is a shot-for-shot remake or if it’s all out of order. I do remember a lot more internal monologuing, but that’s basically true of all comic books turned cartoon. To be honest, I just trust in McFarlane enough that he wouldn’t sacrifice anything and will keep the style in the new adaptation.

I feel like Spawn, the show, was setting up for a lot more seasons than they were allowed. They started dropping in characters that they never got to elaborate on, like Angelica and her other, hunter, friends. There certainly were a ton of stories and back-stories to depict in the show but, unfortunately, it got cut off before getting to any of the gnarliest bad guys. Never-the-less Spawn is one of the coolest shows on any channel, let alone HBO.

Soundtrack

Sure, it’s scoring, but for some reason the music in Spawn doesn’t bother me at all. If anything, it should be used as a guideline for other television shows, because it uses it sparingly, only when it is absolutely needed. The ambience and style of this show is matched with the music but it’s also not stylistically special in itself. I imagine it just got overlooked because every other part is so critically examined.

The animated series brought a groundbreaking comic book to motion but that wasn’t enough, apparently. Hollywood wanted Spawn to come to life, in flesh and blood. This could have been awesome, pretty much one of the coolest movies ever made. Unfortunately, it never made it past its PG-13 rating and they kept Spawn hidden underneath another cliche action movie. Everything that is awesome about Spawn, the comic and the animated series, goes horrifically wrong when you want to bring in a younger audience.

Time

With a runtime of 96 minutes, Spawn is not only short but unsubstantial. This is the kind of movie that you watch when you don’t have time for something good but need to kill an hour and a half.

Most Spawn fans were lured in immediately by the promise of a Spawn movie. I was just a kid but I was stoked to find out that a comic book other than Batman and Superman was being turned into a movie. Unfortunately its disappointment starts early on and doesn’t stop until the movie is over. So, ultimately, the star is earned by making it go as fast as possible. Editor’s note: This is referred to as the Band-Aid method.

Acting

If we ignore the fact that Al Simmon’s (Spawn before he’s Spawn) best friend is changed into a white guy, the homeless best friend is changed into a little kid and that they added a dog, for no apparent reason, and just focus on the acting of Spawn, the movie, we are left with a few half-assed performances surrounding one or two decent ones.

Al Simmons, who turns into Spawn, is played by Michael Jai White. This is the first time I was ever introduced to White and I think it was a little too much responsibility too early in his career. Since SpawnWhite has been in lots of movies I like (Black Dynamite, namely) but I’ll never get over his depiction of Spawn. When you are primarily covered by a mask, it’s pretty important that your voice can carry the role. In this case, I don’t think it happened.

Clown, on the other hand, was given a whole new life when John Lequizamo stepped into his over-sized shoes. Already a creepy, horny demon sent to keep tabs on SpawnLeguizamo stole the screen every time he got on it and I’m pretty sure the creators had to increase his screen time to up the appeal of the movie. Honestly, if it wasn’t for him, watching Spawn again would have been much more of a chore. That being said, they still apply too much cheese to his character, leaving his jokes to eating gross things and farting.

Jason Wynn is the head of a fictional government agency, A-6, and has enough power to potentially take over the world, according the movie. That’s a bit much for the character but, if we’re going with that, I wouldn’t have cast Martin Sheen. He was great on the West Wing but an impressive President is another thing all-together. If they would have stuck with the comic (or cartoon) version of Wynn, Sheen would have been an even bigger mistake. His performance is solid, for sure, but Martin Sheen just doesn’t have the evil, heartless appeal that Jason Wynn mastered.

Directing______________

 So, you know how awesome it was that Todd McFarlane was a part of the television show, guiding it along and making sure it stayed true to his dream? Well, they must have completely ignored him for the making of the Spawn movie because it just became a bastardized version of the original story. I mentioned the character changes but it goes even further than that.

When Spawn gets control of his armor, his cape is definitely the most eye-catching part. Long, flowing and organic, Spawn‘s cape grows and shrinks with the space he chooses to fill. In the movie, the cape only comes out on a reflex and usually only for grand entrances and exits. This cinematic  Spawn acts more like the commando, Al Simmons, and ignores the great powers that are his disposal. I know they wanted to introduce the guy with a naiveté, so he can work his way to the end fight, finally mastering his powers. What really happened was that sad version of Spawn was released and it ruined all prospects of further movies, and the image of a comic book icon.

Oh, and it you’re going to make a movie about a trained killer, turned lieutenant for Hell, with magical powers to kill and dismember everyone in his way, it’s probably not a good idea to make it with a PG13 rating. How can you properly display the gore of Spawn ripping people to shreds when you’re trying to get an “under 18” crowd. The PG13 Spawn barely kills anyone and if he does it’s with a gun (not even a huge fucking gun, like the cartoon, but a SMG!).

Writing______________

Although I’m sure the Producers maimed this script to its unrecognizable form, I can’t leave the blame on them alone. I’m guessing somebody did as much research as watching the HBO series, reading the first couple comics and talking to super fans. Then, he vomited up some version of that story and handed it off to a producer. That producer then, probably, read that script and said something like this:

“Hey! Spawn’s black?! Oh, well … we can’t have this movie be a ‘black’ movie, so how about we turn one of the black people into a white guy. Oh, and that bum best friend? That’s creepy. How about we pull in some sympathy for Alfred Gibbons and have him watch over a kid. Ooh! A kid that’s already being abused! That’s great. What’s that? Your name is Spaz? That’s a weird name. Sounds like a dog name. HEY! How about we put a dog in this movie?! We could call him Spaz, like you!”

Soundtrack

There is a score through-out Spawn but I completely forgot about it until I went to re-watch it to write this review. The part that I remember most is that soundtrack that was released with Spawn. I’m pretty sure that only two or three of those songs actually made it into the movie but it was a great CD. I used to listen to it while me and my brother played legos.

Anything that can bring Manson and the Sneaker Pimps together is worth checking out.

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