One of the darkest heroes in comic book canon is Spawn, a government-trained assassin who was betrayed by his employer. He is reborn as Hellspawn and is forced to become a soldier in Hell’s army. The HBO animated series aired for three seasons and was a critically acclaimed show that won two Primetime Emmy Awards for Outstanding Animated Program. The very first episode was released on May 16, 1997, and with today’s vastly different landscape of pop culture and media, does the comic book series hold up more than 20 years later?
Spawn is a vastly underrated animated gem as a comic book series. The feature film was a disaster and should never be mentioned again; however, this beautifully animated show has one of the most complex narratives for an anime series. Spawn is violent and bloody, but the carnage is not there without reason. Following the introduction of Todd McFarlane, the series instantly immerses you in the dark and cold world of the anti-hero, which sees two cops double-cross and end up with a bullet for their troubles. The use of imagery and lighting is excellent. Dark lighting highlights dark silhouettes. The cigarette thrown on the ground. Even the violence is displayed with style and a cool noir vibe. The tone and style is different from most animations right now. It’s like a mix of anime and city of sin. The history of the Hellraiser is fascinating. He’s a violent brute who has no problem getting his hands dirty when necessary. however, Spawn’s backstory is what really draws you to his character.
The pilot travels back and forth to Spawn’s previous life as Marine Force Reconnaissance Lt. Col. Al Simmons and documents his loving family, especially his wife. He is a damaged soul cursed with a fate worse than death. Sure, Spawn can see his wife, but she’s not his anymore. He’s a hellish demon that wouldn’t suit her or anyone on planet Earth. The first episode does a great job of highlighting Spawn’s struggles without saying too much. How did Spawn end up in this position in the first place? We get a glimpse of Al’s death episode, but it’s not fully featured. But it’s not Spawn that makes this world exciting, but the supporting characters, namely The Violator. A grotesque character who provides the humor to this dark story, The Violator is an amusing character who notably springs from exposition when the writers want to explain Spawn’s story. However, the dialogue is so smooth and natural thanks to the voice talents of James Hanes, who lends a sadistic charm to the chief lieutenant of Malebolgia’s army. Her character may only be there to provide some temporary humor and layers to the overall story, but there’s also a level of mystique about her. Who is he? Why is he in this hellish nightmare with Spawn? Does he still eat Rocky Road ice cream with worms? The series opens a pandora’s box that keeps you invested in the world itself.
We understand how important Spawn’s past life is, will he have a chance to go back? Granted, he’s been dead for five years, so that’s probably a firm no, but in the world of superheroes and animation, anything is possible. Spawn doesn’t necessarily come across as the friendliest guy on the planet, but the guy is easy to connect with because he’s dealing with grief and the fact that he’ll never be able to live a normal life again. Spawn isn’t your typical cartoon affair as it’s more than just a quick fix that you’ll likely forget about once the 30 minutes are up. It’s horrific, but a story you can’t just look away from. The story is tragic, but it never drowns in its misery. It’s a mind-defying story, but not too complex to seem pretentious or confusing. Considering it’s an HBO Original, it fully goes to show that this program lives up to the popular brand’s high standards. It’s a shame the service canceled the series in its heyday because Spawn is wasted potential. It’s a show that would be a great fit for a streaming service like Netflix or HBO Max. In fact, it’s one of the best adult cartoons ever made. Without a doubt Spawn is still worthy of a watch in modern times; however, be warned, the series ends on a cliffhanger that will never be resolved.