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Spawn: The Animated Series Revisited

Guest contributor Jeremy Harrison revisits HBO's animated series Spawn.

About two decades ago, when I was in my mid-late teens a show aired on HBO called Spawn. I loved it. It was dark and gritty. My teenage-self gave this a perfect 10 out of 10. But what does older -and hopefully wiser -me rate it?

Well for one, Spawn is one comic book character I don’t know much about. At the time, I was strictly a Marvel fanboy and from time to time … maybe DC, but Spawn was Image Comics.

Being an animation fan and the fact that Spawn was well-animated and adult: Full-Praise! But being adult just isn’t good enough by itself. The story should make sense or rather have some in-story logic that the viewer can latch onto. This applies whether the writer wants to make something campy or dark and gritty.

Sadly, Spawn: The Animated Series really doesn’t have that. I rewatched all three seasons and tried to follow but it just really doesn’t hold my interest. Each season is six episodes coming in at a little over two hours long. The average length of a movie. That’s six straight hours total from season one to season three.

My main problem with this series is the character of Spawn, himself! The show would have you believe that he got sent to hell because he killed a lot of people (serving as a Marine) and that he was brought back to cause mayhem and destruction. But here’s the thing, he killed for his country … he killed on orders … not because it was in his heart. He made the deal to come back he loved for his wife even in death. How is this a good candidate to raise hell on Earth? People all over the world die at an estimated rate every 3 – 15 seconds; why not bring somebody back that died with hate in his heart and really wanted revenge?

Moreover, the clown guy (who is not named in the animated series )is actually psychotic and he’s stronger than Spawn. “A true Native of Hell.” he tells Spawn, adding “You Spawn, have never been worthy.” So wait, if a true native of hell is actually stronger then Spawn and is more chaotically evil (which is what the series wants you to believe hell wants) … why does hell even bother making a Spawn in the first place? This is not answered in the series, but to gain a deeper understanding, I was forced to read the comic book.

Taking the time to read the source material, this had the potential to be much better. Moreover, Spawn the animated series/comic looks like it took a lot of inspiration from Batman. Batman: The Animated Series is an “A” period. It had good action, good story, good character designs, good animation there’s no end to the good stuff you can say about Batman TAS. No wonder Spawn the animated series tries to copy that.

The way I see it, Spawn is basically Batman, with  Detective Sam Burke/Detective Twitch Williams as his Detective Bullock/Commissioner Gordon. Jason Wynn is Ra’s Al Ghul, Cogliostro is the equivalent of Alfred Pennyworth. And The Clown Demon? Obviously, the Trickster *wink*.

The odd thing is … I think HBO was ahead of the game with Spawn. It wasn’t episodic. It has an overarching plot with plot points that are kind of dropped or not really followed up on. I don’t know whether this was a pacing issue or one of money, but either way, the execution was poor. Moreover, the internet and DVR technology wasn’t really a thing when this show came out. Now you can just DVR the whole thing or stream it on like Netflix or Amazon instead of waiting for HBO to air it and then be lucky enough to catch it in order.

So it’s safe to say that we probably have a better understanding of how to make shows like this work in 2018 than in 1998. Next year, Blumhouse is giving us Spawn 2019 starring Jamie Foxx, and written and directed by the character's original creator Todd McFarlane This would be a perfect time to revise the animated series and this time stay true to the comic.

Along with a few other things like seeing Malebolgia in the cartoon and displaying Spawn’s many many powers; two of which, according to the wiki is “Time-Manipulation” and “Willpower-Based constructs”!

Well anyway, time for me to say something nice. I really liked the voice acting of Keith David. He really sells it as Spawn. It is just too bad that his character is pretty boring. It’s the normal humans who are far more interesting here and they also give some pretty amazing voice work.

I do like the art style but the animation leaves something to be desired. While it’s true Batman TAS had far better animation and came up nearly at the same time, it's worth noting Spawn had only 15 people working on their animation department, while Batman had over 100 people, (according to IMDB.)

I imagine this also wouldn’t be as big as an issue today since we have software to help with the animation and one to two people today can create some really fluid animated motion.

All in all, I'd say that it's interesting to see once because they're many different ideas here that were innovative for the late nineties; but I can name a few properties where these ideas have been done much better and thanks to the internet, the lasciviousness of the show isn't that big of deal anymore. Spawn is a great character that has a lot of potential and Keith David said he'll be up to play the role again. I'll love to hear him voice the character again. And if the new movie is a success,  I could just get my wish