Where do the dead belong, in the world of the living?
February 18, 2015 11:09 AM   Subscribe

Todd McFarlane's Spawn aired on HBO from 1997-99. A faithful depiction of McFarlane's popular action-fantasy-horror comic, this groundbreaking, (NSFW,) animated series won an Emmy for 'Outstanding Animation Program' during its third and final season.

The Story
"If ever there was a fucking motive everyone understands, it's 'He took my woman.'"

Vietnam War Veteran Al Simmons was betrayed and killed by a friend. Determined to be reunited with his wife, his spirit swears revenge and makes a pact with the overlord of the eighth plane of Hell, the Malebolgia. Simmons is to become a Hellspawn, a soldier in Malebolgia's army so he can walk the earth again and be reunited with his wife Wanda. But the Malebolgia tricked Simmons, returning him as a walking corpse with a demonic cloak instead of in his own body.

The show follows Spawn as he fights the forces of both Heaven and Hell in an escalating war, as well as his own inner demons.

DVD Verdict Review: "Like it or loathe it, the story here is a good one: a man whose desire for revenge and love for his wife brings him back to life. Spawn's every instinct—indeed, his costume—yearns for violence, for blood, to send more souls to the devil. But his humanity struggles to stay free, fights against the need to kill…except that his humanity wants to kill the people who betrayed him. If ever there was a tortured anti-hero, Spawn is it. He spends more time yelling, raging, and furiously knocking around trash cans and dumpsters in back alleys than any traditional "super hero"-like behavior. He cares not for good deeds or justice, only catharsis of his own rage, but if good deeds result from it, so be it. The dude just wants his old life back at any cost, but no matter what he does, happiness evades him. Sure he's a bit of a whiner, but if you had a demonic cloak on, you would be, too."
Not for Kids
It's dark, noir-inspired and NSFW. Rated R for violence, mutilation, cursing, sex, and nudity.

The Episodes
18 episodes were produced. Each season was six episodes long.
Here's a single YouTube playlist for all three seasons.
Animation quality and voice actor caliber increase each season.

1997: Season One
* Episodes 1-3: Burning Visions, Evil Intent and No Rest, No Peace
* Episodes 4-6: Dominoes, Souls in the Balance and End Games

1998: Season Two
* Episodes 1-3: Home, Bitter Home, Access Denied and Colors of Blood
* Episodes 4-6: Send in the KKKlowns, Death Blow and Hellzapoppin

1999: Season Three
* Episodes 1-3: The Mindkiller, Twitch is Down and Seed of the Hellspawn
* Episodes 4-6: Hunter's Moon, Chasing the Serpent and Prophecy

Official Site includes Behind the Scenes artwork / storyboards.

A new Spawn animated series is in the works at HBO. McFarlane released some images in October.
posted by zarq (34 comments total) 50 users marked this as a favorite

It's been 12+ years since I saw this. Doesn't it just sort of end without wrapping up the story?
posted by KGMoney at 11:44 AM on February 18, 2015

I remember watching the first movie on HBO and loving it.
posted by josher71 at 11:46 AM on February 18, 2015

KGMoney, yes. It ends on a cliffhanger. Hopefully the new series will pick up where this one left off.
posted by zarq at 12:02 PM on February 18, 2015

The movie had a pretty kickass soundtrack that's a blast of the mid-90s: Slayer, Metallica, Marilyn Manson, The Crystal Method, Sneaker Pimps, Orbital, Butthole Surfers, Dusy Brothers, Korn, DJ Spooky, Stabbing Westward, Prodigy, Tom Morello, Silverchair, Henry Rollins, Incubus, Atari Teenage Riot, Soul Coughing…
posted by Sangermaine at 12:05 PM on February 18, 2015 [12 favorites]

Sangermaine: Holy shit! I remember liking that soundtrack (more than the movie), but listing those bands off makes me understand why.
posted by el io at 12:08 PM on February 18, 2015 [2 favorites]

I remember thinking that there was more blood and violence in the first six minutes of the animated series than the entirety of the live-action move.

God I miss that show. Fingers crossed that the new version will live up to what they started so well almost twenty years ago.
posted by quin at 12:24 PM on February 18, 2015

I think it was a sort of thematic follow up to the Judgement Night soundtrack.

Googling it "Judgement Night soundtrack" autocompleted before "Judgement Night movie", which may tell you something.
posted by Artw at 12:25 PM on February 18, 2015 [10 favorites]

Oh, I already know more than enough about the Judgement Night soundtrack.
posted by josher71 at 12:25 PM on February 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

Also I have like 3 CDs of remixes of Orbital's Satan which I think got released as something to do with the Spawn movie.
posted by Artw at 12:26 PM on February 18, 2015 [3 favorites]

I mean it in the best way when I say that Spawn is essentially the Platonic form of '90s comics.

I fell out of the comic about a year or two in. I revisited it awhile back and McFarlane's early writing didn't hold up as well as I'd recalled it from my teen years, but Spawn (and Image) kicked some doors open.

Weirdly, I have zero memory of this show even existing. In fact, I don't recall seeing it listed in HBO Go.
posted by middleclasstool at 12:29 PM on February 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

I also never stop loving the fact that this baseball card exists.
posted by middleclasstool at 12:32 PM on February 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

I recently read issue 250(!) of Spawn, after having basically stopped just following the ridiculous issue where Cerebus showed up (issue 6?).

YOU GUYS, SPAWN IS A RIDICULOUS COMIC. It had so many words and the art was ew and the story was terrible (and not just because I lacked context). Seriously, Spawn is working at like a Tarot or Darkchylde level or something.
posted by joelhunt at 1:09 PM on February 18, 2015 [5 favorites]

Spawn was a great idea horribly, horribly executed.
posted by eamondaly at 1:18 PM on February 18, 2015 [2 favorites]

Artw: I have like 3 CDs of remixes of Orbital's Satan which I think got released as something to do with the Spawn movie.

Perhaps you got the Satan Live CD singles (also packaged as a promotional set under the title Evil Santa), which were released in 1996, the year before the Spawn soundtrack. Their version of Satan from the Spawn soundtrack featured chuggy metal guitar from Metallica's Kirk Hammett.
posted by filthy light thief at 1:18 PM on February 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

A new Spawn animated series is in the works at HBO.

This would explain why the comic is late every other goddamned month.
posted by GrapeApiary at 1:19 PM on February 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

Seriously, Spawn is working at like a Tarot or Darkchylde level or something.

I feel you, but nothing in my memory about Spawn ever reached YOUR VAGINA IS HAUNTED levels of hilarity.
posted by middleclasstool at 1:56 PM on February 18, 2015 [2 favorites]

Spawn is essentially the Platonic form of '90s comics

Via r/comicbooks, THIS is the pure condensed essence of The Early Nineties in its most concentrated form.

All I remember about the Spawn cartoon: on a middle school overnight choir trip in the late '90s, I shared a motel room with three other 12/13-year-old girls and no adult chaperone, and we were all thrilled at the prospect of staying up all night watching forbidden, naughty hotel cable. Then tuning to HBO put us in media res of a Spawn scene involving a demon rape orgy. Or maybe it was a consensual orgy with lots of blood, but definitely demons. We watched in silence for about five minutes. Then we turned off the TV, went immediately to bed, and never spoke of it again. THE END. A better version of this story would involve the four of us getting slowly killed off by the cursed video, Ringu-style.
posted by nicebookrack at 1:56 PM on February 18, 2015 [11 favorites]


Your who in the what now?
posted by zarq at 2:09 PM on February 18, 2015

You have to get out of here! Your vagina is haunted! (MNSFW)
posted by eamondaly at 2:14 PM on February 18, 2015 [3 favorites]

Never read the comics, didn't like the movie, never heard of the series - but oddly enough, I collected the action figures, which were highly detailed and quite affordable. I had a number of them decorating my office, including the 6 interlocking "Cyber Spawns" and the 4 "Nitro Riders", and some jungle animals with implanted heavy artillery ... I should go dig 'em out of whatever box they've ended up in. I doubt they're worth anything - I took them out of their boxes so people could play with them (and play with them people did) - but there still seems to be some trade in them on eBay.

What little I ever managed to puzzle out of the actual Spawn plot-line didn't really interest me. The toys seemed to have an intriguing, vague backstory all to themselves. I have no idea if it was "canonical" and adhered to some graphic novel, or if it was pure "hey, wouldn't it be cool if ..." kind of design.
posted by doctor tough love at 2:17 PM on February 18, 2015

...but the soundtrack didn't include Iced Earth.
posted by Wolfdog at 2:36 PM on February 18, 2015

I totally missed this but I did follow the comic for a while. I agree, it was a great idea.
posted by Ik ben afgesneden at 2:37 PM on February 18, 2015

Say what you will about the comic (and folks have said plenty), this show was the business.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 3:03 PM on February 18, 2015

joelhunt stopped just following the ridiculous issue where Cerebus showed up (issue 6?)

That's when I started reading Spawn, coming from reading Sim's Cerebus (but only for a while; there were better uses for my money like booze, rpg sourcebooks, and cigarettes although I ended up getting all of Cerebus in trade format).

Close. Issue 10.

Before the Spawn animated series, were there any other high quality mature Western animation series?

Hmm. The Maxx premiered 2 years before Spawn.
posted by porpoise at 6:27 PM on February 18, 2015 [3 favorites]

I only read the Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman episodes, which were I think just before that - They were pretty canny about getting guest talent.

I think Grant Morrison got paid some ungodly amount for his 3 parter.
posted by Artw at 6:49 PM on February 18, 2015

OH MAN! This is absolutely awesome - thank you so much for bringing this to my attention! Spawn (and the spinoffs) absolutely defined my adolescence. I adored Image Comics and was kind of a reject-amongst-rejects for my weird devotion.

The writing for the animated series was thoughtful and ahead of its time. Even in the first episode -

Sam: I hate early morning - nothing human up at this hour.
Cop: No, sir, just us civil servants.

Once at art camp a fellow camper gave me a ceramic sculpture of Spawn that he'd created. I considered it one of my prized possessions. It was stolen by a kid known only as "Cheese" who resembled no one so much as Violator.

It's funny. Every church pastor has a call story. But I think it's interesting - re-watching these old cartoons - that I'm a liberationist with a tendency toward radicalism and exorcizing fascists. I still believe in Old Scratch and fighting demons and capitalists and chicken hawks and bootlickers and I have a weird fascination with the war in Vietnam. Maybe Todd McFarlane is responsible for shaping my personality. Maybe that's okay. Spawn is fucking metal.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 6:55 PM on February 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

Ah, correction, it's actually Twitch that has the "civil servants" line.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 7:02 PM on February 18, 2015

I love you, Zarq.

I remember years ago that the scuttlebutt about a new animated Spawn was that it would be more centered on Sam and Twitch as protagonists, and Al Simmons is this lurking "Harry Lime" presence that is more talked about than seen, observed only in shadowy flashes.

Hope those pics indicate that's indeed where they're going.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 7:07 PM on February 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

I really loved this show when it aired. The Vatican has a cyborg assassin on the payroll? More of that please. Everything existed below the surface, where normal folk never venture.
posted by Brocktoon at 8:15 PM on February 18, 2015

Hmm. The Maxx premiered 2 years before Spawn.

Ye gods, I loved The Maxx. Mostly stop-motion animation that was extremely faithful to the artwork of the original comics. I once buried a link to a video playlist of that show (streamed through the MTV website) in the middle of an FPP about Peter Chung's Firebreather. The series is dense enough to deserve its own FPP though.
posted by zarq at 8:56 PM on February 18, 2015 [2 favorites]


If you like the way the idea you describe sounds, check out Gotham Central. It was an amazing series from the early 2000s that focused on the ordinary cops of Gotham with Batman and friends only appearing rarely.
posted by Sangermaine at 9:22 PM on February 18, 2015 [2 favorites]

to deserve its own FPP though.

Yes please!

<"Damn I was talking out loud again.">
posted by porpoise at 9:28 PM on February 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

Maybe if we just tied more of the dead to trees, more people would stop acting like they're going to live forever.

It would also be better for the trees.
posted by Twang at 10:41 AM on February 19, 2015

Spawn wishes it could be a hundredth as good as The Maxx.

to deserve its own FPP though.

Probably a lot of link rot given the age, but here

also to be noting that it is available on DVD.
posted by juv3nal at 2:24 PM on February 24, 2015

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