The return of Al Simmons, and the start of a brand new era for SPAWN! No one quite knows where Al’s been all this time, but it’s clear he’s come back a changed man. Wiser, stronger, and with the memories from an experience that’s he’s still struggling to understand. Tucked away in a crime-ridden corner of New York City, he’s beginning to forge new alliances, preparing defenses, and testing out his newly acquired powers… because there’s a battle coming, and it’s something that makes the Heaven/Hell thing seem like a petty squabble. So just who did Al piss off so badly while he was away?
Is it the 1990’s again? No, I guess not, but it kinda feels like, because I’m writing about SPAWN. This used to be one of my favorit comic-book series, I bought it regularly right from the start, as well as almost every outside appearance of the character, in miniseries’, one-shots, and crossover. I stopped by the title after issue #65. I don’t remember exactly why, I guess I just lost interest. But that’s still one of the longest continued runs of any comic-book series that I ever bought. Since then, I picked up issue #100 just for the heck of it, and the was the last issue I ever bought, until this. I can’t help but admire the way, like Erik Larsen on Savage Dragon, Todd McFarlane is determined to have a long unbroken series, with no reboots or renumbering, which is all the rage at Marvel and DC. But, the sad fact is, many fans are more likely to pick up a series if it starts with a new #1, rather then starting at #251 or whatever. So it looks like McFarlane decided to compromise, with this separate one-shot which jumpstarts the new direction of the regular series. So I decided to pick this up.
I have to say that I have not really followed the direction of this character since I stopped buying the series. I know that at some point Al Simmons, the original Spawn, “died” and was replaced by a new lead character named Jim Dowling. I assumed that was due to the real-life conflict McFarlane had with his former friend Al Simmons. I know that some years later there was a major Image Comics crossover series called Image United which supposedly featured Al Simmons returning as a major villain, but I never read that and, predictably, that series was never finished. I purposely decided not to do any research into what’s been happening in recent storylines because, well, if this is supposed to function as a new jumping on point, then I shouldn’t need to, right? So let’s see if it works…
Paul Jenkins, a writer I’ve liked for years (he was great on Spider-Man), takes over as the writer. This is story is not really heavy on action, if that’s what your looking for, it’s a lot dialog and flashbacks. It opens with Al Simmons in “limbo”. He’s chained and nailed to a cross. We’re told he put himself there after “killing” himself, because he just wants to be left alone. But now he’s not alone. God shows up. Yes, GOD, in the form of a cute little dog that Al used to have when he was little boy. Most of the rest of the issue is GOD explaining the nature of the universe, its creation, free will, good vs. evil, yadda yadda yadda. The broad strokes are that some point after creating humanity GOD got bored with knowing everything, including the future and therefor made himself forget what’s going to happen. All he knows is that a war his coming, and that there are evil forces from Hell who have manipulated Al Simmons into removing himself from Earth so that he cannot interfere in their coming plans. GOD tries to convince Al return to Earth as Spawn once again, to be his champion. Al isn’t interested but there is one major event that happened which changes his mind. I won’t spoil that, but it’s a doozy.
There’s also subplot shown in this issue through news casts. In a ripped from the headlines story, a young Black boy has been shot by law enforcement (dialog says he was shot in the back, but the art shows him laying on his back with a gunshot wound in his chest) in Louisiana which has caused nationwide protests (complete with signs that say “Hands up don’t shoot” and “We Can’t Breath”). This factors into the event which convinces Al to retake the mantle of Spawn. Other than that it’s not clear how big of effect this development will have on the title, but I do find it intriguing. I’m sure it’s not exactly a spoiler to say that this issue ends with Al back on Earth, in a slightly altered Spawn costume, armed with a special new weapon, ready to begin a new mission. Not every detail of the past is filled-in, but I will say that as a new reader I feel that I was given enough to follow along.
An artist credited simply as Jonboy handles the artwork, and he provides a nice clean style, reminiscent of early McFarlane but unique enough that it stands on its own. With he and Jenkins on board, I think this new era of Spawn is off to a pretty damn good start. Chacebook rating: FOUR STARS