On June 1st in 1992, Spawn #1 released from creator Todd McFarlane and began a descent into the war against Heaven and Hell that would stand the test of time. Now, twenty-eight years later the series has become a Guinness World Record holder for “longest-running creator-owned superhero comic book series” after the release of Spawn #301, and is entering a brand-new era by creating an interconnected universe spanning multiple series at Image Comics.
It is the SPAWN UNIVERSE.
This isn’t the first time the Spawn franchise has seen a surge in popularity, however. In 1997 the series was given a live-action film staring Michael Jai White as Al Simmons, a.k.a. Spawn, which became a cult hit among fans. Then, from 1997 to 1999 there was Todd McFarlane’s Spawn also known as Spawn: The Animated Series which ran on HBO and wan an Emmy in 1999 for Outstanding Animation Program. Now, there is a new live-action adaption in the works from McFarlane himself with Blumhouse Studios attached featuring Jamie Foxx as Al Simmons and Jeremy Renner as Detective Sam Twitch. Todd McFarlane also released a massively successful new Spawn action figure on Kickstarter that raised over $3.4 million from over 23,000 backers.
During all of this, the flagship comic series has been consistently putting out issue after issue building a dark yet grand universe that has recently seen sales increase between 150 to 600% pre-pandemic and putting the series routinely in the top five monthly selling titles on the Diamond Distributors Top 100 Chart. And it seems that is just the beginning. McFarlane has announced that the SPAWN UNIVERSE is happening, bringing with it four ongoing series and a special Spawn’s Universe #1 one-shot in 2021 kicking off the eponymous Year of Spawn.
“The simple question is this: DC Comics started a shared universe in the late 1930s. Marvel Comics began theirs in the early 1960s… so, can lightning strike a third time beginning in 2021? I personally do not have the answer to that question right now, but the only way to get an answer to that question is to make the attempt in the first place.” – Todd McFarlane
But how did we get here? For fans who enjoyed the comics in the ’90s and haven’t kept up in years and those who have never read a Spawn comic before, this is the perfect opportunity to jump into Al Simmons’ world. So, let’s dive into some of the key moments that brought us to this point and explore everything you need to know before diving into the new SPAWN UNIVERSE.
The premise is simple, in Spawn #1 Al Simmons is an ex-special forces soldier who lost his life, leaving behind his wife Wanda Blake, but is given a second chance after agreeing to become a Hellspawn and lead Hell’s army for a being known as Malebolgia. This kicks off the war against Heaven and Hell with Spawn himself meant to lead the forces of Hell as a general. But things don’t exactly work out that way.
Immediately upon his return, Al realizes Wanda has married his best friend Terry and had a daughter together named Cyan, forcing Al deeper into his role as Spawn. He was tricked: Malebolgia returned him to life, but not until five years had passed on Earth and everyone’s life he’d ever cared for had moved on accordingly. A surrounding cast of characters like the evil Violator, mysterious Cogliostro, and more all compete to discover and manipulate Al’s sometimes self-serving intentions, dragging out the war even further. This war serves as the catalyst for all of the major developments throughout the series first 300 issues. Spawn is eventually able to metamorphosize his symbiotic suit to enhance his powers, taking on foes like the Redeemer, Overt-Kill, Cy-Gor, Freak and many more at the cost of what is known as the Spawn Power Meter that places a limit on his ultimate power source which counts down with each use. When we reach Spawn #100 during the War of Heaven and Hell arc, Al is able to slay Malebolgia and free himself from Hell’s rule, setting off a chain of events that could not be stopped.
The Death of Al Simmons and Rise of Jim Downing’s Spawn
Following Malebolgia’s death, Cogliostro has taken the throne and is revealed to actually be the biblical Cain, the first person to go to Hell. He sends Al back to Earth where he meets a Wiccan named Nyx and is able to recover his symbiotic suit, this time maintaining his human form. As we enter the Armageddon arc through Spawn #150, the war between Heaven and Hell escalates, pitting Spawn against Satan and God where he is able to strip them of their armies and lock them in their own everlasting battle. Following this, we enter the “Endgame” arc nearing issues #184 and #185 where a jaded Al returns to the Alley where he first discovered his role as Hellspawn and blows his own head off, spurring on the revelation of a new Hellspawn named Jim Downing. With Wanda Blake’s help and Jim Downing’s new abilities with the mantle of Spawn, they are able to bring out the events necessary for the resurrection of Al Simmons by God’s hands.
Moving through the major events of this seemingly always-escalating war between Heaven and Hell, fans are treated with many plotlines like the prophetic Miracle Twins, which brings Cyan to the forefront and terrors of Mammon and Morana, but most importantly we learn about the history of the Hellspawn themselves and the world that surrounds them. The rise of Jim Downing as Spawn following Al Simmons’ death helps us to understand the cyclical nature of the symbiote that gives them their powers, allowing hugely successful characters like Medieval Spawn (who first appeared way back in Spawn #9) and Gunslinger Spawn (who first appeared in Spawn #119) among many, many others to find a new sense of prominence. The history of Hell’s Generals and those who have fought both with them and against them, uniquely explored during the near seventy-five issues of Jim Downing as Spawn, expands the world of Spawn and gives context to the greater fight that Al Simmons takes upon himself.
The resurrection of Al Simmons as Spawn in Spawn #250 kicks off one of the earliest indicators that leads directly up to the SPAWN UNIVERSE. Al returns to find that Wanda has been killed, and despite his best efforts to bring her back from Hell, we see the tragic finale of her death in Spawn #262 and Spawn: Resurrection #1 during a fight once more between God and Satan. With their love rekindled and using her dying breath to speak to Al just one last time, she tells him “…it’s time to be the hero I know you’ve always been,” and the series is forever changed by it.
“I want the Spawn character to have a reason to BE the classic, true superhero, and unfortunately it took something as impactful as his wife dying, to jolt him. From here on, his job will be to protect the world.” – Todd McFarlane
The Road to 300
But what does it mean for Spawn to be a hero? His brutality, recklessness and even sometimes selfish motives that have driven the series are now under examination for how Al Simmons can become a force for good, not for Heaven or Hell – but for all humans on Earth. This puts the story on the what was dubbed, “The Road to 300.” McFarlane and the team begin defining this new era for Spawn by bringing back characters like reporter Marc Rosen who first appeared in Spawn #187 to aide Al Simmons (after his prominence in the Jim Downing Spawn era), and ushering in new ones like the wickedly angelic Godsend who first appeared in Spawn #293 to define Spawn’s stance against both Heaven and Hell, who have been locked in Earth’s realm since Al Simmons took on God and Satan.
Then, with the record breaking and unapologetically epic release of Spawn #300 and #301, the foundation for what will become the SPAWN UNIVERSE is established. Al Simmons carefully enacts his plan along with the help of Marc to lure Godsend and Clown, representatives of both Heaven and Hell, into a trap and detonates the remains of his symbiote costume held in each of their hands. The explosion obliterates Godsend and Clown, extending into space and even resetting the Spawn Power Meter, but also scatters remains of the symbiote all around the world and triggering the awakening of an entire new generation of Spawn, simultaneously opening a rip in time allowing previous incarnations to return to the modern world as well.
With longtime fan-favorite characters like Jim Downing’s Spawn, Medieval Spawn, Gunslinger Spawn and so many more returning alongside brand-new characters like Jessica Priest’s She-Spawn as a result of these actions, the stage is set for a widely expansive SPAWN UNIVERSE that builds on the powerful storytelling of over three hundred issues of the main title. Though Al Simmons is weakened, he is still the primary Hellspawn and even has a few new abilities like resurrecting the dead to bring back iconic villains like Overt-Kill, Cy-Gor, Freak and more. The power balance of the world around him and the forces of Heaven and Hell may have shifted to his favor, but with an unknown number of rising characters who share his abilities, his dedication to become the hero his wife Wanda wanted him to be is just underway.
In Spawn #302 his mission becomes clear: “Whatever their birthright: Demon. Angel. Or Human. He doesn’t care who they are! If they attempt to impose their will on another living soul – they’ll become his TARGET!”
With that, we enter a brand-new era for Spawn in the SPAWN UNIVERSE. As of writing this, the series is at issue #315 and it’s clear to see it is showing no signs of slowing down soon. In 2021 we will enter the Year of Spawn with the release of Spawn’s Universe #1 which will set the stage for new ongoing series exploring this new interconnected universe.
The first of these series will be King Spawn releasing tentatively in August. Spawn will join the rare company of stalwart characters like DC Comics’ Superman, Batman, and Marvel’s Spider-Man, that will have multiple monthly books for the same title character. It will also mark the first time in twenty-eight years that anyone can buy a monthly issue #1 Spawn book.
Then in October, the second of these series will be Gunslinger Spawn. The Gunslinger Spawn character is an absolute cult hit with many fantastic covers and only brief appearances, making it one of the most anticipated of the group.
The third will be a new team book called The Scorched, which will feature Spawn, Redeemer, Gunslinger Spawn, Medieval Spawn and She-Spawn but with a rotating cast and new villains as well.
Finally, the flagship series will continue, just as it always has through so many years of the endearingly grim comic series. Together, these series will make up the SPAWN UNIVERSE and will continue to expand on Spawn’s mission to be a hero, confronting whatever remaining forces of Heaven and Hell that oppose him as well as humans who stand in his way.
None of this would have been possible without the creator himself, Todd McFarlane, but just as importantly the team surrounding him. Creators and editors alike such as Tom Orzechowski, Greg Capullo, Paul Jenkins, Jon Goff, Peter Steigerwald, Jason Shawn Alexander, Steve Oliff, Wanda Kolomy, JEC, Brian Holguin, Michael Golden, FCO Plascencia, Szymon Kudranski, Danny Miki, and so many more all contributed to making the Spawn franchise such a long-lasting success. Now, with the debut of the SPAWN UNIVERSE, McFarlane is capitalizing on twenty-eight years of industry experience in addition to thirty-five different series of Spawn toys, bringing on yet another superstar group of new and returning creators like Art Adams, a returning Jason Shawn Alexander, Carlo Barberi, Brett Booth, J. Scott Campbell, Greg Capullo, Donny Cates, Jim Cheung, Mike del Mundo, Javier Fernandez, David Finch, Jonathan Glapion, Kevin Keane, Aleš Kot, Puppeteer Lee, Sean Lewis, Sean Gordon Murphy, Ben Oliver, Stephen Segovia, Paulo Siqueira, Marc Silvestri, Marcio Takara, and Frank Quitely
Hopefully, this abridged version of just a few of the major milestones in the illustrious history of Spawn will give you the knowledge you need to jump into this exciting new era or even inspire you to catch up on the series yourself before the release of Spawn’s Universe. It is a timeless comic series that has earned its place in history through not just mainstream pop culture significance but rather decades of undeniably powerful storytelling in the comics medium from iconic writing to unforgettable artwork and even to this day supported by Tom Orzechowski’s defining letters.
The Year of Spawn and the SPAWN UNIVERSE is upon us. Whether you are a fan of the earliest releases in the ’90s to someone who has never picked up a Spawn comic and even those of us who has followed each new issue for years, there is room for everyone. Don’t let the exciting opportunity to dive into the SPAWN UNIVERSE pass you by, because if the last three hundred plus issues are any sign of what’s to come…
We are ALL in for something truly special.
The SPAWN UNIVERSE: A Walkthrough on Everything You Need to Know to Start Reading
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