Here it is folks. Likely the most significant comic book release of the year. It has been a whole 28 years since the last two crossovers and 16 years since Spawn/Batman: Inner Demons (by this same creative team) was solicited and never released. So, why are we getting a sequel now? Well, the 90s are trendy again and Spawn recently spun out into three new ongoings that each broke sales records. Oh, and don’t forget Greg Capullo, already one of the longest-tenured Spawn artists, drew one of the most critically and commercially successful Batman runs of all time since the release of that 2006 solicitation. Presumably, DC finally noticed the pile of cash they could be swimming in if they just gave Todd McFarlane a quick call. I expect they’ll get exactly what they’re looking for and this kind of collaboration can only be a positive for the industry as a whole. That said, I was not impressed with this comic. So, let’s get right into it.
What are my experiences with Spawn? I read the first 26 issues, stopping right after the point that McFarlane stopped drawing and Capullo took over. I also read about 25 issues that were released between 2019 and 2021 before giving up soon after the introduction of the new titles. My point in bringing this up is that I am familiar with McFarlane’s writing and art. His art is brilliant. Easily some of the best work you will find in all of comics. It’s unfortunate how rarely he draws these days. His writing, unfortunately, is not good and continues to get worse. Many writers fall into habits and cliches of their own making as they get older or too comfortable but when someone’s writing was subpar to begin with, the result is insufferable.
I do have to wonder if some of McFarlane’s writing ticks stand out to me more given my familiarity with his work but it wouldn’t matter if I had never read a Spawn comic in my life, Batman/Spawn would still rub me wrong. I’ll cover a few different problems with the writing but the one that stands out above anything else is how inaccessible this comic is. So why is that? The Batman we get here is generic. Alfred is alive and he lives in the manor, implying none of the characters’ current continuity. That’s fine with me. In fact, that’s how I think a crossover like this should be handled. You want it to appeal broadly to Spawn readers, Batman readers, readers of both, or neither. Unfortunately, it’s everything else that’s the problem. The Joker makes an appearance but he’s the Joker from the Snyder/Capullo run with his face removed. Why? I can only assume Capullo wanted to draw him removing his dead skin mask because that’s pretty much all he does. This version of the character appeared in one story 11 years ago. In this comic, it’s out of place and potentially confusing to new readers.
In general, I wouldn’t want a creative team to dumb the story down to make it less confusing. I grant you, most people reading this comic probably did read Death of the Family. I just think they should avoid reference for the sake of reference and intercompany crossovers are a situation where the more universal the characterizations, the better. This should be a story that can be kept on the shelf for decades.
In addition, I think it’s fair to say many people reading Batman/Spawn have not been reading the monthly Spawn book. It just doesn’t have the same broad appeal. That’s where most of the inaccessibility comes from. Spawn’s continuity feels very intact in this story. For example, there is a lot of discussion about dead zones which I know were a hot topic in Spawn when I was reading it last year. The villains of this issue are the Court of Owls but they seem to have some sort of connection to Spawn and the Violator that I wasn’t even able to decode.
Speaking of which, I don’t understand the plot of this comic. Seriously. I don’t know why the events we see here happened. The plot doesn’t make sense!
The book starts with this some highly nonsensical narration from Spawn.
Ugh. just trying to interpret some of the writing in this issue gives me a headache. The only reason I felt like I could follow this at all is because of my familiarity with recent Spawn storylines, and indeed with McFarlane’s writing “style.”
I also have to make mention of the narration found throughout the comic. In the initial pages, it is all first-person from Spawn’s perspective. Then as the story gets moving it switches to a third-person omniscient view. McFarlane’s third-person narration is honestly the main reason I dropped Spawn so I am not happy to see it here. It’s even lettered the same way: brown boxes with yellow text. Yuck. There’s a lot wrong with this narration. For one, there is too much of it. Almost every panel has a box and frequently they serve no purpose.
I just showed you a panel where Batman lunges to grab a necklace and the narration tells you he lunges as the taunts continue.
Did I need to write a single word of that sentence? No. Neither did McFarlane. Everything is redundant, wordy, or otherwise tiring to read. From interviews, it sounds like this comic was produced with the “Marvel Method” (where the order of production is: plot, art, then dialogue). In my opinion, the Marvel Method is a purely detrimental way of working for both artists and writers in most cases. It makes telling a coherent or complex story more difficult, it often results in overwriting which covers up art, and it gives the artist too much responsibility (and I say that as an artist myself). Working full script does not have to curtail an artist’s ability to flex their sequential storytelling abilities but the Marvel Method forces them to essentially “write” the story themselves. I could go on and on about my problems with this production style but I digress. Back to Batman/Spawn.
I wasn’t into the plot either. Retconning Batman’s origin story is a major pet peeve of mine and we get a particularly bad example of that here. According to McFarlane, the Court of Owls caused the death of his parents to get Martha Wayne’s pearl necklace which has some kind of device in it that will allow them to “control a portal to the cosmos.” Again, I’m struggling to explain what happened in the story.
(I understood Final Crisis and I can’t understand Batman/Spawn. What kind of topsy-turvy world am I living in?!)
It’s odd how much implication there is that we are in the midst of a complex plot with many twists and turns for what, in the end, boils down to an excuse to draw Batman and Spawn beating each other into bloody pulps. I guess my point is that despite how confusing all the narration and dialogue make this story, you can pretty much get an equal value out of it if you don’t read anything and instead look at the art and create your own reasons for all the brawling.
Moving on to the art, I was surprisingly a bit underwhelmed. To be sure, there are a few spectacular splash pages in here but on the whole, I expected more. MacFarlane is inking Capullo’s pencils and I have to assume that that is the problem. I’m used to seeing Capullo inked by Jonathan Glapion or Danny Miki who lend Capullo’s pencil a much cleaner style that I find compliments his recent work. Capullo doesn’t draw the same way he did in the 90s either. McFarlane’s inks are rather heavy-handed and scratchy which works wonders over his own pencils but is now at odds with the way Capullo’s art has evolved. In the 90s, I think the fit was much better. For example, compare these pieces.
Capullo has simplified his style over the years to the point that McFarlane’s inking style is now a mismatch for it.
Despite that clash, these are still artists at the top of their game. For most people, I don’t expect this style clash is going to seriously reduce their enjoyment of the art. For me, it’s simply a bit disappointing. I still found plenty to enjoy.
- All you wanted was to see the characters fight
- You’re here for the art
- You’d like to support intercompany crossovers
I didn’t enjoy this but I am still planning to buy a copy, if only for the art and because I want to see more projects like this. I can’t say I’m surprised at the outcome. McFarlane has never been a good writer. His strength lies in not only art but ideas. Spawn is conceptually brilliant. His development of the world in the early days was great as well. McFarlane just doesn’t have the writing chops to execute it. To a certain extent, I feel the same way about this story. Lurking somewhere below the surface there is a good idea here.
After all this, I feel like I’ve trashed my man Todd too much so I also want to give him a shout-out. He isn’t my favorite artist of all time (still Top 10 easily) but he has had a greater effect on my art and even who I am as a person than any other artist. I’m generally not one to become personally attached to creators but as a source of inspiration and perspective, he has meant a lot to my artistic journey. In fact, I don’t know that I would be here writing for Batman News if not for him. So, I’ll close with a simple thank you regardless of whether I can recommend this comic or not.
Disclaimer: DC Comics provided a copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.