Off The Shelf: King Spawn #1

Sam reviews the newest entry in the Spawn Universe, King Spawn #1: written by Todd McFarlane and Sean Lewis, with art by Javi Fernadez and FCO Placencia.

Hello this is Sam with Church of the Geek, and just in time for Halloween I’m reviewing King Spawn #1. It’s hard to believe that Spawn started almost 30 years ago. Yes I picked up Spawn #1 back in ’92, along with Jim Lee’s WildC.A.T.S. and Marc Silvestri’s Cyber Force. Thirty years later those other titles are gone, but Spawn remains one of the longest-running creator-owned titles. King Spawn #1 presents one of the first new titles in the series for quite some time, and the anticipation for it was tremendous. When it debuted, it was the largest monthly title release for Image since 1996.

A great deal of that anticipation comes due to the creative team of Sean Lewis, Javi Fernandez and Todd McFarlane. To be honest, I quit reading and buying Spawn because I just didn’t like the art or the writing anymore. Greg Capullo had taken over some of the art responsibility and while I liked his other titles it just didn’t work for me. However this team has a lot going for it. Lewis is an award-winning playwright who specializes in exploring the minds of his characters. Fernandez worked on a number of DC titles, and his art here is grey and gritty, supporting the “noir-detective-from-hell” theme presented by Lewis. The colors by FCO Plascencia are muted and washed out, often with only the red of Spawn’s cape and his green glowing eyes piercing through the page.

King Spawn #1 presents itself as an anthology series. It features four different stories, with the main one focusing on Spawn as he tries to uncover the mystery surrounding the bombing of a school by a religious cult. The story features one of the main hallmarks of Spawn stories, the ongoing warfare between the agents of heaven and hell.

While there are some purposeful connections to Christianity and scripture in Spawn comics, the religion portrayed has very little in common with our own. While there is a god and a devil, the two have been portrayed as brothers, the children of an ancient creation goddess who have each been given the earth as their plaything. The only thing really separating good and evil here are the costumes. Heaven and hell have really little interest in humanity beyond controlling and manipulating them to the detriment of the other. The religious world of Spawn has much more in common with Gnosticism than it does with Christianity. Gnostics of the 1st and 2nd century considered the creator being of Genesis 1 and 2 to not be the authentic all-powerful God. Rather this god was the Demiurge or “craftsman” who Plato described as being a counterfeit and who the Syriacs called “the foolish one” or the “blind deity”. It was a deceitful being pretending to be all-powerful and demanding sacrifice and obedience for selfish reasons. Because the Demiurge is associated with material, corrupted world, it is an evil and flawed being. This, they believe, is the Abrahamic God of Christianity, Judaism and Islam.

That’s not to say that there aren’t parallels to Christianity in the Spawn universe, namely Christian fiction along the lines of “This Present Darkness” and other fictionalized takes on Christian spiritual warfare. In fact the parallels here are pretty remarkable. The book “This Present Darkness”, written by Frank Peretti in 1986, was probably the first Christian horror novel. It portrayed the battle between good and evil in very literal terms, with demons attacking the residents of a small town while angels fueled by the prayers of the faithful fight them off. Humans were seen as easy prey for demonic forces, and the intervention of humans through prayer was often seen as instrumental and even necessary for the forces of good to win. It was wildly popular in Christian circles, and fed off the same energy that informed and fed by the “satanic panic” of the 80’s.

Critics though, both Christian and secular, saw a lot of problems with books like “This Present Darkness”. Some found the portrayal of spiritual warfare to be more in common with Zoroastrianism and mystery religions than with scripture. Its portrayals of things such as the New Age had more in common with Chick Tracts than with actual reality, and its association of emotional problems such as depression with demonic forces often hurt more than helped. Peretti’s book, as well as many other spiritual warfare books, tend to rely on a few passages of scripture and then extrapolate vast demonic empires and angelic armies into the text.

This misreading of the text of the Bible happens here in King Spawn. The bomber in the beginning of the book quotes Psalm 137 as he detonates a backpack full of explosives: “blessed shall he be who takes your little ones and dashes them against the rock!” The cult revealed in the book also uses the death of the firstborn of Egypt and other passages to support their massacre of children. Their ultimate purpose has something to do with Spawn, but what that is remains to be seen.

Spawn himself remains a very interesting character: a former agent of evil who remembers his good past and tries to help those who are most vulnerable. Heck, he’s even defeated both god and Satan in order to prevent Armageddon. He’s a perfect antihero, attacked by both the forces of light and darkness because he belongs to neither.

There are three other short stories as well that bring in other characters to the Spawn universe: Haunt, Nightmare and Gunslinger Spawn. It’s not clear if these stories are meant to tie in to the “King Spawn” story or not though. And while these other characters apparently have back histories, none of them are revealed to the reader. They’re interesting, but lack the context a new or returning reader may need to really enjoy the book.

So is King Spawn good? Yes. I won’t say great though, mostly because if you’re unfamiliar with Spawn it’s a bit hard of a place to jump in. Especially a new series that should attract so many new readers. You can jump in with the main story and still enjoy it, but you won’t have the benefit of knowing all the characters and their relationships – especially the character of Spawn himself.

Oh and that Spawn #1 that I had? Sold it. For practically nothing.

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