Al Simmons was your ordinary government assassin, until one day he was killed in the line of fire. Making a deal a demon lord named Malebolgia, Simmons is promised that he can return to Earth to see his wife Wanda but he must become a Hellspawn and serve in the demon’s army. Now Spawn has a choice: give in to his darker side and commit acts in the name of Hell, or overcome the evil that’s inside of him and become a hero.
Today I’m looking at the first episode of Todd McFarlane’s Spawn, “Burning Visions.”
1. Spawn: The Animated Series.
I guess it makes complete sense that Spawn would get his own animated series – practically everyone had one during the nineties, so why not one of the popular books of the decade? The good news is, Spawn’s animated series isn’t terrible and it’s certainly better than the live-action movie that came out the same year.
Whether or not this series is a faithful adaptation isn’t a question I can answer. I can count the total amount of Spawn comics I’ve read on two hand and still have fingers left over (It’s also be a long time since I read them).
2. It’s Not TV. It’s HBO.
Here’s how “Burning Visions” opens: a man is blasted away with a shotgun, we get a slow-motion shot of a bullet passing through a man’s leg, we watch a man covered in petrol burn to death and a gangster shoots himself after Spawn snaps his arm and redirects his gun to his head. There’s a lot of blood. In 2017, that level of violence probably doesn’t seem too extreme –especially on a HBO show– but this was 1997; these were the very early days of what would become The Golden Age of prestige television. The violent prison drama Oz wouldn’t air on HBO until July that year, while The Sopranos premiere was still two years away.
Spawn really leans into its TV-MA rating, not just with the violence but with its more adult material. When we’re introduced to mob boss Tony Twist he’s swearing a blue streak while wearing a mankini (although the shadows make him look naked most of the time), while two leather-clad women fool around on his bed.
Adults Only, guys.
3. Now That’s What I Call Dark!
This show is dark, and I mean that in the most literal way possible. During the scenes set at night the character models are monochromatic, or mostly shadow. There are multiple shots where 90% of the screen is absolutely black with the only colour being either Spawn’s glowing green eyes or the red of his cape. You barely see all of his costume. He’s mostly depicted as a shadowy body wrapped in a flowing cape and you only get a more detailed look in close-up shots. It’s a nice aesthetic that really sells the mood and creates a very gloomy and mysterious atmosphere. It’s very reminiscent of Batman: The Animated Series, which isn’t surprising as the series’ Supervising Director is Eric Radomski, co-creator of B:TAS.
4. What’s In A Voice?
Having Keith David voice Spawn is one of the most perfect casting decisions of all time. It’s Mark Hamill as The Joker, Kevin Conroy as Batman good.You want a voice that delivers lines with intense authority that instill fear in anyone who hears them? You get Keith David. He also sells Spawn’s pain so well; his reading of those lines ooze with sadness and anguish.
Richard Dysart sounds great as Cogliostro and the show’s narrator, and so does Michael Nicolosi as the Clown. Unfortunately, most of the other voices range from okay to terrible. Tony Twist’s voice sounds like someone doing the world’s worst Pee Wee Herman impression – if Pee Wee Herman also smoked and ate a carton of cigarettes everyday. He’s supposed to be this fearsome mob boss, but sounds so distractingly goofy. A lot of secondary characters’ lines sound like they’re the first and only take.
5. Spawn Begins.
For a first episode, “Burning Visions” is pretty good. We get some solid introductions to the key players: Spawn is tortured, Cogliostro is mysterious, Clown is an asshole, and Tony Twist is a cartoonsh mob caricature. McFarlane,Radomski and Alan B. McElroy (who’s responsible for developing it for television) clearly have a specific vision of how they want to approach this. It’s got the stylish aesthetic of B:TAS, but manages to bring in more adult issues and themes to the table and treats them with genuine maturity (for the most part, at least). There’s a lot of questions on the table now: How did Simmons die? What is Wynn’s endgame? What happens if Spawn finally gives into his dark side? Hellspawn aren’t supposed to remember their past life, so why does Spawn kind of remember his?