The 10 Best 'Spawn' Comics According to Todd McFarlane
We chat with the artist about reaching Spawn #350 and ask him to name the best issues from his historic run.
Welcome to our Creator Corner, our reoccurring interview series, where we chat with the coolest and most thought-provoking creators in the comics industry. In this entry, we're conversing with Todd McFarlane about the best Spawn comics. Listen to the unedited audio HERE.
There's nothing I love more than ranking my favorite comics. I have my master list. I have lists devoted to various sub-genres, creators, and characters. Crafting a Best Of list is very personal, and everyone reading this sentence will have an opinion on how to go about it and whether or not your list is accurate. Frankly, I'm less interested in where a particular comic falls on your ranking than why you think it falls where it does. Lists are not the destination; they're the beginning. Lists are not an attack; they're merely conversation starters.
I have my favorite Spawn comics. Undoubtedly, you have your favorite Spawn comics. Todd McFarlane has his favorite Spawn comics. They're probably not your faves, and they're not my faves either (although, a few of them would make my cut for sure).
McFarlane has devoted the last thirty-one years to Spawn. Early next year, the comic will hit its 350th issue. Take a moment and bask in that for a bit. With Spawn #301, he entered the Guinness Book of World Records for the longest-running creator-owned superhero comic. Since then, he's cranked out forty-nine more issues. It would be a massive milestone for any series to reach fifty issues, let alone three hundred and fifty.
We've been lucky enough to chat with Todd McFarlane on a few other occasions (The Batman/Spawn Crossover, Spawn's Religious Origins). To celebrate the character's upcoming milestone, we wanted the artist to take us on a trip through his favorite moments from the series. What were the ten best Spawn comics, according to him? What were the moments that shaped this historic comic book run?
Before we get into the specifics, McFarlane had to establish his point of view regarding Best Of lists and why his favorites might not match your favorites.
"Some of the answers I'll give you," he said, "they don't have to be an event. They don't have to be big things that are blaring on the cover. Sometimes, oddly enough, it's just a line. I planted a line someplace, and I've got literally hundreds of these lines, and I keep encouraging writers to pull on those threads."
McFarlane purposefully built his universe so others could play in it. When new writers and artists join Spawn's domain, he doesn't necessarily dictate where they should go or what they should create. He hopes they'll spot what he's left dangling. In some cases, they have. In other cases, they most definitely have not.
"Again," McFarlane continued, "my stupid one that I keep telling the writers is like, 'Hey, you know the clown? Where does he go at night?' I'm up to 350 issues. I've never written it. I could, but I've actually left that. Where does he go? What does he do when prying eyes aren't on him? I don't know. Those are the curiosities. That's me painting on this canvas. I've been painting over here for 30 years, and all of this is still blank. I'm looking for people to help me paint the blank stuff, not paint over my own strokes, which is what most people want to do, which is aggravating. They just want to do like Todd-light."
So, now, with all that in mind, let's venture below. Let's see the lines, the moments, and the comics that stand out amongst these three hundred and fifty issues. Here are the ten best Spawn comics according to Todd McFarlane's criteria.
Todd McFarlane: There's an issue early on where he supposedly met God and it was a woman, and the last line on it was - and this is even pre-Matrix - it was, "He's the one." Now again, what does that mean? I have a few ideas in my head, but again, it's a big line. Why would God even know who he is and why would God even say that?
Todd McFarlane: Then not too many issues earlier, there was one where Spawn - it's a little bit like E.T. - was taken in a Radio Flyer. Some kid picked him up and put him in his Radio Flyer and took him to the house, and he found out that the dad, who was a single dad or whatever, was a bit of a drunk and beat his kids.
And so he thought, I'll just take care of this and I'll just tattoo the dad so that it says, "I beat my kids." Just to remind him, its basically a scarlet letter. And the end of it was that Spawn leaves. Done, solved it. And then the dad, basically, because he's got the tattoos that he can't get rid of, gets angrier, he doesn't settle down, he gets angrier and he starts beating the kids twice as hard, and the dad was a sheriff, and so at the end of it, one of the kids to protect his baby brother from getting beaten up even more, goes and grabs a gun and shoots dad dead.
Todd McFarlane: Now, the reason that's important to me was that it sets the tone. Being a hero, you don't get to be God because you can't just be cavalier and say I'm going to save the day and not really think about your actions. And in this case, he did something without thinking about all the ramifications that might happen, and he left. So the problem is, is that years later when those two kids, which they did, showed up in the back alley and Spawn's like, "What? What are you two guys doing here?" They're like, "Oh, we had to kill our dad and now we're wanted, and so we just ran away." So now he literally created orphans who are wanted by the law, where he thought he was going to fix the problem. It was a moment to just go, you got to give a little bit of thought process to what you're doing
Todd McFarlane: I took Spawn away in 185. He went away, and this character Jim Downing came. And Spawn, to me, in my mind, from 185 to 250, when he came back, up to 185, he'd been reluctant to play the game. And he's like, "I don't want anything to do with this. I don't want to be a hero. Just leave me alone. I just want to be human. I want to go live with my wife, I don't need any of this." Now, again, his mentor was saying, "Dude, that train has left the station a long time ago, so stop with this impossibility." But again, Spawn was emotional and was just like, "No, no, no." But when he went away, in my mind, he matured.
Todd McFarlane: And so he came back and in the meantime what he was doing, and I'm going to oversimplify, he was reading the rule book. And so he now knows, "I can't get out of the game. I'm in this game, I'm going up against evil. Evil comes in a lot of forms, both from earth, heaven, and hell, and you know what, you know how they used to come and hassle me, and I used to go, 'Hey, leave me alone.' I'm going to fucking turn it on them and I'm coming after them and I'm going to make it so that they're the ones that say, leave me alone."
Spawn Resurrection #1
Todd McFarlane: And then the piece that ends up happening was that his wife, who he's been lamenting about, which is really the reason he even exists, is killed. And so, oh, that piece is gone now, dude, your whole reason for existing to some extent is because you want to get back to your wife.
There is no wife. She's gone. Now what? Now what are you going to do? And so his new goal, then, is to basically not have anybody have to go through what he is going through. So he locked the Dead Zones, because these were the portals where people were coming, heaven and hell were coming, and he goes, "No more." Why? Because a lot of writers used it as a crutch. Everything was angel, demon, angel, demon, angel, demon. I got bored of it.
The Scorched #1
Todd McFarlane: So I go, "No, I'm going to lock it." And then it's like, okay, whoever is left on Earth that came through that portal, he's going to hunt them down one at a time. Might take him the rest of his natural life, but that's his goal. "Oh, by the way, you know what? If I start a new team, the Scorched, and some other recruits, maybe I can do it a lot faster." And if you're going to go to war, it's not a one-person gig. But as I've said, to me, he's moved from being Conan the Barbarian to King Conan.
And he now understands, like in Game of Thrones, that you don't have to go on the battlefield to potentially destroy your enemy. There are other ways to do it. There are smart ways to do it. You just take away their power, you take away their influence, you take away their money. You don't have to always lop their head off with a broad sword. And so he's playing that game of trying to rid the earth of temptation. I mean, his goal simply right now is be gone, Hell. Be gone, Heaven. Because he considers both of them the same.
Let us mere humans, flawed as we are, just live our lives and I'm sure we're going to mess ourselves up and we're going to do a bunch of stupid stuff, and eventually I'm sure we're going to blow ourselves up, because we're just that dumb. But let us do it on our own time. Why do you have to keep coming in here and turning up the heat one way or the other, or creating chaos or whatever it is? Why? Just get away from us, take temptation away. So that that's his ongoing mission right now.
And like I said, I could point to certain parts in here that show that at times the worst son of a bitch in the book is an angel. Because again, I'm not religious, so it's easy for me to mess around with this. I keep saying Heaven and Hell are the same thing. It's just one has a better PR firm, but they both want the same thing.
Spawn #300 / Spawn #301
Todd McFarlane: We knew 300 was going to be a big moment for two reasons. 300, I started Amazing Spider-Man around 300. So it was like, "Oh, okay, cool, I get to come back to that anniversary number." And then 301, that set the world's record for longest-running creator-owned book. And it was where I planted the seed - there's a crack in time, what I call a rip in time. That I knew was going to then spill a couple of years later into the event that became the new comic books of 2021, our new monthly titles, right? King Spawn, Gunslinger Spawn, and The Scorched.
Todd McFarlane: But 350 is the culmination. I'm ending a story that has been swirling in my head for literally a couple decades, and just adding 50 issues to what was already a world record. I was having a conversation with Eric Stephenson, publisher at Image, and we were talking and I was like, "Hey, forget the world record," which took me a long time to get to. Throw 300 issues out, throw it out, throw 300 issues out, literally take the world record away. It took me whatever it was, 27 years, whatever. Throw that out, give everybody amnesia. I still added 50, I still added 50, and we were trying to figure out how many [Image] books had gotten past issue 50 outside of the partners' books, because we'd been there the longest. And we could only come up with, I think, three books and we may have missed one, because he came back with one I think a little bit later.
It's not a handful. It's one hand at the most, and we could only come up with three. Maybe there's a four. And that's in 30 years. We've had four or five in 30 years, and it's a little bit disappointing because it's like, "30 years? That's a long time." It takes four and a half years to get to 50 issues.
So here's my question to the community, to my peers, how many of you have been in the business four and a half years? That'd be 90% of you. You were drawing for those four and a half years and you were writing for those four and a half years. So it's not like you weren't working, you were working. It's odd that why weren't you doing it for something that was yours?
That's a great question, Todd. Why? What to hear him answer that, and drill down a little further. Join the Comic Book Couples Counseling Patreon.