Sunday, 18 May 2014

Spawn (#10) Guest Starring Cerebus The Aardvark

"C'mon.  Cerebus will take you home" - Cerebus

Another guest appearence by Cerebus, this time in the pages of Spawn back in 1992.  First a little
background though, which is relevant I promise.  In 1992 several "superstar" artists left Marvel to form Image, a company made up of multiple studios each headed up by one of the artists in question. The studios were: Todd McFarlane's Todd McFarlane Productions, Marc Silvestri's Top Cow Productions, Jim Lee's Wildstorm Productions, Erik Larsen's Highbrow Entertainment, Jim Valentino's ShadowLine, and Rob Liefeld's Extreme Studios.  For the purposes of this blog, the most important ones were/are Todd McFarlane's, Jim Lee's and Rob Liefelds. All three because Alan Moore worked for them during the 1990's, Jim Lee's because ABC span off from it and Rob Liefeld's because several of it's properties have received recent successful (and excellent) reboots that I'll be covering one day. 

Today we're looking at Spawn, a property of Todd McFarlane and the only one of the initial Image line-up to stay in continuous publication since the launch of the company.  At the start Image comics proved hugely popular, selling in their millions off the back of younger male fans who had taken to the simple, darker, grittier, more violent anti-heroes ironically inspired by the more literate and complex Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns and adult fans whose enthusiam was fueled by the speculator boom.  However, while the books proved popular successes off the back of the striking art, they were being panned critically for the quality of the writing pretty much out the gate.  The books were being written by the artists themselves and it soon became clear talent in one field did not always equal talent in another.  Seems obvious now, but here's an excerpt from the Rob Liefeld penned film script "Icons" about the founding of Image and this is what Todd Mcfarlane had to (maybe) say about comicbook writers back then:

Well that attitude soon changed.  Before Spawn had even reached double figures McFarlane hired Neil Gaimen, Alan Moore, Frank Miller and Dave Sim to write an issue each.  And the Dave Sim penned issue featured Cerebus.. sortof. It looks like Cerebus, but he knows he's a fictional character here.  It's set in a "dream world" and a place where other comic characters are imprisoned.  It's all very meta and weird.  Unlike The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Spawn maybe isn't as familiar to everyone. He is a hellspawn who used to be an CIA assassin called Al Simmons.  He was murdered and sent to hell and made a deal with the demonic being Malebolgia to see his wife one more time, but was returned to earth five years later and with no memory of his previous life.
Spawn Is Granted Power By Superman and Others.
 The first part of this strange, elliptical tale sees a Spawn who is not Spawn and has all the memories Spawn doesn't seem to have at this time (I don't know much about Spawn, just what wikipedia says, so forgive any errors I make about him Spawn fans).  He thinks about his Hell Guide, The Violator (who we'll be returning to later in this blogs life), and his tower and the Seventh Floor which he does not know about, and because he is Spawn who is not Spawn he can draw on powers Spawn does not have and so travels to that floor.
"Oh Todd You're The Bestest, Love Dave Sim"
He finds a prison full of obvious Marvel and DC characters and a row of hooded, weeping figures.  The characters all give Spawn their power and he strikes a blow against the Violator (who is not the Violator) who is huge, with a dress made of "a billion dollars" although he fails to damage him/her (I think The Not!Violater might be a metaphor for the mainstream comic industry here).  Then a leather jacketed Cerebus appears as the world turns black and white.  Not!Spawn has questions:

Not!Spawn: "Who...who are they?" [about the prisoners]


Not!Spawn: "And these men?" [about the hooded figures]

Not!Cerebus: "Their creators.  The ones who sold them."

Then the world turns back into colour as Not!Cerebus returns Not!Spawn to his wife and kid, and he disappears, leaving Spawn holding his daughter and saying he'd had a terrible dream. The End. Huh. The wikipedia entry about Spawn isn't super detailed, and I assume this issue was rendered non-canon right away because it's not actually Spawn, he doesn't go back to his family and he has access to memories he shouldn't have at this point.
Spawn And Cerebus
 As far as I can figure out then, the story is basically a love letter to Todd Macfarlane, for breaking away from Marvel, for starting up his own publishing studio and not selling out his creation like had happened to the superheroic icons created by artists and writers working for the "Big Two" (Marvel and DC).  Well, he may not have sold Spawn to anyone, but Macfarlane sure rented him out a great deal.  A crappy movie, a cartoon series, a range of toys (the most lucrative of his properties), even having Spawn be the Xbox version of Soul Calibur II's secret fighter, I mean I could go on.  Now all this happened after Dave Sim wrote this issue, but the fact that several years later Macfarlane - with Spawn fully prostituted and abandoned by his creator- gets the dubious pleasure of a role in the worst Cerebus book of the series, shows that Dave Sim's concept of selling out is a somewhat hypocritical one when it comes to his bro's. 

Still the issue is worth a look if you are serious about Cerebus, and I have to say  I like MacFarlane's artwork on this issue. It has a gothic grandeur about it, with the huge brooding figure of Spawn contrasting with the small cartoony Cerebus in an incongruous but somehow pleasing way.  You'll have to track down the issue as an individual one, it was left out of the trade paperbacks that have been published, due to the aforementioned non-canonicity ( or possibly copyright, though that hasn't happened with the Cerebus/Turtles story)I assume.  I bought it brand new and never taken out of it's bag for a couple of quid on eBay. It's only essential if you want a complete Cerebus or Spawn collection though, an oddball, messy novelty otherwise.

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