The Things I Do For Comics – Spawn/Batman
As I’ve proven in the past few installments of this series, my gluttony for punishment knows no bounds. But I have perhaps been taking some cheap shots at some easy targets… going after the low hanging fruit. I mean, Extreme Justice can be accurately judged on its name alone. So today I’ve decided to set my sights on a high profile book created by two of the biggest names in 90s comics, starring two of the day’s most popular characters! It’s…
SPAWN / BATMAN
I wanna start off by saying that Spawn sucks. Now, before I get garrotted with an broken Iron Maiden cassette tape or something, let it be known that I was once a fan… when Spawn first showed up, it was hard not to be. First off, there was the comic. While it wasn’t exactly Proust, it was edgy compared to most of the comics accessible to a younger audience. Secondly, there was the badass toy line. These things were bigger than the Marvel and DC toys available at the time and they had awesome sculpts (even if they did often fall apart immediately upobn being removed from the package). And lastly, a few years later there was the HBO animated series. It had sex scenes and I think there might have been other scenes as well.
This comic, a prestige format one-shot, was released around two years after Spawn was introduced. So, while the character wasn’t as unbelievably popular as he initially was, Spawn was still a hot property and creator Todd McFarlane pretty much had a license to print money as the owner of this character. So when this book came around, McFarlane made what was actually a very clever move and got Frank Miller to do the writing. This was a great idea for two reasons: Firstly, Todd McFarlane is a piss-poor writer as evidenced in his half-assed stint on the ongoing Spawn book and his run on Spider-Man. Secondly, Frank Miller had written Batman before, and had amazing success doing so. In fact, he had written the most popular and best-regarded Batman stories in a long, long time and had yet to disappoint. Unfortunately for McFarlane, Batman, and readers everywhere, Frank Miller was hiding a horrible secret… in the intervening years, he had gone BATSHIT CRAZY.
So, what say we take a gander at the guts of this book! McFarlane himself did the art, so there’s that? And to make things more interesting, I want to keep score of a few of Frank Miller’s favorite tricks. Be on the lookout for the words “Punk”. You can even make it into a drinking game, if you’re Nicolas Cage’s character from Leaving Las Vegas.
So, the book opens up with Batman wades through a sea of heterographic homophones to investigate the salty smells of blood and sweat. I’m not about to open a vein just to double check, but going by memory alone I’d probably classify the smell of blood as “rusty” over “sweaty”. Then again, I didn’t write Robocop 3. Batman is on the waterfront, though, so the air would probably be overwhelmingly salty. I’ll forgive Batman and Frank Miller on that one. On the next page we sit Batman in better lighting and it’s revealed that he’s bleeding out from a wound to the shoulder.
Panels like this one really confuse me. Frank Miller may be insane, but somewhere inside the Ayn Rand-fueled mania of his mind there lies a great writer. In fact, he even did some worthwhile Sin City stuff after this book was released, so I find the left side of this panel sort of hard to believe. That’s got Todd McFarlane all over it… but if he co-wrote this story I doubt he would have turned down the credit. And there’s so much of Miller in the actual dialogue that it would have had to have been a very close collaboration. Perhaps Miller was aping Todd McFarlane’s clumsy narration. If that’s the case, then kudos to him, because it’s dead on in certain sections. Also? Let’s make a mark on the Punk-o-Meter.
After soundly thrashing a group of thugs, the Dark Knight stumbles upon a warehouse filled with cartoon shipping crates containing weapons. All kind of stuff, too… guns, grenades, rocket launchers and even weird Battle Gloves™ which are probably never going to appear again at all, right? As he’s sorting through the cache, a robot bursts through the wall and knocks Batman through a stack of crates. It looks like all is lost for the Caped Crusader. Surely, if DC were to kill off their chief cash cow it would be in the pages of an Image crossover! But wait! It looks like Batman might just walk away from this one after all, thanks to…
Here’s another panel that calls into question the authorship of this book. The left side is the same slipshod grandiose writing Todd McFarlane has always offered, but on the left is the demented rambling of a man who, in 1994, is still taking cheap shots at the Soviet Union. Is it really possible that the split this book’s narration down the middle?
Anyway, Batman uses the promising Soviet gloves to tear this robot a new asshole, which is probably the only one it has. As he tears away layers of machinery, he realizes there’s a living man inside of this colossus and sets about freeing him. Batman manages to free the man, or at least his head, from the machine before its self destruct sequence completes and is surprised to find that the head speaks English. Being a brilliant scientist and detective, he overlooks the fact that a severed head is speaking in the first place. It’s a moot point, though, because as soon as the cybernetic body explodes, the head stops moving.
Batman brings the head back to his basement, where he checks dental records to discover that it’s the noggin of one Louis Bacchus, a homeless man missing and presumed dead. Miller’s (or perhaps McFarlane’s?) Batman is exceptionally cruel and cold toward Alfred, dismissing the valet/father figure’s many attempts to serve tea and abruptly ordering his manservant around. But there’s business to be done this evening, he’s found a Soviet Hobo-Bot and he still hasn’t bumped into Spawn.
Batman heads to New York City, where Louis Bacchus was last seen, and starts asking questions among the homeless community. He hears rumblings of a magical bum named “Al”, but dismisses it as nonsense because he didn’t see a cyborg vagrant earlier that night or anything.All the while, we’re shown bits of a news story about Dr. Margaret Love, a humanitarian and philanthropist whose “Heal the World” program works for the rehabilitation of the homeless population. She wears wraparound sunglasses to award ceremonies and is visibly evil. But Batman doesn’t have time to watch television. It’s clear that whatever she’s up to, it’s not about protecting the homeless of New York City. It’s cool though, Spawn is already on the lookout for his missing friends.
And he arrives in this particular alleyway just in time to overhear two “sick jerks” plotting to set a homeless man on fire. Spawn decides to err on the side of caution here, and hangs back until they actually drop the match onto the gas-soaked hobo before he steps in to magically turn the fire back onto the aforementioned jerks.
So Spawn magics the gasoline right back at these guys , they react by shooting him in the chest a few times, and his kneejerk reaction is to burn them both alive. Typical fare for a Spawn comic, not entirely unheard of in New York City, but certainly not the kind of shit that Batman will sit idly by and watch. As far as he’s concerned, Spawn’s the bad guy here. He dropkicks Spawn from a rooftop, expecting him to be very, very seriously wounded and is extremely disappointed to find that he hasn’t crippled his target for life. Spawn and Batman tussle for a bit, each landing a few shots on the other. The thing is, Spawn’s a lot tougher than Batman because this book was Todd McFarlane’s idea and Batman doesn’t stand a chance in a fair fight. He tries in vain to land a few batarangs in Spawn’s softer areas and eventually, after deducing that Spawn has to breathe, decides to even the odds by filling the alley with nerve gas. As great a plan as it was, Spawn remembers that he’s magically strong and beats the shit out of Batman off camera. The Dark Knight high-tails it off into the night, but not before calling Spawn a punk a few more times.
So our heroes go their separate ways to lick their respective wounds. While they’re apart, Spawn sneaks into one of Love’s missions only to find a whole heap of high tech equipment and a hobo-robot poised for the kill. Spawn uses some of his hell magic to detach an arm from the Hobot (which is what I’ll be calling them from here on out) and fights fire with fire, so to speak. He POOMs the hell out of the Hobot with it’s severed arm cannon and blows it to bits.
Spawn recognizes the hobo within as his friend Chuck, and has a brief conversation with the severed head. The explosion also seems to have activated a VCR or LaserDisc player in the lab, because Spawn is treated to an expository speech by Margaret Love. He recognizes her from his days as a special agent. He doesn’t go into much detail, but she seems to have been a nasty piece of work back in those days so he’s gonna go ahead and stop her from making more Hobots. Strangely, Spawn puts Chuck’s head out of its misery by means of building-leveling explosion immediately after judging Margaret Love for her insane inhumanity.
Across town, the Dark Knight is liberally applying bandages and saying “punk” when he sees the bat-signal in the middle of Manhattan. When he follows the light to its source and finds it was Margaret Love who summoned him. Apparently, she’s supposed to be attractive (despite looking like a post-cataract surgery Aunt May Parker) and only Batman’s uncanny level of discipline stops him from springing a boner on sight.
Margaret tells the Caped Crusader that she’s hosting a big to-do later on the evening and the President might even drop by for a drink or two. She’s worried that Spawn will crash the party, so she asks Batman to do her a solid and bring him to justice tout de suite. Batman is so attracted to this strange woman that he stops being a master detective and blindly goes hunting after Spawn. He repeats himself a bit on the subject of punks and has Alfred somehow ship the Battle Gloves™ from earlier in the issue from Gotham to New York in no time at all. Is Gotham actually Newark? That would explain all of the violent crime Batman encounters on a nightly basis, I guess.
So Batman straps on his Battle Gloves™ and gets to work beating up a homeless man. The fight gets pretty hot and heavy, Batman doesn’t feel the need to hold back on this murderous demon vagrant and Spawn has no qualms about using his devil magic to settle Batman’s hash, especially since Bats is unknowingly working for a psychopathic war criminal. A lot happens in the next few pages, but here are the highlights:
Spawn also lands a few “idiots” before a small army of Hobots arrive to finish off the heroes. Batman gets really, really messed up in this scene. Like, he’ll be dead in seconds because a robot burst an artery in his arm. This guy is really having an off night. In 1994, he’d been around for 55 years and had established a reputation as the smartest, toughest, most resourceful guy in the known world, but it seems like he was a big fish in a small pond back in Gotham; One night in Manhattan and he’s an accident prone buffoon. Anyway, Spawn does some boring vague magic on the robots that breaks them and then heals Batman with a different color of magic.
While Batman is under the influence of blue magic, Spawn also performs a mind meld and shares his memories of Margaret Love with Batman (but strangely, not with the audience). He also learns a thing or two from watching Batman’s memories, and having seen the goodness in one another’s hearts, they set off into the night to crash Love’s boat party!
And not a moment too soon, I should mention! Right that very minute, Margaret Love is giving a speech to the guests of her fundraising benefit (thankfully, the president is nowhere to be seen), and she’s added some kind of mind control chemical to the punch. Between that and her sexy persuasive ways, she has no problem convincing them that the true problem facing the Earth is one of overpopulation…. or maybe population, period? The rehabilitation plan is heavily reliant on the detonation of nuclear weapons, and it seems as the endgame is the annihilation of all human life on this planet. So why the boat? Sure, the missiles were going to be launched from it, but why have a party on this boat? I mean, if the President is on the guest list, won’t the contents of the cargo hold be under heavy scrutiny? I’d probably rent out very expensive ballroom and promise to pay them the next day. I will admit, though, that I sincerely did enjoy the last bit of narration in this scene.
Elsewhere on the ship, Batman and Spawn make short work of the guards. Frank Miller reminds us that he hates Superman by likening Spawn’s intelligence to that of “Clark”. The reluctant duo take out a few more Hobots and arrive just in time to see Love impaled on a hunk of shrapnel. With her final sexy, silver-haired breath she initiates the nuclear warhead launch, targeting Manhattan. Thankfully, Spawn has enough Deus Ex Machina magic left to teleport himself and Batman onto the speeding missile in time and defuse it and apparently knock it out of the sky and into the East River. Once the city is safe, Spawn teleports them both back to his alley where they play a brief round of the dozens. Spawn very reasonably suggests that he and Batman put aside their differences in light of the evening’s evenings, but Batman responds by throwing a sharp object into Spawn’s face. For realsies.
Oy. This one was rough, I tells ya. The 50-some pages of this book really didn’t accomplish anything aside from making Batman look like a nutcase who was losing his grip on reality. But I guess you have to write what you know, right? Credit where credit’s due, though? Miller and McFarlane did a pin-up in the back of this book, and Miller could still draw a damn fine Batman at this point. His style had definitely changed again since The Dark Knight Returns, but it was still a damn sight better than anything McFarlane put on paper during this project.
Well, what do you say we have one last look at the board?
Not too shabby, Frank Miller. Not too shabby at all.
In all fairness, as awful as this book is there was another team-up between these two heroes over at DC called Batman/Spawn: War Devil that is even worse. This one is very bad, but at least it’s bad enough that you can’t take your eyes off of it. Batman/Spawn: War Devil was just dull, and it was made by professionals who wanted the paycheck but didn’t care about the characters. This book’s creative team was half maniac and half self-important clown, so at least it’s a fascinating train wreck.
As always, hit me up in the comments with any requests for future installments. Thanks for reading, gang!
Martian Luthor Kang is a bitter, jaded man whose cantankerous behavior belies his relative youth. He currently resides in an apartment with a remarkably tolerant woman and upwards of a thousand DVDs, most of which are owned ironically.
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Posted on October 11, 2013, in COMICS!, Reviews, The Things I Do For Comics and tagged 90s, Batman, DC, Frank Miller, Image, Spawn, The Things I Do For Comics, Todd McFarlane. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.