Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Spawn #190

It's been ten years and a hundred issues since I finally laid my passion for this series to rest, severing my ties and removing it from my pull list. During that time I've grown, both as a person and as a reader, while I perceived Spawn as standing still in time, doing the same things in the same way over and over again. Whether that reputation was justified or not, I can't say – but on the occasions I would chance a peek at an issue to satisfy a certain, fleeting curiosity, the book did nothing but reinforce that belief. There's been little variety in this book, even when its focus shifts away from the title character, and that's what ultimately drove (and kept) me away. When you've read ninety issues of the same stuff, no matter how good it might be (and this wasn't always that good) you're going to start looking for something different.

For better or worse, a lot of that remains unchanged. The series is still like a bicycle with one gear, sticking to what it's always done and showing no interest in trying anything dramatically different. If anything, it's more set in its ways than it's ever been. Like I said, it's been ages since the last time I sat down with an issue of Spawn, but I didn't even need a recap page to jump right back in and feel like I was already up to speed. I can remember the excitement and adventure of this title's early days, when McFarlane was inviting the biggest names in the industry to come on board for an issue and tell a few stories in his sandbox. It was working – Neil Gaiman introduced us to Medieval Spawn and Angela, Alan Moore took a look at the Violator's lewd siblings, Frank Miller investigated a gang war in the streets of New York. It was headed somewhere genuinely different, and I wanted to be there when it arrived. It wasn't long, though, before McFarlane's baby had lost its way.

Now, Spawn fancies itself as the bringer of a much more subtle style of horror / fantasy, a goal which isn't always in sight. Gone are the more garish run-ins with costumed evildoers, complete with glowing hands, lime green eyeballs and constant blasts of gunfire. In their stead, this issue focuses on a much more pedestrian perspective. It's a good direction for the series, but even on the occasions that the plot is moving somewhere promising, McFarlane still isn't much of a writer. His cohort, Brian Holguin, doesn't exactly help the cause. For the amount of plot progression this issue makes, there's entirely too much dialog, and it's not the kind of stuff that's going to hold my attention. That transforms the issue from a ten-minute read into a half-hour sitting, which is enough to drain even the staunchest supporter.

The visual marriage between Image co-founders Whilce Portacio and Todd McFarlane looks just like it sounds. As a big fan of both artists back when they were in their prime, I noticed bits and pieces of each personality peeking through the panels at any given time, and the two have proven to be surprisingly compatible. Portacio's tendencies to over-detail and fill the page with stiff, blatantly postured characters have been restrained by McFarlane's inks. The Big Todd's predisposition for losing his focus and going over the top with his love for exaggeration is kept in check by Portacio's much more stern, vivid, realistic renderings. Together, they compensate for each other's shortcomings and respect each other's natural strengths. I see a lot of McFarlane when the panels are in close on a character's face, but it's almost all Portacio when the angle is a bit wider. It's still a good looking series, even with colorist Jay Fotos sapping the life out of every page with an unrelentingly dull, drab color palette. I get it, everything is bleak and the colors match the tone of the story, but he's hindering the artwork.

In this issue, my foregone conclusions were proven to be both right and wrong. Spawn is trying a few new things, and the book is currently enjoying a restored sense of direction, but it's going about things in the same old ways. It has no heart, there's a notable lack of passion in the writing, and it's still desperately in need of a major change in pace. This wasn't as bad as I'd feared, but it hadn't improved as much as I'd hoped. Flip through it and see if you can deal. It's worth a peek just to climb into the time machine and enjoy some fresh artwork from Portacio and McFarlane.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 3.5

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