Image Comics Anniversary Review & Spoilers: Spawn #250 by Todd McFarlane, Szymon Kudranski, Jonboy & FCO Plascencia

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SPAWN #250 Review & Spoilers
untitled (59 pages)
Story by: Todd McFarlane
Art by: Szymon Kudranski (pp. 1-58), Jonboy (p. 59)
Colors by: FCO Plascencia
Letters by: Tom Orzechowski
Covers by: Todd McFarlane; Greg Capullo; Skottie Young; Jock; Sean Murphy; Philip Tan
Publisher: Image Comics
Cover Price: $5.99

The longest-running Image title puts a nice cap in its feather, or should I say a link in its chain?? 250 issues in this modern era of reboots and re-launches and needing a new number one every year makes this book the rarest of breeds.

Disclaimer: this is the very first time I have ever read a Spawn book. I’m familiar enough with the character having watched the live-action movie and the animated series when his popularity peaked in pop culture circa 1997. Don’t look down on me too much, dear readers!

A milestone issue deserves a hefty story. This book clocks in at 68 pages and has some weight to it, literally and figuratively. No ads!! Very little filler: just 7 pages worth plus the cover.

Let me backtrack and preface my review thusly: thank goodness I perused through the entire issue. I was relieved to see the recap page on the second-last page just before the back cover. Note: the cover and back count as actual pages. Pretty neat, huh?? At any rate, reading the blurb (almost with a magnifying glass) allowed me to piece together certain things. This is a continuation of the previous issue. Plus, I’m glad that there were character bios especially for a neophyte like me. What’s with the fine print?

This book is divided in this fashion:

1-14 – narration
15-20 – Marc and Jim/Spawn
21 – Sara and Clown
22-27 – Jim vs. Spawn
28-29 – petty human problems
30-34 – Sam & Twitch
35-48 – Jim vs. Spawn
49-50 – Sam & Twitch
51-59 – Al Simmons returns!

To simplify, I will label these ‘chapters’.

Chapter One emphasizes the crisis at hand. These fourteen pages are quite verbose as the narration and dialogue overtake every panel. It’s to be expected that the response to this unnatural manifestation of all things ugly would be one of disgust, fear, and all-out panic. The newscasts seem necessary and roundtable discussions also cast a light on things but I find it’s a bit much for the story. The images would’ve sufficed, mainly with the formation of letters or numbers by the myriad of creepy crawlies. I get that there has to be the ‘human angle’ or a ‘slice-of-life’ but the slow build is more befitting of prose.

Chapter Two gets down to the nitty-gritty. Even a n00b like me knows that the mantle/curse of Spawn is borne/bestowed upon Jim Downing, the ‘lucky’ successor to Al Simmons. Finally, the main story begins to unroll. Jim in his new guise as an angelic Spawn whisks away Marc Rosen to his apartment. Marc was on the phone with his girlfriend Susan Mathews trying to calm her before he was so rudely interrupted. Firstly, Jim tells Marc that Susan is not to be trusted and that she is an enemy. Secondly, the unending masses of critters is Hell wanting to take back Jim, or specifically his Spawn costume. Marc, the lowly human, is immensely incapable of dealing with this supernatural snafu. He suggests that Jim retrieve his girlfriend Sara Johnston to help him deal with the situation. Jim refuses since she would be an expendable pawn in the struggle. He goes all scary face on Marc and commands him to retrieve Sara. He then bursts through the wall and flies away. As he crashes through buildings, he causes the death of three people. He has no time for guilt.

Chapter Three is a one-page interlude between Susan and Clown a.k.a. Violator. Isn’t it a kwinkydink that Jim suspects this woman? The conversation seems a bit shadowy. No wonder Jim doesn’t trust her!! Susan is a siphon for the Spawn. The Clown wants to know if she feels any power within her. She affirms this but mentions that two main colours persist: green and black, more so the absence of light. Clown informs her the prominence of black is a retaliation from Hell and that the bugs are not just due to Downing’s breakdown. He points out the obvious connection to evil but also mentions that it is a source of power, or both. Enough said.

Chapter Four is the knockdown between Jim and his symbiote. Some mild threats are uttered and clichés are thrown around with some drawn-out narration.

Chapter Five gets back to all forms of government converging to provide a feasible solution. The military is completely powerless in this situation.

Chapter Six spotlights the detective duo of Sam & Twitch. These two have been around for a very long time (since #1) and are key supporting cast members. Twitch gets some files on Jim Downing from a young officer. Sam tells him that all hands are on deck to deal with the pandemonium. Twitch curses and provides Sam with a shocking discovery: Jim isn’t the healer he himself thought he was. For every person he has touched, poison sets in and kills them all. The numbers 1, 5, 7 play a key role in all this [more on that later]. S&T see the urgency in finding Jim. Sam is pleased with Twitch’s out-of-the-ordinary feistiness. Twitch makes a quick call to his wife as the odd couple head out in search of a fallen angel.

Chapter Seven resumes the brawl in a fourteen-page sequence. Everything seems run-of-the-mill as far as combat goes until Jim and Spawn arrive at Al Simmon’s graveyard. I have to say I didn’t expect it to be in some dark alley with the tag “King is Ded” in neon green. A battle of wills ensues. Jim seems to have the upper hand. Al’s suicide allowed him to break free of the symbiote’s grip and also revived Jim from his prolonged coma. A literal line is drawn by Jim as he explains to his tormentor that there is a sliver of the Dead Zone at the very spot they are in. Essentially, this is neutral territory. An emissary from Heaven or Hell is powerless. Jim tells the hellspawn that Al had the trump card: God did not forsake the site of his death. Without getting into the religious ramifications of it all, the costume refuses to believe that Al’s suicide was a saving grace from God since Al despises the Maker as well as all demons. Jim thinks that it was done out of spite for both sides. Jim is just as frustrated and ready to give it all up. He challenges the symbiote to come at him by crossing the line. There will be no resistance. Nevertheless, the demon hesitates because the truth always hurts. This next part is actually cool. While behind the line, Jim wonders the outcome of contact from the other side of the Dead Zone. He makes a fist and places it right in the Spawn’s maw. CHOMP!! What happens afterwards is that both parties gasp for air. This is followed by the cracking of the earth as green light emerges and swallows the symbiote. It seems like Jim won after all but the victory is short-lived and anticlimactic as an enormous hand grabs this throat and pulls him in. Balance. The green on the graffiti glows intensely.

Chapter Eight brings us back to S&T. Both men realize they are getting on in years in terms of dealing with this catastrophe. Twitch really worries about the downfall of man since survival instincts bring out the worst in everyone. Sam inadvertently provides the angle to the enigma of the ‘numbers’ formed by the bugs. They are letters that were upside down. As Twitch reverses the ‘numbers’, he crosses the Roman numeral five creating an ‘A’. As soon as that it is done, their car is swarmed by “a sea of a billion creatures”. The narrator posits that the survivors and historians will call this the “Black Tsunami effect”. Oh no! I really hope S&T make it out of their predicament.

Chapter Nine brings this tale to an end. The swarm is relentless. Darkness engulfs all of New York City. Everything is pitch black. God did not allow this tragedy to unfold. It was the human condition. Man is always nihilistic. Just as it seems that end of days has arrived, a green light pierces through and expands. The three numbers are mentioned in terms of their importance. That tag on the wall was more significant than most realized — the King comes back to life! Amidst the blazing light, the darkness dissipates as the bugs vanish. NYC is awash in a sea of light before night falls. It seems as if ALL evil has been eradicated. Chains appear, followed by spiked boots, a glimpse of a face, the flapping of a cape, a full page of a bolt of light as rebirth occurs — for the city, for life in general, and for Al Simmons! Oh, snap!! The originator, not the imitator has returned. To be continued…

All in all, not a bad read. I found most chapters excruciatingly long but got the gist of it all. As I already stated, I never read a single issue beforehand. I know of McFarlane’s earlier days drawing Amazing Spider-Man. I never looked at his written work. That being said, despite this being his ultimate creation, images would have been more effective versus the diction. This momentous occasion signals Al’s second round in the game but having him reappear on the last page to purposely continue the story defeats the purpose. It may be unfair for me to critique, considering I’ve not followed previous plot threads but I find this gives too tidy of an end to Jim and to good conquering evil.

I came across Szymon Kudranski’s illustrations with DC’s Penguin: Pain and Prejudice. I know he’s also done some back-up stories on Detective Comics. Szymon’s art is scratchy and rough in all the right places. This is quite apparent with the symbiote’s depiction as well as the alley scene where everything comes to a head. Mr. Kudranski adds many contours to each character’s face making Sam seems every bit as paunchy as his physique and rendering Twitch a withered waif.

Having Jonboy only draw the last page puts a giant question mark over my head. I put together two-and-two once I saw the ad for his next project — Spawn: Resurrection which will explain in detail Al’s new lease on life. I’m just gonna say it: I don’t like the end result. His face seems like a toned-down Venom, the belt buckle evokes Ghost Rider, and the two ginormous claws make me think of Wolverine. For all intentions and purposes, it’s a full page spread to relay dramatic effect.

FCO Plascencia really dries the inkwell especially with the completely dark panels. Aside from that, he provides a fine equilibrium between the pale faces and well-lit city versus the charcoal-coloured costume and cluster of all things nasty.

Either my eyesight is getting worse or the lettering was pretty much microscopic. This is no dis to Tom Orzechowski. The man did a superlative job (or is that diminutive?). I have to bow down to this individual for the amount of words alone. Plus, did he do the recap page? If so, more power to him but I practically needed a microscope under a strong luminous source to decipher it all.

Before I give the rating, here are some extras:

    Numbers game

:

Sam and Twitch (mostly Twitch) have quite the ball figuring out the significance of 1, 5, 7.

a. 5,1,7 = 47. One in front of Roman numeral five (V) makes four. Leave the seven alone and you get forty-seven.
b. 7/15 1:57 a.m. — The day (July 15th) and time Jim Downing came out of his coma. This is also when the mysterious green light appeared.
c. 571 — The number of the department of the Secret Security where Al was previously employed.
d. 5/17 — The action takes place ‘today’: May 17th.
e. A L I — The numbers inverted with the ‘V’ having a cross to make it an ‘A’. Al is obvious but what about the ‘I’?
f. 7:51 p.m. — The narrator states the time as complete darkness enshrouds the city. This time marks Al’s rebirth.
g. L I V — Part of a sign (perhaps ‘LIVE’) that goes along with the phrase: “Long live the king.”
h. My own observation — part of the word ‘evil’ — e V I L, emphasized by the caption “No evil” as the single beam of light strikes the Big Apple.

    What the bleep?

Given that this is an Image book, I’m a little disappointed at the minor censorship. At the same time, I find it amusing how the F-word is suppressed: with a number sign and an asterisk. LOL

Long-life fans of Spawn: rejoice!!! Your anti-hero has been brought back. I’ll give you a simple math question to figure out how I rate this — 2 + 5 + 0.

Sayonara!

SPAWN 250 logo

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