Spawn is a Comic Book telling the story of commando Al Simmons, who is betrayed by CIA spook Jason Wynn and murdered by his friend and teammate Chapel (later retconned as Priest, a Distaff Counterpart of Chapel). The character first appeared in Malibu Sun #13 (May 1992), created by Todd McFarlane.
After his death, Al meets a devil named Malebolgia, and his Dragon Violator (who goes disguised as a clown in the mortal realm). He makes a Deal with the Devil in an attempt to go back to his "loving" wife Wanda. He comes back as a Nineties Anti-Hero with a living costume and Green Goo powers, powerful but finite, and must use those powers to increase the army of Hell and train as one of its lieutenants, called (Hell')Spawns, as Malebolgia, Mammon, and Satan prepare for the Apocalypse. He finds a Mentor named Cogliostro, a retired Spawn who fills the role of The Obi-Wan and All Powerful Bystander.
Spawn befriends some bums in an alley, and becomes a urban-based vigilante. He fights Angela, an angel trained to slay Spawns, who he later befriends as she becomes a Defector From Decadence. He also interacts with his former best friend and Wanda's current husband Terry. After receiving antagonism from Violator (who is determined to see him keep to his obligations with Malebolgia), using his Green Goo powers to save Terry's life by curing his cancer, and presenting Wanda's daughter Cyan with a cursed shoelace, he goes back to the Bonus Level of Hell and re-visits his former foes. Malebolgia also mentions that his memories may be fake.
Unsure of his past life and having trouble with his costume changing and becoming wild all the time, Spawn starts to interact with former cops Sam and Twitch, and finds out Mammon sent Ab and Zab to release a soul-destroying demon that makes its enemies Deader Than Dead. After turning it into Sealed Evil in a Can, Spawn Hand Wavea his way back to Hell and, with the help of Angela, kills Malebolgia (Angela actually performs a Heroic Sacrifice).
It turns him into the lord of (that piece) of Hell, but he refuses to take Malebolgia's mantle and goes on fighting evil on Earth, with little success. His position is eventually robbed by Cogliostro, who performs a Face Heel Turn and reveals himself to be Cain.
Suddenly, the whole story suffers a Snap Back and Spawn is revealed to be not just Al Simmons, but actually a mix of thousands of souls that died at the same time Al had. Spawn fights both Heaven and Hell as an independent warrior during the Apocalypse, and at the last minute, he manages to re-create the world. But in doing so, he discovers that, as Al, he intentionally caused his pregnant wife's miscarriage by punching her in the chest. Additionally, she was planning to finally leave before he died. It turns out that his amnesia and current form were actually subconsciously caused by his unresolved guilt, not by Malebolgia. He then retreats to the alleys to live out the rest of his life as The Atoner, having saved everyone but himself. Since then, his universe has evolved into more of an Gothic Punk-focused World Half Empty. Al Simmons himself seemingly commits suicide, and the mantle of Spawn is passed on to a man named Jim Downing while Simmons makes another Deal with the Devil and becomes Omega Spawn. However as of 250 Al Simmons returns from the dead and retakes back the Spawn mantle as well as the Resurrection retcons everything between his time as a hellspawn and his suicide that fact that he was a wife beater as that was a lie by the demons to get him into suicide as well Moranna being retconned into his unborn son who was stillborn rather than he himself aborted. Spawn Resurrection also retcons the man of miracles out of continuity along with the arcs that involve him with God now a good guy and the supreme creator as well as his suit being made from his victims. Wanda had been killed and Al comes back as spawn to take vengeance fought Satan and becomes the protector of Humanity.
While Spawn was really popular during the Dark Age, holding the title of best-selling independent comic for 15 years, the writing was full of Retcons and Snap Backs. Spawn's Power Counter that informed the reader of how much Green Goo energy he had left before he had to return to Hell was also abandoned after a few issues, angering many fans. It's definitely gotten much better over the years. There were definite cases of Schedule Slip, but far less so that most of the initial Image Comics (as of January 2010, 196 issues will have been released in 211 months, missing only 15).
Furthermore, the heavily-publicized idea of creator rights surrounding Image in the early nineties was, unfortunately, abandoned when creator Todd McFarlane stopped writing and drawing the comic himself, and even had legal problems for using characters created by Neil Gaiman (Angela and Cogliostro). However, he has since announced his intention to return to the main series, and is in the credits as co-writer and inks for the next few currently-unreleased issues.
Spawn is also The Merch, as McFarlane Toys became popular for being skillfully detailed (and, according to some people, for using higher-quality material) and made the creator a fortune selling hundreds of toys, costumes, clothing, related comics, tattoos, Spawnmobiles (actually, those are just for show) and bumper stickers, among others. Additionally, the Spawn toyline had a massive impact on the toy industry, starting the careers of the Four Horsemen and other sculptors who introduced greater detail and articulation into mainstream superhero toys (even though the Spawn toys were notoriously unarticulated).
It later had an Animated Adaptation for HBO that viciously battered the Animation Age Ghetto, and is often seen as being of higher quality than the comic. The Movie (1997) placed Michael Jai White in the lead role, Theresa Randle as his wife, Martin Sheen as Wynn and John Leguizamo as arch-foe Clown/Violator. The film was somewhat cartoonish, but it is said the sequel, still in Development Hell, will have a high Mind Screw level.
- Anti-Hero: Type III or Type IV, Depending on the Writer.
- Arch Enemy: The Violator to Spawn.
- The Atoner
- Badass Biker
- Badass Cape: Forget about all the others. Spawn has the cape.
- Batman Gambit: In the HBO Animated Series. During the final season, it's revealed that Malebolgia never intended to use Al Simmons to lead hells army on earth, but as a sperm donor to impregnate Wanda with a demon seed. He knew Al Simmons would give into temptation and find a way to mate with his ex-wife. He does so by making himself look like Terry, Wanda's current husband.
- Big Bad: Malebolgia, Mammon, and Satan.
- Black and Grey Morality: Spawn's morality is questionable, but clearly better than Hell. Word of God says that heaven was made intentionally ambiguous. Their final agenda is good, but they recognize that to stand up to the forces of hell they have to recruit people capable of being just as ruthless. In the audio commentary of the TV show Todd McFarlane compared the ideal heaven and hell going to war as consisting of Attila the Hun fighting church bingo ladies. The comic, paralleling this, confirmed that heaven had successfully recruited Attila at some point (mostly to keep Hell from getting him).
- Break His Heart to Save Him: In the movie, after Terry, Wanda and Cyan leave the convention, Wanda was speaking at regarding the biohazard incident in Korea; Cyan notices that their dog Spaz isn't with them. Terry called out to Spaz but to no avail. Al who was watching them from afar tries to shoo Spaz away. Even kicking at him to try to get him to leave, but in a surprising twist to the trope, Spaz is having none of it, wanting to stay with his owner.
- Bullying a Dragon
- Butt Monkey: Clown is Spawn's Butt Monkey in the early parts of the HBO series. Then he turns into Violator.
- Cast From Lifespan: His powers have a price - After X use, he goes straight back to Hell.
- Chain Pain: Has chains that pop out of his cloak and are under his control; most often seen in the HBO Animated Series.
- Cheerful Child: Cyan.
- Color Me Black: On one occasion Spawn used his power to turn a Ku Klux Klan leader black, leaving him to be lynched by his own men.
- Contract on the Hitman: Rebelling against Hell will have this effect.
- The Cowl: Probably the best example other than Batman himself.
- Continuity Reboot: Spawn: Resurrection retcons just about everything that happened between Al Simmons becoming a Hellspawn and his suicide.
- Darker and Edgier: The Hellspawn run was this to the main series.
- Dead Guy Puppet: The spin-off The Violator features a disturbing series of scenes in which The Violator uses the corpse of a former Cosa Nostra member as a puppet.
- Deadpan Snarker: Twitch.
- Dead to Begin With
- Deal with the Devil
- Doom Magnet: Well, that's a given.
- Drill Sergeant Nasty: Clown/Violator can be seen as something of this. His job is to incite Spawn into committing evil, violent acts in the name of Hell, and he's willing to endanger Wanda and her new family, devise criminal schemes with Wynn and do various other things that torment and anger Spawn.
- Eat Me: "EAT THIS!" *SHINK*
- Enlightenment Superpowers
- Evilly Affable: Clown
- Evil Detecting Dog: Played with in the movie. Al's Dog Spaz, still recognize his owner affectionately even after he's long dead and a hellspawn. Played straight with his interactions with Clown. The first thing he does upon seeing him confront Spawn is pee on him. Later on when Clown becomes violator, Spaz tries to bite his leg protecting his owner.
- Evil Versus Evil: God Vs Satan
- Evil Twin: Inverted, Heaven creates a good-infused anti-Spawn with The Redeemer.
- Expy: Venom (another McFarlane creation) with Ghost Rider's chains and a big scary cape.
- Even though McFarlane has claimed to be Venom's creator in the past, the character was the result of many writers, editors, and at least one other artist (Mike Zeck, the designer of the black costume that Venom would later wear). MacFarlane's influence was limited to Venom's famous grin and the name only.
- Sam is pretty similar to Harvey Bullock.
- Female Angel, Male Demon
- Filk Song: Iced Earth's Dark Saga album. McFarlane even did the album artwork for them.
- Five-Bad Band: Violator and his brothers, prior to Violator's banishment anyway.
- God Is A Jerkass : Prior to the retcon, God was just as bad as Satan.
- God and Satan Are Both Jerks:Even their creator, The Mother of Existence, is disappointed with their petty rivalry since both of them are absolute monsters. Even when they're reincarnated as humans, forgetting their true memories, they show their true colors by violently attacking each other, torturing Wanda's hamster, trying to kill their mother Wanda, and otherwise causing all manner of havoc. Arguably averted given the nature of the Mother of Existence who is pretty much an over deity who is actively trying to help humanity, but even MOM refused to help stop Armageddon due to the event needing to happen according to rules that MOM created.
After the retcon removing MOM from the continuity, God is not as much of a jerk as Satan, persuading Al Simmons to come back to life to save his wife's soul, providing him with a sword capable of permanently killing demons, and sending the Archangel Michel to help him out.
- Gothic Punk
- Glowing Eyes of Doom: Most demons have red eyes, Spawn has green eyes as a way of differentiating between demons and hellspawn.
- Green Lantern Ring: There is almost no limit to what Spawn is capable of, but bigger supernatural feats expend more power.
- Healing Factor
- Heartbroken Badass: BIG TIME. Poor Spawn.Even More so after Wanda died.
- Hero Stole My Bike: In the film, Spawn rides off on a bike as the owner runs out of a bar running angrily after him.
- Heroic Host
- The Heavy: The Violator as of 294 reveals that he was the one who designed the Hellspawn suits and their powers hence making apart of Spawn's origins as well as the most recurring villain of the series.Jason Wynn and Malebolgia also count they had turned Simmons into Spawn in the first place.
- Horrifying Hero: Spawn is a Humanoid Abomination. What did you expect.
- I Have Many Names: Mother of Existence (also known as Man of Miracles, Jesus Christ, Gaia, God, to name a few)
- Kneecapping: Twitch shoots Spawn in the knee to stop him from escaping. He is rather shaken when Al doesn't even slow down.
- Lawyer-Friendly Cameo: Subverted, and got McFarlane into deep shit later on.
- To elaborate, one of Spawn's primary antagonists was a Mafia boss named Tony Twist, whom McFarlane named after a real-life NHL player. The player was not amused.
- Licked by the Dog: His wife and best friend don't recognize Al, but his dog does.
- Light Is Not Good: The demons of Hell are Obviously Evil, but God and the angels aren't exactly nice guys, either. However Resurrection Retcons God into a good guy
- Like a Badass Out of Hell: All the frickin' time!
- Love Makes You Evil: It's the reason Al strikes a Deal with the Devil.
- Meaningful Name: Malebolgia. Named after the circle of fraud in Dante's Inferno. Fitting considering how well it turns out to make a deal with him.
- Mind Screw: The many Retcons and Snap Backs.
- Monster Clown: Clown/Violator
- Morality Pet: The homeless kid in the movie.
- More Dakka
- Mythology Gag: In both the movie and the HBO series, someone sees Spawn's face and comments that they've seen far worse due to working for/being related to a mortician.
- All Myths Are True
- Names to Run Away From Really Fast: Violator, and most names here.
- Nineties Anti-Hero: Actually played with. Spawn is an asshole, yeah, but he's a fair bit more complex than that, especially in the latter part of the comics and the HBO series. A lot of the latter's beginning is devoted to establishing why he's an asshole, as a matter of fact.
- The Obi-Wan: Cogliostro. Lampshaded: "All right, Yoda."
- Oh Crap
- One-Winged Angel: Clown transforms into the huge, demonic Violator for physical fights with Spawn.
- Our Angels Are Different
- Our Demons Are Different
- Paedo Hunt: In the HBO series, Wanda and the police are on the trail of a child killer who happens to be Senator McMillan's illegitimate son whom he covered up in order to not ruin his career or send his son to jail, and it reaches its climax when Cyan is kidnapped.
- Queen Of All Cosmos: Mother of Existence.
- Race Lift: Terry in the movie
- Resurrected for a Job
- Retcon:Spawn: Resurrection is a Continuity Reboot of sorts that undoes most of what went on between Al defeating Malebolgia and his suicide: God is now good, the arcs involving the Man of Miracles never happened, and Al Simmons had a son who was stillborn rather than a daughter he aborted himself (later revealed to be his lost humanity). Al being a wife beater probably counts too, considering it hadn't even been hinted at early on. It just got shoved into continuity at some point and then retconned again as said wife abuse was a false memory.
Prior to Resurrection, Spawn's suit was revealed to be an ancient symbiotic demon with ambitions of its own. After Resurrection, it was created by *Malebolgia from the souls of Al Simmons' victims.
- Colistro's betrayal has also been retconned out in later issues along with Chapel and Angela in later issues due to legal issues.
- Scary Black Man: Played With. Al only becomes scary after be comes back as Spawn, but when he's resurrected he's either masked, or unmasked with his skin and flesh burned off, so most people who meet Spawn wouldn't know he's black.
- Shout-Out: Early in the comics, Spawn is hanging out with two homeless men in an alley, one's named Frank, the other Alan. Frank's drinking Miller brand beer, and Alan's drinking Moore brand beer. Alan also has an epic beard, like someone we know.
- The effects of the war mask, at least in the HBO series, are possibly a reference to JoJo's Bizarre Adventure, where a similar mask results in vampires.
- Spikes of Villainy
- The Symbiote: Spawn's outfit. It acts on its own to save spawn several times.
- Ugly Guy, Hot Wife: Twitch and his wife Helen is a very straightforward example. Not that the difference in appearances seems to ever have put a damper on their passion - They have seven children.
- Variable-Length Chain
- You Taste Delicious: In the movie, Clown/Violator licks Wanda's face with his demon tongue, exclaiming that she Tastes Like Chicken.