Spawn – Image Comic’s Crown Jewel

As an avid reader of both DC and Marvel comics there tend to be some smaller comic companies that get lost in the bluster of weekly issues and mega blockbuster movies, one of these such companies is Image Comics.  Image Comics was founded in 1992 by several freelance artists who worked for both DC and Marvel drawing comics as needed, one such artist was Todd McFarlane. Todd had just come off an amazing run at Spider-Man and was one of the eight founders of Image Comics.

When McFarlane moved to Image, he decided to create an all new character that he could call his own and has become one of the flagship properties of Image Comics, Spawn.  Spawn has received 1 major motion picture starring Michael Jai White as the titular hero, as well as a very successful HBO cartoon series with Keith David delivering his voice to the main character.  Spawn has also had several cross overs with many different heroes most notably Batman. Spawn has quite the extensive back story and has had quite a large fan base since his first issue rolled out in May of 1992.

 

ORIGIN

Spawn is the alter-ego of Albert Francis “Al” Simmons, a retired Force Recon marine and assassin. After saving the President from an assassination he was recruited into the CIA to conduct black ops missions and assassinations. Through an extensive career Simmons wracked up a considerable kill count, not all of which were intended targets. There were quite a few collateral damage kills which weighed on his conscience and caused him to question the morality of the agency he worked for.  Jason Wynn who was the individual who oversaw the missions Simmons was conducting noticed his lack of devotion to the agency and hired his friend and partner Bruce Stinson (aka Chapel) to kill Simmons. In what can only be dubbed as a “blazing inferno” Chapel killed Simmons, and Al’s soul was sent to hell. Simmons was cast at the feet of the demon known as Malebolgia, where he sold his soul so that he could see Wanda again. Malebolgia accepted his offer and returned him to Earth. In the time between when Al was killed and resurrected, five years had passed. When he awoke on Earth he was a deformed demonic creature (a Hellspawn) with very few memories of his past life. When he finally regained his memories he sought out Wanda. When he found her he discovered Wanda had moved on with her life, marrying his best friend Terry Fitzgerald and they had a daughter named Cyan. After this the Violator shows up and taunts Spawn. The two of them fight but their battle is interrupted by Malebolgia. Spawn takes to “Rat City” a series of alleys were bums and homeless live and quickly becomes their protector and eventual king. It’s in Rat City where he meets Cogliostro (a former Hellspawn) who becomes his mentor. Spawn becomes a brutal anti-hero and warrior for the people of Rat City, he solidifies his dark anti-hero status when he brutally murders a pedophile and child murderer named Billy Kincaid.

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Powers and Abilities

Al Simmons is an Olympic level athlete, fluent in 10 languages, expert with fire arms, and master of 13 known martial arts.

Spawn is bonded with a symbiotic suit called Leetha of the 7th House of K (K7-Leetha). The suit is bonded to his central nervous system and will defend him even while he is unconscious.

This is where it gets a little weird so bear with me…

So Spawn is just one of a long lineage of Hellspawn. Hellspawn are officer’s in Hell’s army and double as hit-men for the supreme demon Malebolgia. Each Hellspawn is given a certain amount of Necroplasm (the green goo from the comics). The Necroplasm is used when the Hellspawn uses it to regenerate wounds, create constructs out of his cape, create his chains and spikes, etc.

Al Simmons weighs roughly 450 lbs as Spawn and almost all of his body is composed of Necroplasm.  The true power of the suit is taken from the necroplasm that composes of Al’s body, though he can take it back to power constructs he needs in battle. His suit can also feed on the evil energy from the physical world. This included the ambient evil of people, insects, animals and even some areas of cities like Detroit, New York and LA.  The Suit itself can be changed based on the task at hand. It can manifest spikes, armour plating, or even change his shroud (cape) into an offensive weapon such as a battle axe or sword. The shroud itself is a very capable offensive weapon able to strike quickly in combat and has been known to sever limbs and generate various hooks and blades as needed.

Spawn also has vast magical powers. These powers are related to the necroplasm level the Hellspawn currently possesses and is presented to the reader by a gauge that read 9:9:9:9 when the comic started. Each time Spawn uses some of his energy this counter will drain. Because of this Spawn relies on his suit as well as physical weapons such as firearms in combat rather than magic.  The limit of Spawns magical abilities is much like the Green Lantern from DC comics, it is basically limited by the user’s imagination. These are some of the powers he has exhibited throughout his publication: resurrecting the dead, firing blasts of necroplasm energy, teleportation, firebreathing, transmutation, elemental manipulation, shapeshifting, flight, animal communication, mind reading, invisibility, portal creation, time manipulation, soul manipulation, reality warping, regeneration, curing the sick, and feeding off the evil energy of others to restore his necroplasm counter and strength.

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The only way to kill Spawn is by beheading or similar trauma to the head (ex. gunshot). Spawn also loses his power in a small patch of alley called “The Dead’s Zone” which is an extension of Heaven’s domain.

AMAZING FEATS

Malebolgia released a very powerful God named Urizen to wage war on Heaven and conquer their domain. Spawn used power obtained in the Greenworld ( a place that’s power is equal to that of Heaven and Hell) to stop Urizen and swallow him imprisoning him. Spawn teamed up with Angela a warrior of Heaven; and took the fight to Malebolgia in Hell once Spawn discovered Malebolgia was behind the whole thing. After mortally wounding Malebolgia in their battle Angela was cut down. Enraged at the death of Angela, Spawn took Malebolgia’s head. Upon killing Malebolgia Spawn is informed by a demon named Mammon, that Hell’s throne is now his.

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When Spawn was cast down and killed and then resurrected (a never ending cycle apparently?) he awoke to find Armageddon was beginning. He was informed by the Mother (an omnipotent being and mother God and Satan) that Spawn could not stop Armageddon but could ascend to Godhood and preserve the Human race. In order to do so Spawn must defeat the 12 Disciples (Guardians of Heaven’s domain against the Hellspawn) and eat fruit from the forbidden garden. With the help of Cyan he is able to defeat all the Disciples but the last and most powerful (Judas). Spawn is stabbed in the heart by Judas and the mother resurrects him and presents him with fruit from the garden. Spawn returns to the Earth with his new immense power to discover the world is ravaged by the 4 horsemen and humanity is dead. Spawn fights the armies of both Heaven and Hell alone and vanquishes them, when God and Satan turn their attention to him he is slain and the two of them continue their battle. Spawn is resurrected by the mother and he resurrects everyone on the planet with their memories of what happened intact. He banished Satan and God to fight on their own little world where they couldn’t harm anyone and shut the doors of Heaven, Hell and Earth.

CONCLUSION

Spawn is quite an extensive character with many similarities to other properties from DC and Marvel such as Ghost Rider and El Diablo. The thing that makes spawn so different is that his story is tragic, he fights because it’s all he’s ever known and because he is compelled to do it. Spawn relies heavily on Christian mythology as well and mysticism to deliver a compelling story about a man trapped within his own destiny. Image comics has had several successful titles since their founding like: Savage Dragon, Witchblade, The Darkness and the Walking Dead; but very few people know of this company and the great stories they put out. Regardless of what comic series they put out, Spawn will always be their best contribution to the comic community.

Most Underrated Heroes: Vol. 1 – Ghost Rider

I’ve decided to add a segment to my blog wherein once a month I will outline a hero that I believe to be woefully underrated by most people. These are my own personal opinions and don’t reflect on any of the companies in one way or another. I had to restrain myself from talking about Moon Knight first because it would more than likely become an angry rant at the Marvel Netflix universe for not including him (yet… I have hopes!).

The first hero that I have chosen to talk about is none other than the spirit of Vengeance himself, Ghost Rider.

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The first Ghost Rider in publication, not in Marvel history, is stunt motorcyclist Johnny Blaze. Blaze is arguably the best known Ghost Rider right behind Danny Ketch and now Robbie Reyes.  Blaze was portrayed by Nicholas Cage in the 2007 film titled Ghost Rider and in the 2012 sequel Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance. I will be the first one to say those movies are terrible, absolutely horrible. But because of my love for ‘ol Flamehead, I watch them over and over again. Recently in Agents of SHIELD Robbie Reyes Ghost Rider appeared as an antagonist and then ally of the team. Let’s start off with a little bit of background on the character.

BACKGROUND

Blaze was a stunt motorcyclist with his father in the Quentin Carnival alongside Craig “Crash” Simpson. His mother walked out on his father when Johnny was young taking his two other siblings Danny and Barbara with her. Johnny’s father was killed in a stunt and he was adopted by Crash Simpson and his wife Mona. The Simpson’s fabricated a story as to help shield him the pain of coming from a broken family. Johnny and the Simpson’s daughter Roxanne grew close as kids and as they grew older their friendship turned to romance. The Simpson’s began their own stunt show of which Johnny was a part, when Johnny found out Crash had life threatening cancer he was devastated. Johnny turned to the occult in an effort to save Crash. One night Johnny recited a spell and summoned who he thought was the devil, really it was the arch demon Mephistocles (Mephisto). Johnny sold his soul to Mephisto in an effort to stop Crash dying of cancer. Crash awoke the next day cured of cancer, but he died performing in the stunt show a few days later. Johnny confronted Mephisto and declared that he had cheated him. Mephisto said he had stopped him dying of cancer, not dying any other way and thus the deal stood. Roxanne arrived in time to save Johnny’s soul by declaring her love for him which drove Mephisto away. Mephisto, out of rage of not being able to collect Blaze’s soul because of Roxanne’s love, bonded Johnny’s soul with the demon Zarathos making him the Ghost Rider. A leather clad being that controlled Hellfire to punish at Mephisto’s bidding, but due to the fact that he still retained his soul, Blaze would also help the innocent whenever he could.

POWERS & ABILITIES

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In addition to controlling Hellfire and being impervious to damage as Ghost Rider, Blaze also has the ability to control hell chains with his mind. He utilizes a shotgun imbued with Hell energy to fire mystic blasts at his foes that can incinerate instantly. He is strong enough to be able to fight toe to toe with Green Scar Hulk (World War Hulk), and uses the penance stare. The penance Stare is a Ghost Rider’s most powerful weapon. When using the penance stare the Ghost Rider can force you to feel the pain of all the hurt you caused to other and burn your soul inside your body. If you have dealt enough pain to others than the penance stare will fry your whole body from the inside out. There are very few people in the Marvel Universe that the penance stare doesn’t work on, those being Punisher, Deadpool, Venom and Mr. Hyde. Punisher doesn’t regret any of his kills, Deadpool’s biggest victim is himself, Venom is immune from the symbiote and Mr. Hyde is immune because of his transformation.  In addition to controlling hell chains with his mind Ghost Rider also keeps a length of chain which he can use as a whip or he ignites it on fire and can spin it fast enough to create a flame vortex.

FEATS

Ghost Rider has performed many great feats over his long career in publication. Due to the nature of the character they haven’t always been Johnny Blaze Ghost Rider, but for the most part they have been. One of the best feats he accomplished was during the World War hulk story arc.

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During World War Hulk the Green Goliath returned to Earth rather pissed after having been banished to a distant planet by the Illuminati. The Illuminati are a secret group of the greatest minds in the Marvel Universe (Iron Man, Mr. Fantastic, Dr. Strange, Charles Xavier, etc). The save the Earth from having to deal with another Hulk catastrophe the Illuminati tricked Bruce Banner onto a satellite and then launched him into deep space.  Hulk crash landed on the planet Sakaar and fought in the gladiatorial ring until he eventually was crowned king. He ventured back to Earth pissed off and ready to make the Illuminati pay for what they had done to him. Hulk had claimed a battleground in downtown New York where he waited for the group to show. Ghost Rider was hunting down pieces of Lucifer that he had inadvertently let loose from hell. He encountered the Hulk and they began to fight, a very destructive fight through the NY battleground. Hulk punched Ghost Rider through several buildings and dropped another one on top of him. Ghost Rider then grappled on hulks back and nearly choked him out with his hell chain. The fight ended in a stalemate when Ghost Rider attempted to use his penance stare and was shown that the Hulk was the victim and the Illuminati were the guilty ones.

In the early 90’s Fantastic Four cartoon there was an episode where Galactus attacked the earth. The Fantastic Four had tried everything they could to stop him but nothing was working. The Fantastic Four had run out of options and were trying to think of a plan to get rid of Galactus. In rides Ghost Rider, and tells the Fantastic Four that he will help. He rides up Galactus’ body and delivers the penance stare right to him. Galactus being a world eater, had consumed a lot of people and had a lot of guilt and pain stored up. This act was enough to banish Galactus at least for the time being while he healed from his wounds.

Circling back to why Ghost Rider ran into the Hulk in World War Hulk, he was in the process of hunting down and killing Lucifer.  Long story short is that Satan had trapped Ghost Rider in Hell (go figure!). Lucifer disguised himself as a worm helping Johnny to break the barrier between Hell and the normal world. When Johnny broke through Lucifer split into 666 pieces and fell to the Earth. Each piece took on a persona/possessed someone and began wreaking havoc.  Angels were dispatched to help Johnny but slowly one by one, Johnny killed all the pieces of Lucifer until only 1 remained. The trick was that with each piece Johnny killed the remaining pieces would get stronger. The two Angels that were sent to help Johnny ended up sacrificing themselves to provide Ghost Rider with the power he needed to destroy Lucifer and banish him back to hell.

REASONS HE IS UNDERRATED

There really is no definitive answer here besides the fact that he is a dark character. When people think of Marvel comics they think of Iron Man, Spider-Man, Captain America, X-Men, etc; all very colourful and for the most part family friendly characters. Ghost Rider isn’t a hero, he’s an anti-hero; one of those guys like Deadpool, and Punisher and Wolverine who are willing to kill to make sure their mission is accomplished. Not only that but once a Rider uses the penance stare there is no going back. it will inflict the maximum amount of damage to you that you deserve. There is no settings knob on the penance stare just like there is no setting knob on Ghost Rider’s morality. Ghost Rider like Punisher is very black and white, they both punish evil doers. Will they kill you for stealing a candy bar from a convenience store? absolutely not. Will they put the fear of God in you? absolutely.  The rider knows when it’s true evil like a serial killer or just minor evil like a vandal spray painting a building, and can adjust accordingly.

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Ghost Rider has a high kill count, not as high as say Deadpool or Wolverine, but he definitely is not a nice guy. Ghost Rider is very much a character aimed at an older audience. The humour and content of the Ghost rider comics tends to lean towards a mature audience and some of the content can be rather gruesome. In the family friendly MCU there really isn’t a place for someone like Ghost Rider. The Netflix universe however… that’s a whole different story, but in all fairness he wouldn’t be my first choice for that… my first choice would wear more white.

 

 

Anti-Heroes: More Realistic Than Classic Superheroes

Superheroes provide hope, and idea to strive towards. They’re someone you can always look up to and can trust that no matter what is facing them, they will do the right thing. While this is an admirable stance to take, even if it’s not very realistic. Finding someone who is good for the sake of being good is a one in a million chance. Most people like to think that they are good at heart but when the chips are down and their back is against the wall they will do whatever it takes to win, even if it is sometimes a very morally grey area. I’m not trying to say that I think people are evil, they’re not. People are just people and each person has a breaking point. A point where self preservation takes the driver’s seat and everything else takes a side seat. Some people can reach this point very quickly, while others take quite some time to get there.

If any of you have seen the movie American Sniper, you’re probably familiar with the little speech Chris’ father gives him after saving his brother from a bully. “There are 3 kinds of people in this world, there’s wolves, sheep, and sheep dogs. Wolves try to hurt the sheep and it’s the sheep dogs job to protect them, so are you a wolf or a sheep dog?” I’m paraphrasing the speech, but that’s what it boils down to. This little tid bit is actually taken from a book by LTC retired Dave Grossman titled “On Killing”, the books is quite extensive and dives deeper into the comparison of sheep, wolves and sheep dogs. There is also a quote from Heraclitus that goes like this…

“Out of every one hundred men, ten shouldn’t even be there, eighty are just targets, nine are the real fighters, and we are lucky to have them, for they make the battle. Ah, but the one, one is a warrior, and he will bring the others back”

To bring this back to my main point if Superheroes are the sheep dogs then anti-heroes are like wild dogs. They may attack the sheep on occasion but for the most part they only go after the wolves. There are quite a few heroes that fall into both categories (Wolverine, Ghost Rider, Arsenal), there are also quite a few that stay far past the line (Punisher, Grifter, Deadpool, Red Hood). While superheroes tend to have tragic backstories, anti-heroes tend to have a backstory so caked in violence and blood that it’s amazing they didn’t turn into a villain themselves. Three of my favourite anti-heroes are Deadpool, Red Hood, and Punisher, because of everything that happened to them they still somehow come through in the end (even if just barely).

One of the defining traits that all anti-heroes seem to possess is the innate knowledge that no matter how hard you try, you can’t save everyone every time. This also goes hand in hand with the belief that sometimes in order to save someone you need to use lethal force. One of my favourite lines comes from MarvelNow! Punisher: War Zone, wherein Frank Castle (Punisher) has pissed off the Avengers for the last time. Before the final showdown with the Avengers, Wolverine is approached by Captain America. Cap basically tells Wolverine that because of his close relationship with Frank that he will have to sit this one out. They banter back and forth and the final line comes from Wolverine when he says ” The difference between guys like us and guys like you Cap… is that we understand sometimes… people have to die”. This one line perfectly illustrates what makes anti-heroes so much more relatable than clean cut superheroes, they understand that some people are just bad and they will continue to be bad until they are stopped.

Batman once said “If you kill a killer , the number of killers in this world remains the same”.  While this philosophy might work for Batman and potentially other heroes like him (Superman, Flash, Captain America, Spider-Man, etc) one has to ask how many people died because they refused to do what was necessary. There is a quote from Wonder Woman on her New 52 run that goes like this ” There’s a reason why I don’t have a list of enemies as long as yours, or Bruce’s or even Barry’s, because when i deal with them.. I DEAL with them”. Wonder Woman is one of the few clean cut superheroes who takes lives, but she also doesn’t do it willy nilly. She heavily weighs the cost of her actions against whether or not it’s for the greater good. If the greater good wins she acts, there have been a few exceptions (Maxwell Lord pre Infinite Crisis) for example, where her emotions got the better of her, but they are few and far between.

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One of the questions I get asked quite a bit when explaining comics to people is “Why doesn’t Batman just kill the Joker?”. Without going into a HUGE debate on the psychology of the two of them there really is no right answer. Batman doesn’t kill the Joker because then Joker wins, but Joker won’t stop until Batman kills him, it’s a catch 22. The animated film Under the Red Hood actually introduced a lot of people to the Red Hood for the first time. Jason Todd (Robin #2) was beat with a crowbar to near death and then blown up by the Joker. Feeling guilty for having brought Joker into it Ra’as Al Ghul revived Jason using a Lazarus Pit. Jason came back but was pretty insane and fled for several years. He begins taking over the Gotham underworld until the final confrontation with Batman and the Joker. The final confrontation has a particular line that hits the issue to the core ” Why is he still alive? Ignoring the friends he’s crippled the graveyards he’s filled…”; Jason delivers that line while pointing at the Joker. Batman tells him that if he kills the Joker he will never stop killing. This is what draws me to Batman as much as other characters like Punisher and Ghost Rider, he is a Superhero, but he is barely past the line between anti-hero and superhero and on several occasions he has crossed that line.

The 2008 film Punisher: War Zone showed us just how gritty and brutal a Punisher film could be if done right. I stand by Thomas Jane and the 2004 film with John Travolta, but Ray Stevenson just looked the part. It also brought a great line from a police detective who tried to “stop” the Punisher. When talking with Detective Soap, he basically says that the reason the Punisher hasn’t been caught is because the police don’t want him to be caught. He gets to do to those guys (mob families and criminals) what cops only dream of getting to do. While this train of thought might extend to superheroes as well normally the police forces of the comic worlds are stuck behind red tape and can’t act on someone they know is guilty. anti-heroes don’t care. They will find out if you’re guilty and they will make you pay.

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I realize it seems like I’m saying anti-heroes don’t have a conscience, but that is very wrong. while some like Punisher and Red Hood have become so jaded they no longer care, some like Deadpool use humour to cover up their true feelings, and sometimes they don’t cover them at all. In Deadpool’s brief stint on the X-Force he quickly came to butt heads with Wolverine. They were tasked with killing the reincarnated Apocalypse, the only problem was that he was reincarnated into a kid named Evan who was still in primary school. Wade immediately objected and voiced his objections, Wolverine and the rest of X-Force knew what a full grown Apocalypse could do and were resigned to killing Evan. Wolverine and Deadpool had some words and Wolverine called Deadpool “…a soulless, spineless, money grubbing mercenary”; as Wade turned to walk away he responded with ” Ya. But I never killed a kid”. This altercation caused Fantomex to regret his decision and clone Evan (it’s get weird just go with it) and teach Evan right from wrong enough to get Evan enlisted in Xavier’s school for Gifted Youngsters.

Superheroes come in all shapes, sizes and abilities; they can be star spangled awesome like Captain America, the big blue boy scout like Superman, or a tortured human like Batman. No matter who they are, superheroes give us something to strive toward. They provide us with a direction to orient ourselves towards, a light to find our way in the darkness. But sometimes the darkness is fought with darkness, while superheroes are the light, anti-heroes are the shade. The grey area between the darkness and the light, not fully dark themselves but not fully light either. They’re willing to plunge their hands in the filth so that others can keep their clean. While most of us strive to be an incorruptible and perfect hero we know that sometimes we’re not perfect. We can’t all be sheep dogs after all, but we’ll be damned if we’re going to become wolves.