Todd McFarlane realizes fans have been waiting a while for "Spawn" #200, but the creator of the Image Comics hellborn superhero is certain that readers will be happy once the final 56-page anniversary issue is in their hands on January 5 as it comes packed with pages by the likes of Greg Capullo, David Finch, Jim Lee, Marc Silvestri, Rob Liefeld, Ashley Wood...and a young newcomer to the art game named Robert Kirkman.
"He's now joined the ranks of me and Frank Miller!" McFarlane laughed, referring the Image partner and "Walking Dead" creator's move to the art boards. "We started as artists going, 'I need to write my own damn stories' and I guess he's gone the other direction."
Kirkman's contribution will be a four-page sequence he also wrote that ties into the delayed "Image United" series. "This harkens back to when we were creating 'Haunt' and he'd go, 'No, no, no, Todd. Like this!'" McFarlane said. "And then he'd sometimes just grab the pencil or even show me as I was drawing on the computer by doing these little drawings himself. He's show me what was in his brain, and some of them I thought were pretty good, especially relative to what I've seen other writers draw. So I've been bugging him and saying, 'Robert, you and I should do a couple of "Haunt" covers where if you give me a solid layout, I'll finish it.'
"He sort of snickered and laughed at it, but when I said, 'Hey! I need your pages for #200,' he must have remembered it because he went, 'I get to do the artwork on this, right?' And I said, 'Yes you do...as long as you don't get stupid on me.' Although I'm working on these last two pages, and he did get stupid on me, which means he makes me work real hard to ink it. I told him since he made me wait so long on the deadline, the layouts had to be fairly simplistic, which he didn't really do. He did it on the first page to tease me, and then on the second page I went, 'Ugh!' And with the third page too. He gave me a little break on page four, but man...this book's got to go to the printers on Friday, so I'll be working late into the night on Kirkman pages of all things!"
Readers who have been following the story of "Spawn" for the past few years will find a number of turning points and payoffs in the issue, with Kirkman's contribution focusing on the new supervillain who appears to be the recently slain Spawn Al Simmons reincarnated. "What these four pages are going to do is give the origin of Omega Spawn," said McFarlane, noting that when Kirkman came up with the big villain of "Image United," he challenged the writer to do it in a way that was not "too comic book cliché-ish."
"You've got to give a bigger reason as to why Omega Spawn can exist," McFarlane added, noting he's always shied away from frequent resurrections, even in his divine-themed epic. "Killing somebody and five months later bringing them back, I always hated that as a reader when I was younger and have always vowed to keep that stuff to a minimum."
#200's final shape, from the Omega Spawn origin down to the McFarlane-written main tale will contain 53 pages of story and 56 pages in all for $3.99. The creator explained "We were going to do 20 pages at $2.99, and I said, 'I know we've got to get this book out, but let's make it, like, 27 pages. I can add another seven pages.' So then we were going to put it out as a $3.99 book. After that happened and we got working on it, Michael Golden came and did some layouts on the book for me. He started doing things, like he took what I thought was going to be one panel and made it three. So he started getting bigger with it, and I had to go, 'This has to start making sense visually,' so I started adding to Michael's stuff. Next thing you know, by the time we got to the story we wanted to tell, we were up to 50 pages, now, counting Robert's thing and the epilogue.
"What I'm trying to get across is that I understand people have been waiting a long time, but in the past few months, the delay has come not because I can't do 20 pages, but because I've added a whole 'nother book in there. It's getting close to almost three books in one. And by the way, we'd already solicited the price so we've almost tripled the content, but the price will remain the same. Maybe I can buy a little bit of their kindness back."
Just because the bi-centennial issue has taken months to put together, it doesn't mean McFarlane's post-anniversary plans have been scuttled. Quite the opposite, he said. "Besides the fact that #200 is here and it's arguably the best deal in years, I didn't want this big thing to end and have everyone go, 'Oh, it's back to the status quo.' Here's the reality: I've never been one book ahead. We've been running this book like most comics – you finish an issue, get it out the door and go to the next one. I never had the luxury of being ahead, and when I handed it off to other writers and artists, it was the same thing. But when I hired Will Carlton to take over, we literally had enough time where they're halfway through issue #207 right now. I have six issues done and sitting, waiting to be released. The only way I could get people to believe that is if I just posted 120 pages of artwork.
"But what this allows me to do is go bi-weekly for a couple of months. I'm not sure if it'll be bi-weekly or every three weeks, but this is the first time we'll be in a position where I can go, 'The book is coming!' and yes, it will be coming. Unfortunately, when I was at the helm and got distracted with things, I wasn't able to say that with the certainty that I am now. It's a big deal."
The story plans for that quick burst of issues falls to the incoming team of Carlton as writer and Szymon Kudranski as artist with McFarlane overseeing the story and inking. "The biggest thing that is going to happen is the return of a major villain who disappeared years ago. He becomes a big piece of what's going to happen as we move forward," McFarlane explained. "And the other piece we're setting up is that the new artist Szymon Kudranski looks like...my best comparison is what Alex Maleev was doing on 'Daredevil.' I've always been a big fan of that, and I was going to convert my style to that. I was going to put to rest the 'Classic McFarlane Look' for a while and start telling stories like I was making a movie. I was going to go out and shoot it and then draw over that. But I found this kid on Twitter that took was I was doing in my brain, and he was already doing it better than I would have done because it would have taken me a while to figure out that new style.
"The big difference is, that style isn't conducive to doing big laser beam fights in Time Square. That Maleev-like style works best when [the story] has this urban bite to it that still has a fantastic element on it. The world feels real while you're talking about these big concepts. So the concept of heaven and hell and wanting to take over souls and conquer the time-space continuum will still all be there. It's just that, from #201 on, it won't look quite like it's looked in the first 200 issues. It won't be guys in tights fighting each other with big bazookas. It's going to get a little more sophisticated-looking, [but] all the agendas remain the same.
"Because of that, the story in #200 gives the reason for why there needs to be a shift towards going underground or for hiding in plain sight. Or 'Instead of looking like supervillains fighting in Time's Square, maybe what we need to do is start looking exactly like the humans?' It's always been this idea I've had of, 'What if Rush Limbaugh wasn't really human?' I mean, what if someone like that didn't do what he does because he believes in it, he does what he does not just for high ratings or to be a big shot ,but to get more people to listen to his propaganda. He does it so he can convince the humans to be at each others' throats. Why is that? Because he needs the humans to always be in constant flux because that serves the purpose in this big Heaven versus Hell theology we've got going."
Overall, McFarlane is hoping that the turn towards a more street-level Spawn will help bring readers new and old back into the fold for some urban intrigue. "The new artist plays right into that. You can do your Deep Throat moment where you have your meeting in the garage and it looks super cool because this guy does shadows unbelievably. It's very moody and cool stuff."
"Spawn" #200 ships to comic shops on January 5, 2011.