Pipeline: McFarlane & Larsen Gel Creatively on "Spawn"

Tue, January 5th, 2016 at 2:58pm PST

Comic Books
Augie De Blieck Jr., Columnist


spawn259 cover

This week's "Spawn" #259 is the second collaboration on the series between Todd McFarlane and Erik Larsen. My problem with #258 was that the storytelling was dynamic and the art looked great, but you could see the panels McFarlane inked more heavily on than others. The styles were clashing. It wasn't consistent.

With their second issue, though, I think the mix is starting to blend in right. I didn't get that feeling that pushed me out of the story at all in this issue. Sure, there were definitely panels where McFarlane's inks smoothed out a lot of Larsen's lines and added some cool textures and effects, but that's OK. That's what I want him to do, and that's why I think this issue is more successful from a pure surface level point of view.

Issue #258 didn't have much of a story. It was an artist's playground, with Larsen having fun drawing Spawn fighting his way through Hell. This issue has more fighting in Hell, but actual character moments mixed in. Spawn needs to make a big decision at the end of this issue, and makes the one that you might not expect. It's an interesting angle to take.

I look forward to what future issues of "Spawn" bring, for the first time in a long while.


  • "One Froggy Evening" just turned 60 years old. Cartoon Brew offers an appreciation. Chuck Jones remains my animation hero for shorts just like this...

  • You know that life advice thing about doing what you love and never working a day in your life? It's a cute saying, but mostly bunk and fantasy. Glad to see I'm not alone in thinking this.

  • Adam Warren discusses fighting the urge to go back to "fix" things. Bonus points for not once mentioning "Star Wars" or "George Lucas."

  • Kurt Busiek went on a lettering rant that's well worth reading. Also, this quote:

    "Readability is rule one, unless you’re designing death-metal logos."

    That probably could have been the tweet of the week, if it hadn't been for the next bullet point.

  • Tweet of the week: Brian K Vaughan provides thoughtful life guidance:

    Can't argue with that. I want to be a Fraggle, but sometimes fear I'm a Doozer.

THE EPIC GEN13 RE-READ: "Gen13" #0

gen13 0 cover

This isn't to be confused with Issue #1/2, which was the special giveaway if you had collected the coupons from the first miniseries and sent those in. I never did that, so I can't tell you anything about that issue.

This is the issue that came out between the end of the initial miniseries and the beginning of the on-going series. It's meant to bridge that gap, moving the kids from the desert where they had escaped to San Diego, where they'd live in a house together to train and -- well, act like a "Real World" season or something.

It's a series of four short stories, all written by Brandon Choi. None of them are great, and several have rookie writer mistakes in them. Choi likes to start his story with the omniscient narrator before moving to a first person perspective, and it never works that smoothly. In one case, this shift happens on the same page in the middle of a splash, denoted only by a slight change in the caption box shape. A different background color, at the least, might have been helpful. It wouldn't have saved it, though.

The first story, "Coming Home," is drawn by Jim Lee with inks from Alex Garner. It's the story of Caitlin Fairchild visiting her sister on the outskirts of Portland (this book was trendy a decade ahead of its time), only to get caught by IO Operatives that her sister's ne'er-do-well husband sold her out to. He's every bit the less-than-subtle jock gone bad you'd expect in a two dimensional story. The reader may, however, take pleasure in the moment when the I.O. operatives taser him. Caitlin takes the hit, then gets hit by a train, and only gets angrier.

gen13 0 caitlin
The early Comicraft lettering has the little squiggly line and the colored balloon outline, but still looks a little awkward. Over time, they'd modify both and get everything looking right. Also, Caitlin was wearing a black sports bra earlier in the story until she was tased on the previous page and it burned right off, leaving just her almost diaphanous dress. That's some taser!

The story is a good show of Caitlin's strength and powers, and serves mostly to underline how unsafe the Gen13 kids are anywhere in the world. I.O. is a scary spy organization, and there's no hiding from them.

Story continues below

In the story's big twist, it turns out the whole set-up was planned by Lynch to get Caitlin to see the situation she's in and get her back to San Diego as soon as possible. I think.

The second story features Burnout driving a VW bus to the Arizona desert to pick up Rainmaker from her tribe's home. This is an eight page feel good story about Native American spirituality, Bobby's ignorance, and everyone's need to find a family to fit into. It's an "After School Special" -- not that they have those anymore -- with very little drama or danger.

gen13 0 johnson

It's drawn by Richard Johnson with Gary Martin on inks. It's not the Wildstorm house style at all. It's much more restrained, with a greater variety of emotions in the characters. The problem is just that it's also a little boring in comparison to the bombast of the rest of the book.

The fun begins in the third story, drawn by J. Scott Campbell, where Grunge and Freefall hit the Vegas casinos looking for Freefall's step-mother, who is supposedly a waitress in town somewhere. Grunge has a plan to take what little money they have left and fix a few games of chance to increase it dramatically.

Grunge also thinks the gambling age is 18. It's left as an exercise for the reader if that's Grunge's stupidity, or an error by the writer that was overlooked by editorial.

In a crazy random moment, Grunge gets mistaken for an Asian mafia hitman and chaos ensues. With the help of his own powers -- he's also able to transform anyone he touches into a new material, not just himself -- the two escape into Burnout's VW Van that just happened to be pulling up.

Given the tone of the series and the story, itself, I'm fine with the timing. It all makes sense and ties up neatly and I appreciate that. Gen13 works best as a character-based sit-com with action elements. This story encompasses that perfectly. You need to suspend your disbelief, but I think it's a fair trade-off.

The interesting thing about the art in this story is that Campbell is inked not by Garner, but by Mark Farmer and Gary Martin. The two inkers fall into a similar style of inking, but I don't really see that style as being compatible with Campbell's penciling. The end result is weird. Campbell is a caricaturist and a cartoonist. The smooth ink lines applied to his work attempt to craft his art into something that looks more realistic and modeled. Characters start to look lumpy, particularly under Farmer's brush.

gen13 0 farmer inks
Another oddity to notice here is the way the art is smaller than the page. I'm guessing it was a production issue, as there are a few pages in this issue with extra healthy margins. There's no pixelation, but I'm betting something wasn't set right in the computer in the production pipeline here.

Farmer, in particular, has done legendary work with Alan Davis in the past, where their two styles meshed well. His work with Dale Keown was also amazing. Those are two pencilers whose styles are well-suited to this cleaner style of inking, with plenty of smooth brush lines. Here, though, it's a bit of a clash. While Garner's inks occasionally get too caught up in the excesses of style at the time, I think they work better over Campbell's pencils, over all.

We end the issue with a six page Lynch story drawn by Travis Charest. Charest was relatively new at Wildstorm in 1994. He had already drawn a few backups in "WildC.A.T.s" after Jim Lee, and his only work prior to that was at DC with "Darkstars" and some covers. The art is weak, but there are moments where Charest's style stands out in a good way, particularly in the establishing shot on the first page and the full body Lynch panel on the fourth page. Both give Charest a chance to draw something out of the ordinary and high tech/sci-fi-ish.

gen13 0 charest
You know immediately that this is a Travis Charest drawing. It's also a victim of early Photoshop coloring, but that's just a sign of the times....

The story has Lynch going back to I.O.'s base to erase all records of Gen13 and Project Genesis, while stealing a paltry $10,000,000 to fund his new team. It's something Lynch had to do to keep them safe, and he succeeds. This is a nice pay-off and bookends the Fairchild story at the beginning of the issue. It also gives the team the chance at a fresh start in time for the first issue of their on-going series.

Wildstorm had some pretty strong anthology titles in its lifetime. This is just a one-off, but the talent level is pretty high on it, even when half of it is pretty young and new to the industry. I imagine it was a thrill -- or ridiculously scary -- for Garner to be inking Lee, for example. Looking back, a single comic with new stories from Campbell, Lee, and Charest seems like a pretty good deal for $2.50.

In the end, though, it's all about filling the time while the on-going series ramped up, and we'll be looking at that book in the next edition of the Gen13 Epic Re-Read.

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TAGS:  pipeline, spawn, gen13, todd mcfarlane, erik larsen

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