Albert Francis Simmons is a man with demonic powers, who fights evil as Spawn. Bruce Wayne is a man who embraces darkness to fight for justice as Batman. Today the two heroes come together in Todd McFarlane and Greg Capullo’s Batman/Spawn #1, a one-shot that deconstructs the two heroes and the ways they operate.
I know I’m not being controversial when I say that Batman is a terrifying character. He lurks in the shadows, he dresses as a bat and punishes those he deems to be wicked. This has earned Batman a reputation, not only among Gotham’s underworld, but in the superhero community as well. Batman and terror go hand in hand.
Spawn takes things a step further, though at first glance, the characters seem similar. In fact, the opening pages of Batman/Spawn play with the parallels between the two of them. Both men lost their loved ones to violence and swore vengeance as a result. Both live in the darkness and both look wickedly awesome in a cape.
Spawn and Batman have also shared creative teams over the years—including the creators behind this one-shot. Years before 1992’s Spawn #1 was published, Todd McFarlane illustrated Detective Comics #576-578, which were part of the “Batman: Year Two” storyline. Looking at McFarlane’s pages today, you can see small elements of Spawn in Batman’s design, especially the cape.
Greg Capullo also shares a history with the two characters. Capullo had a long run on Spawn over at Image Comics and later went on to pencil Batman when the title was relaunched for DC’s New 52. Even the colorist Dave McCaig has experience working on both characters. McCaig has drawn Spawn on variant covers and he worked in the animation department on 2004’s The Batman animated series. In other words, you couldn’t have assembled a better team for this project.
Batman and Spawn share many parallels, but there is a line in the darkness that separates them, even if it’s easy to miss at times. Think of it this way, if I were to put two items in a dark room, you might have trouble visualizing their differences. You would need to be able to see in the dark to do that. That’s Batman and Spawn’s dynamic in a nutshell. To outsiders, they’re eerily similar, but both men could see in the darkness, and they can’t help but notice their differences.
For starters, Spawn is a mercenary from hell who won’t think twice about ending a life. He has demonic powers, while Batman is a mortal who relies on gadgetry, stealth and fear. There are lines Batman refuses to cross. This becomes a source of conflict between him and Spawn, since both heroes have a different idea on how to accomplish their shared goals.
The more time Spawn spends with the Dark Knight, the more horrified he is at the way his operation is run. “Your army includes a butler,” Spawn asks with shock upon meeting Alfred. Spawn is also aghast to learn that the extended Bat-Family is comprised of mortal humans. “Being human isn’t sustainable, not against my enemies. You’ve no idea what exists on my side,” Spawn warns Batman.
As you’re reading Batman/Spawn #1, pay close attention to the scene in the Batcave. The conversation between Batman and Spawn is a great character study on what makes the two heroes similar, what makes them different, and the lines that they cross. During the conversation, Spawn challenges the Dark Knight’s worldview, saying that the life he lives will inevitably lead to him being corrupted or destroyed. Batman counters this argument by saying that his humanity is the only thing that has kept him alive. “You think having powers is all it takes?” the Dark Knight questions. “I’d have been dead years ago if that were true.”
Taking that to heart, the contrast between the two heroes only grows. While the opening pages of Batman/Spawn plays with its two protagonists’ similarities in parallel scenes, everything after the Batcave conversation demonstrates what sets them apart. We see criminals that the two heroes have interrogated, and the differences couldn’t be more stark. Batman’s victims are bloodied and beaten, while Spawn’s victims have been disemboweled.
This all leads to the ultimate line in the sand—murder. Spawn believes that Batman would be more effective as a hero if he would kill his enemies once and for all. By doing so, the criminals of Gotham would know Batman means business and think twice about crossing him. Batman doesn’t agree, believing that murder would set him on a slippery slope to becoming a monster himself. Of course, Spawn embraces being a monster, while Batman holds on to his humanity.
While the issue doesn’t come out and say it, one has to wonder if Spawn is reacting this way due to regret. Batman’s method of operation proves that one can be an effective instrument of vengeance without becoming a monster themselves. However, if Spawn accepts this fact, then it means he didn’t have to embrace the horrors of being a Hellspawn. It means there was another way. Perhaps it’s easier for Spawn to believe that Batman is wrong because the alternative means that Spawn never had to become a monster.
If you haven’t read the one-shot yet, I won’t spoil the ending for you, but I will say that Spawn comes up with a creative solution to take Batman out of his comfort zone. If you’re a fan of both characters, then this is a provocative comic that challenges everything both heroes stand for. Is Batman fooling himself by holding onto his humanity? Does Batman’s existence prove that Spawn is wrong about the nature of darkness?
There is no clear answer, and different readers might walk away from the book with their own interpretation. Either way, Batman/Spawn #1 will force you to rethink everything you know about both characters and about the nature of evil itself. Plus, it’s got plenty of action, dynamic artwork, and an entertaining story. It might not be your typical holiday fare, but what’s winter without a few chills?
Batman/Spawn #1 by Todd McFarlane, Greg Capullo and Dave McCaig is now available everywhere in print and as a digital comic book. For more on this long-awaited one-shot, be sure to read our exclusive interview with McFarlane and Capullo.
Joshua Lapin-Bertone writes about TV, movies and comics for DC.com, is a regular contributor to the Couch Club and writes our monthly Batman column, "Gotham Gazette." Follow him on Twitter at @TBUJosh.