Friday, February 21, 2014
Well, it's been a bit since we last visited the blood-n-slime-filled pits of mid-1990s Image Comics, but I managed to find a couple hours in between chain-reading '20s American literature to give a spin to Spawn: Blood Feud, a four-part work from right in the middle of the '90s that can be best summed up with the tagline 'Spawn fights Vampires'. Normally this is where I would say something like 'Blood Feud isn't BAD, but...' but truth be told, Blood Feud is pretty bad. But not entirely without merit. Let's examine.
The story starts in medias res, with something that appears to be Spawn carving up innocent tenement-dwellers. This leads to the city being whipped into an anti-supernatural frenzy by a man named John Sanker, a vampire hunter who convinces the populace that our favorite Hellspawn is actually a blood-sucking creature of the night and must be exterminated. Of course it's all a coverup, and John Sanker is really Jean Sans-Coeur or 'Heartless John', a 900-year-old vampire who's looking to eliminate the competition and set himself up as an apex predator (As Spawn says in an admittedly-funny line, "You sound like some kind of undead Donald Trump"). In true plucky Face/unstoppable Heel fashion, Sanker trounces Spawn the first two or three times they scuffle, and it's only when Spawn makes peace with his parasitic suit (remember, Todd McFarlane was influential in creating the similarly-suited Venom for Marvel) that John can be defeated.
Only he's not defeated, really. This may be just a problem with reading one arc in the middle of an ongoing series, but Sanker/Sans-Coeur shifts into some sort of naga-looking beast and escapes down a manhole and that's it, the story's over. I've always said one of the laziest things that a comics publisher can do is to not finish an arc in a self-contained way: sure Batman has been going on since 1941, but if I pick up, say, Strange Apparitions, I want it to have a beginning, middle, and end. Most of the time publishers and writers manage this, but not always, and Blood Feud is one of the unfortunate times when the ball is dropped, and finishing the story will leave a very unfinished taste in your mouth.
Other than that, the book is honestly just dull. Spawn and Sakner come off as total products of their generation, each one trying to out-grim and out-mope each other at every turn. Spawn's inner monologue captures that Alan Moore poetry a bit, especially when he's wracked with guilt over thinking that his suit is murdering innocents when he's unconscious, but otherwise he mostly just complains his way through the entirety of the story, and listening to Sanker drone on and on about the vampire's place in a world of humans is trying at best. Tony Daniel and Kevin Conrad are on the art side of things, and their work is bland, ugly, and typically mid-'90s, everything dark and gritty.
That's not to say the story is all bad; Moore attempts humor here and there and succeeds pretty much with all of it. Most of the relief from Spawn and Sanker's grim antics comes from Sam & Twitch, the two homicide detectives who have to clean up after the murders and piece together exactly what happened. Sam & Twitch function a bit like Batman's Bullock & Montoya, respectively, Sam is the slovenly overweight one and Twitch is the nervous and, uh, twitchy one. They not only provide laughs, but they figure out Sanker's game plan way before Spawn does. Twitch ends the story in bad shape, and part of me wants to read on a bit to see if he turns out okay, and that's a testament to both the likability of the characters and Moore's light touch on their writing. I'd read a Sam & Twitch spinoff, and incidentally it looks like they made one. Might have to check it out...
The other moment of brightness in the otherwise dull grey plot is a surprise appearance from Spawn's eternally wacky nemesis, Violator, in the third chapter. I'll put this out there right here and now: no matter what else you can say about Moore's time with Image, the man knows how to writer Violator. Spawn sneaks into a toxic waste pipe, figuring it's the only place where "not even the lowest of the vermin would go" only to find Violator, in homeless clown mode, comfortably reclining there. Violator mostly functions as an info dump in this story, there to explain to Spawn that his suit couldn't be the one murdering the tenement families, but it's not hyperbole to say that the majority of the time I enjoyed Blood Feud was the five pages where he appeared.
Beyond that, there's not much to say about Spawn: Blood Feud. It's very much a product of it's time, as demonstrated by Sanker in the second half of the book: nude, covered and blood, and ridiculously proportioned. It has none of the self-aware goofiness that the Violator stories had, and only a fraction of the black humor which had characterized Moore's best work during this period. It's unnecessary, and like The Killing Joke it feels less like a Moore work and more like a work very heavily influenced by Moore, but without even the beautiful art that the former work had going for it. Not much to recommend this one.
Best quote: "You're dead, you sap! Vampire bites only affect living tissue! Boy will ya look at me! Kinda like Danny DeVito, only more distinguished, don'cha think?"
Up next: Yes Virginia, more Spawn!