The Spawn character was created in the early 1990s by the Canadian-American comic book creator and entrepreneur, Todd McFarlane, who tells the story of an Afro-American soldier, Al Simmons, who, after an outstanding career in the Vietnam War, was invited to become a secret agent for the United States of America government. His missions focused on fighting crime but evolved into destroying the evidence by killing the targets. Al Simmons’ boss, Jason Wynn, was a master at manipulating people. He made Al Simmons believe that everything they did had a fair purpose: protecting the nation’s safety.
With each mission, the methods became more violent and bloody, and the explanations more unreasonable. The international missions involved killing civilians for the sake of the United States of America political ideals and imperialism. Al Simmons was murdered when he started questioning the purpose of these missions. In Hell, he met the dragon-devil Malebolgia, with whom he sealed a Faustian pact to become Hellspawn, leader of Malebolgia’s army in the future Armageddon, in exchange for being able to recover his own life and that of his beloved wife, Wanda Simmons.
Spawn’s apocalyptic universe is filled with religious symbols related to Judeo-Christian history. Although Todd McFarlane’s main source of inspiration was Durante degli Alighieri’s ‘Divine Comedy,’ Spawn’s images and narratives also contain many other important classic literary references, as well as archaic and ancient mythological elements mingled with postmodern reality.
In relation to the ‘Divine Comedy,’ a basic difference is that Spawn strives but never reaches Paradise (except for a brief false glimpse of it). He becomes a monstrous dead-live (half-dead) demonic creature who exists in a kind of limbo. Malebolgia gives him a putrefying body charged with supernatural devilish powers and super strength — all covered by an armoured uniform that clothes him like a second skin, for he no longer has human skin. In the beginning of Spawn’s “rebirth” he is totally confused, assaulted and tormented by flashbacks, and he doesn’t know how to use his brutal strength and powers. Soon, he discovers that five years have passed since his death, and his wife is now remarried to his best friend. Howling with rage, all he wants is vengeance. Malebolgia and his demons easily manipulate Spawn’s anger.
Gradually, however, as the saga unfolds, Spawn learns more about himself, his personal history, his ancestral origins and his damnable fate. He strives to use his new skills with more wisdom in order to reverse the evil curse and become the saviour and redeemer of mankind. A key figure in his learning process is the old, wise ex-Spawn Count Nicolas Cogliostro. In spite of his support, Spawn’s ultimate goal of reversing this evil curse is hindered for several reasons, the most relevant of which are the following (in parenthesis I suggest some possible interpretations): The memory of his past life as Al Simmons is flawed and fragmented, which confuses him and misleads him when making decisions that require judgment and maturity. (Postmodern secular society has become alienated from many of its mythical and sacred values and roots. Most of the urban population does not have sufficient historical knowledge or cultural conscious memory; thus, daily choices and decisions are often extremely individualistic, relativistic and misled).
He has to learn how to dominate and control his revengeful and destructive instincts, which are enhanced by his new uniforms’ devilish influence. (This could represent the anger, resentment and fear that increasing corporate globalization and abysmal social-economic inequality have been harvesting in many countries, a tense situation that we clearly see widespread in the world and which increases the risks of a misuse of mankind’s powerful technological and military arsenal for destruction).
His resources and powers are not unlimited and endless; he has to use them wisely to sustain them as long as possible, for when they are expired, he will return to Hell, to the sphere of Malebolgia. (This for me can be seen as a metaphor for our current environmental crisis, in which our planet is showing signs of depletion and imbalance due to man’s overconsumption, which is putting our very existence at risk).
Al Simmons’ new home is a dirty alley (mankind’s current existential condition in our planet, which has become so dirty and polluted) near an abandoned church (this could refer to either the average secular, cynical and skeptical attitude in society or the intensification of neo religious fundamentalist belief systems), where he coexists with other outcasts and homeless people (a possible metaphor for other orphans of the old “Mother Church” or patriarchal religious institutions) so as to protect himself from society’s persecution (this to me sounds like the gradual return to the “state of nature” of Thomas Hobbes or the emergence of “reciprocal violence” of René Noël Théophile Girard, in a time where social, institutional and political trust seems to be dwindling).
Spawn is frequently depicted sitting by or holding onto the cross upon a church (maybe as perplexed as I was at the beginning of this journey), always lonely and contemplative, resembling the famous sculpture by François Auguste René Rodin of Durante degli Alighieri, as “The Thinker,” seated atop “The Gates of Hell,” also inspired by the ‘Divine Comedy.’
Even without reading any sample of Spawn’s comics, the narrative provided above can already lend itself to be interpreted as symbolically as any myth or fairy tale towards understanding deeper layers of today’s human psyche’s problems, conflicts and challenges. In summary, the essential plot tells us that Spawn is a cursed and revengeful creature with a flawed mind, who, nevertheless, possesses dangerous and powerful weapons and technologies at his disposal (compare this to the intensification of conflicts in the Middle East, the threat of a new cold war with Russia, economic and political crisis in Europe, the frequent school shootings in the United States of America, the disastrous oil spill in the Gulf Coast of United States of America in 2010, the Fukushima nuclear disaster, et cetera). His powers become an instrument of justice and power, but also a trap.
Spawn is portrayed as a deluded anti-hero who believes naively that he can become a new messiah and change his diabolic reality, as well as save mankind from an early archetypal and primordial wound of separation, for he understands at a later stage of his unfinished saga that both missions are interdependent, namely, the personal and the collective redemption.