Has it been ten years already since the premiere of Spawn: The Animated Series (a.k.a. Todd McFarlane’s Spawn) on HBO? Kind of hard to believe! Not afraid to throw around the looser standards presented at HBO, Spawn: The Animated Series let the viewer know right away what they were getting into: a dark world or sex, drugs, crime, and forces beyond our understanding. The series opens with a bang, literally, and Spawn: The Animated Series is introduced to the world after disabling an attempted murder in the seedy back alleys of New York. Of course, given that this is Spawn: The Animated Series, it doesn’t go exactly as planned, and the police are soon swarming the alleys. It was an amazing start to the series . . . but could the momentum hold up?
Evil begets evil. Hell begets hellspawn. Exploding from the comic book page onto the screen, Spawn is a deadly tornado of untapped, unwrapped merciless power. He was once a man…now he’s a hellspawn, battling the forces of evil on earth…and in himself. Gradually discovering the terrifying power he possesses, Spawn fights to uncover the truth about his identity and fulfill his destiny.
Looking back on this series, it’s a flawed presentation of the character Oddly enough, it’s also the best presentation of that Spawn to date. While the comics went off the tracks long ago (somewhere around issue #40 or 50) and the movie was one of the weaker comic book efforts, there was something that the animated series got right. Sure, it’s not perfect, having a fair share of its own problems, there’s something so watchable about it. It’s like the series does everything the comic wanted to without having to deal with all the superfluous content comic books usually bring to what should be simple storylines. No extraneous plotlines or characters, just the grim and gritty. And damn, this show was very gritty.
Now, the show was not without flaws, like I said. The first season is widely uneven, indulging a bit too much in the excesses that HBO allows it. There’s nudity, coarse language, and sometimes very gruesome gore throughout. But, you know what? I they could get away with it, they did it. Sure, it makes the show seem a bit needlessly macabre and such, but that would even out a bit down the road. That also didn’t stop the first season from being pretty good, actually. It does have some great moments, and you simply can’t beat Keith David as Spawn himself. He was born for that role. I can’t imagine anyone else would fill the role as perfectly as he does. He made up for the sometimes faulty animation.
The second and third season improved both in animation and script. The show started to rely less on shock tactics and more on actual plot development and mature subject matter. On top of that, the animation got a lot better. It became a shade more stylized and angular, fixing up any of the sometimes bloated-looking animation from the first season. The plot also took an intriguing turn, by focusing on Terry Fitzgerald over Spawn. Yes, Spawn was in every episode and had some situation to deal with, but the ongoing plot with Terry on the run (save for the ridiculous idea of him being held captive in an opium den) was well done. However, my favorite storyline goes to the Sam & Twitch subplot in the third season, as Twitch tries to solve who shot him. Yes, that sounds a bit weird, but yes, it is also that excellent. I think, personally, it was the best executed plotline in the entire series.
So how does the DVD stack up? Well, since HBO has gone out of the way to call this a 10th Anniversary Signature Edition, I think it lives up to that title. The extras include Audio Commentary by Todd McFarlane on Select Episodes (“Burning Visions,” “Home Bitter Home,” “A Made Guy,” and “Prophecy,” plus an extended interview with Todd McFarlane, Behind the Scenes Featurette, Episode One Storyboard: Frame by Frame, The McFarlane Process: Step by Step, and Character Profiles. It’s a mix of new stuff and old. Sadly, the excellent audio commentaries from the previous release are not included. The audio commentaries are new, recorded specifically for this release. However, most of the stuff McFarlane talks about isn’t exactly new. I think the excellent commentaries from the previous release, each covering all six episodes from their respective season, should have been included.
We then get repeated special features from the exclusive fourth disc bonus in the original “Ultimate Collection” release, the extended Todd McFarlane interview is here as well as the behind-the-scenes featurette. Some new content includes “Episode One Storyboard: Frame by Frame,” showing the entire storyboard for season one right next to the actual episode. A neat featurette, but sort of tedious. Other new content “The McFarlane Process,” which shows how the episodes are made, and character profiles. Sadly, the trailer for the live-action Spawn movie, or the awesome Spawn TV shots and promos, are not included.
I do want to mention the packaging for the collection – Steelbook! I’m not sure how this little fad has caught on, but a lot of studios are releasing titles in this fashion (or re-releasing titles, like Fox’s recent wave of steelbook title re-releases). It’s a great look and is absolutely perfect for the DVD. It adds emphasis to the importance of this release, the 10th Anniversary, and makes it easily stand out on any shelf. Much better than a bland cardboard digipak. Thrown in a solid audio and video transfer, and you got a great collection. Plus, given the size of the Steelbook packaging, it can easily be stored without any problems. However, check the back of the packaging to make sure the security tag is not attached to it. That might cause a problem when storing your this DVD set.
For those who already own Spawn: The Animated Series (a.k.a. Todd McFarlane’s Spawn) on DVD in either the single releases or the “Ultimate Collection,” I would still Recommend picking up this collection. While the extras may not be as complete as they should, it’s easily worth the upgrade. For those who don’t, this is a no-brainer! Head out and pick up this Highly Recommended DVD collection right now! It’s not perfect, but it’s great to see Spawn done right! The movie can’t do it, the comics can’t do it, but Spawn: The Animated Series is the definitive depiction of Spawn in my books.
Todd McFarlane’s Spawn: 10th Anniversary Signature Edition arrives on DVD on July 24th.