Spawn #185

Written by Todd McFarlane and Brian Holguin
Pencils by Whilce Portacio
Inks by Todd McFarlane
32 pages, color
Published by Image Comics

I will be the first to admit that I cannot remember the last time I actually read an issue of Spawn. Even as it continues to chug away (185 issues already? Really?), I’d stopped paying attention to Todd McFarlane’s creation. He himself had left the helm a long time ago, and neither the character nor any of the creative line-ups over the years had made me think I needed to jump back on board. But I must say, my curiosity got the better of me when I’d heard that Whilce Portacio would pencil the book, with McFarlane co-writing and inking. So for that alone? They got me. And I bet I’m not the only one dying to know what the end result was like.

Spawn has announced that it’s time to put an end to "all this" once and for all, marching down an alleyway in search of what has been eluding him. Simultaneously, a patient awakes from a coma in a hospital—but Patient 47 was never supposed to wake up. Why is the patient’s body regenerating instead of staying atrophied? And why does anyone and everyone care so much about a nameless patient who’s been unconscious for ages?

I have to first give McFarlane and Holguin credit where credit is due; I think they know that they were going to have a lot of new readers with this issue, and as such they start with (so far as I can see) a clean slate. No previous knowledge seems to be necessary to figure out what’s going on here, with the majority of the issue centered around our mystery man in the hospital. Now to be fair, people who picked up an issue of Spawn expecting the titular character to jump around and blow things up might be a little disappointed, but I think this is actually off to the right start. We’ve got a mystery on why this patient was even in the hospital, as well as what makes them so important that other people are monitoring on his progress, and how his awakening can even result in someone else’s death. My one bit of hesitation here is that while it’s easy to start a story this way, I hope Holguin and McFarlane know that you can’t keep that sort of thing up forever. The next issue is going to need some genuine forward action (and start linking the stories of Patient 47 and Spawn) or just as quickly as they’ve tweaked a reader’s interest, they’re going to lose it. And as for Spawn’s story itself, well, it’s certainly got an amusing cliffhanger but once again, the next issue is going to require a lot more meat or else readers are going to lose interest. But for now, a tentative step in the right direction.

As for the art, well, I have to say that if this is what McFarlane inking Portacio looks like, the two of them should have started working together years ago. Portacio’s pencils retain all of their hallmarks that we’ve seen over the years: angular facial bone structures, lots of long, stringy lines, and a sharp focus on people’s expressions. That’s all still very evident, but McFarlane has taken a different tactic than most other people when inking Portacio’s pencils. Instead of emphasizing Portacio’s numerous fine lines that scatter across the page (which can often make the page look like a jumbled, hard-to-follow mess) he’s softened them, smoothing out some of the wrinkles along the way. The end result is a beautifully clean page, probably the best work I’ve seen from Portacio in a long time. It’s still very recognizably his own work, but McFarlane has brought out all of Portacio’s strengths while minimizing his weaknesses. Colorist Jin Han certainly gets some of the credit here, choosing the right colors to soften and blend with the finished artwork here.

At the end of the day? I want to see the next issue of Spawn if only to see how Portacio and McFarlane continue to collaborate. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good first issue in terms of story, but the hook for me is seeing Portacio’s art at its best. It’s great to see him at the top of his game, and I’m really happy that Spawn of all books gave him an outlet to do so. Consider me interested.

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