Todd McFarlane is bringing his legend to life. The innovative comic book storyteller who co-founded Image Comics is working to bring his indie comics creation Spawn, the chief mercenary of hell, to the big screen in a way McFarlane deems fit. And in doing so, this new Spawn could very well reimagine superhero movies in the process. (But don’t tell McFarlane that Spawn is a superhero.)
It’s been 20 years since New Line Cinema’s Spawn misunderstood the material, so it’s high time one of the most successful comic books not from Marvel or DC get the cinematic treatment it deserves: An ex-marine for the U.S. military, Al Simmons is betrayed by his partner and his soul sent to hell. Making a deal with Malebolgia, Simmons gets to “live” again, but his memories are messed up and he’s cursed with supernatural powers to fight on Hell’s behalf. But, despite being a loyal soldier in life, Simmons answers to no one in death.
In the age of Marvel and DC’s dominance, here are five reasons why Spawn can usurp the status quo and change superhero movies as we know it.
1. It’ll Be the First “Superhero” Movie to Fully Embrace Horror
Todd McFarlane himself has described his new movie as not a superhero movie, but a horror movie. “This is not a superhero movie. Period. If you think it is, don’t go,” he’s previously said in interviews. “Because it won’t act, talk, feel like any of it. What it will act and talk and feel like are creepy little low-budget movies that scare the shit out of you.”
In another interview, McFarlane said he’s targeting folks who go to horror movies than those who attend superhero movies. While there’s definitely some overlap in those moviegoers, McFarlane wants to get rid of the idea that it’s a superhero movie. “I’m going for the same crowd that horror film releases going for. People who want to take their boyfriend or girlfriend or go out with the girls and go to the movies and get spooked.”
2. It May Once Again Prove Small Budgets Work
After the sky-high success of Tim Miller’s Deadpool, it seemed more likely that studios would be willing to greenlight genre movies with a manageable budget over bloated triple-digit million productions, such as last year’s Batman v Superman. But only movies behaving like the latter have only stuck around; the domestic $76 million gross for Power Rangers is hardly spectacular considering its reported budget of $100 million.
Meanwhile, smaller-budget hits like M. Night Shyamalan’s Split and Jordan Peele’s Get Out have been monster performers. Neither movie had any kind of established brand recognition, but Spawn will. And McFarlane wants Spawn done for $10 million, which is virtually nothing in Hollywood. “Give me $10 million to make a little horror movie and let’s see if we can scare some people.”
3. It Will Allow Creators to Shepherd Their Franchise
Last year’s Deadpool won both fans and general audiences precisely because its creator had some influence over the film. Rob Liefeld, who conceived of Deadpool way back in the ‘90s, made some key decisions over the film during its conceptual stages.
“Half of us believed the movie should involve Cable,” Liefeld told Inverse over a year ago. “I said, ‘No. Don’t put Cable in the first movie.’ Deadpool is a vehicle for Ryan to shine.” Liefeld’s decision proved to be the smart one: By teasing Cable in the after-credits scene of Deadpool, buzz for the property spiked even after the movie was released.
While Liefeld didn’t direct Deadpool (that honor went to Tim Miller), it would behoove studios to put more trust in the people who know these characters best.
4. It Will Encourage Everyone to Look Beyond Marvel and DC
The Big Two have become their own creative houses without being (completely) tied to more established studios. As a result, most of the biggest superhero movies have come from either Marvel or DC more often than not, which even fans are starting to admit to being tedious.
Studios are starting to look elsewhere for the next hot franchise. Sony’s got Valiant while Liefeld’s own Extreme Universe is being worked on by a handful of producers. And AMC’s The Walking Dead has finally proved to the rest of the world that great comic books aren’t exclusively superhero stories.
But change is slow. Fans will still (happily) get heaping doses of Marvel and DC for the foreseeable future. But if McFarlane can make Spawn work like it has the potential to, then Spawn and Image Comics could once again disrupt the superhero landscape just as it did in comics back in 1992.
5. Anti-Heroes Can Be Franchise Heroes, Too
Quick, who are the two biggest comic book movie characters to explode in the last five years? Marvel saw Guardians of the Galaxy, Old Man Logan, and Deadpool each become a phenomenon while DC witnessed Harley Quinn become everyone’s favorite Halloween costume. Though the Avengers’ lasting appeal proves that good still triumphs over evil, everyone still loves a rogue.
That some of the biggest movies have been Deadpool and Logan — which eschew the boy scout qualities of classic superhero traditions — is only setting audiences up for the grand slam that is Spawn, a character McFarlane conceived of as having the powers of Superman but without the moral compass. Spawn straight-up kills and murders people who deserve it, without the wit of Wade Wilson or the admirable, inherent goodness within Logan.
Al Simmons was a killer in life and is now a killer in death, and he always will be. For some people, that’s just perfectly fine.