Spawn creator says new movie script is necessary to become the next Joker

Todd McFarlane once wrote a script to his own Spawn movie. Now, he tells Inverse why he’s fine with a new draft by new writers.

Spawn character model
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Todd McFarlane knows when to step into the shadows.

Six years ago, the famed comic book creator, businessman, and co-founder of Image Comics announced his intentions to write and direct a new horror movie centered on his best-selling dark superhero comic, Spawn. He even completed a script in 2017. Now, a trio of new writers whose collective credits include the 2019 hit Joker and Marvel’s The Falcon and the Winter Soldier are penning a fresh draft of the movie.

At New York Comic Con, McFarlane tells Inverse the project is similarly embarking on a new creative direction — one that swerves from the grounded, horror-like framework that McFarlane strived for in his version.

“The first thing I always tell everybody, and especially the writers, ‘I'm not gonna tell you what your story should be,’” McFarlane says. “There's a reason why we've picked you, because you guys already have a history of being able to know how to navigate characters, and drama, and stories and all that. Do your thing. If you have any questions, ask me. You won't offend me.”

Since 2016, McFarlane has talked about helming a new cinematic project based on his comic book series Spawn, about a highly-decorated U.S. Marine who strikes a deal with a demon in exchange for resurrection only to reemerge on Earth with supernatural powers and a hideously scarred body.

Image Comics co-founder and Spawn creator Todd McFarlane posing with a cosplayer in 2017. McFarlane tells Inverse that the reboot Spawn film is embarking on a new creative direction that differs from his original vision.

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In contrast to previous adaptations of Spawn, including the action-oriented 1997 film starring Michael Jai White and a dark HBO animated series with Keith David, McFarlane’s own self-made Spawn would have been a grounded, R-rated horror movie in which Spawn lurks in the shadows and only comes out select moments, à la the shark in Jaws.

After years of development that included securing a still-active deal with Blumhouse and actor Jamie Foxx for the starring role, The Hollywood Reporter revealed on Wednesday that the project has new writers in Scott Silver (Joker), Malcolm Spellman (The Falcon and the Winter Soldier), and up-and-comer Matthew Mixon of the 2016 documentary Yesterday Was Everything. The three are all collaborating on a new script for Spawn.

While McFarlane expresses to Inverse disappointment as an artist, as a businessman “I get it,” he says.

“Let me say out loud. I understand,” McFarlane explains. “I've been at this gig for a long time as a businessman. Never let the tail wag the dog. Never. Which means our goal to make a movie is just to make the best movie we can to people who go to movies globally.”

“This is how you build a franchise.”

McFarlane acknowledges that a global moviegoing audience may not have ever heard of Spawn, let alone ever read a Spawn comic book. Hence, a new direction for the movie that will prime Spawn to become a potential franchise to rival those at Marvel and DC.

“It’s a small number of people actually ever bought a Spawn comic,” he notes, which is why he now doesn’t mind other writers hammering on a new script for his beloved creation. “You don’t have to do anything specific to issue number 37,” he says, “You bend the rules, you come up with cool stuff. As the guy who owns it, I’m your biggest cheerleader if we all feel it makes the story stronger.”

Adds McFarlane, “Our goal is to make the best movie we can that will entertain the most people, and if that doesn’t keep every comic book collector happy, we have to turn a slight blind eye. We got to make a movie that works. A movie that works lets us make a second, a third, a fourth. This is how you build a franchise.”

In 2019, Spawn commemorated its milestone 300th issue. To date, it is one of the longest, continuously running independent superhero comic books.

Image Comics

McFarlane has a global audience in mind for Spawn, with an optimistic but realistic hope the same audience will discover the over 300 issues of Spawn. “It worked for Walking Dead,” he jokes.

“As much as I love [Spawn], it isn’t a household name in Hong Kong, in Barcelona, in the Czech Republic, in Poland,” he says, “But they know Joker, they know Captain America, and from my end, I’m not the Spawn guy, I’m the guy who co-created Venom. That’s what will get moviegoers into theaters. That’s what’s gonna get them in there.”

There is no release date for Spawn.

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