WRITER – WILL CARLTON
ART – SZYMON KUDRANSKI
COMICS ON THE CAN AS DEFINED BY THE URBAN DICTIONARY –
1. A deviant sexual or drug related act, like what you usually find in urban dictionary, taking place in a public restroom. Like dogging but with less class. “I was giving her the ‘comics on the can’ in the Jamba Juice bathroom* when her manager knocked on the door!”
2. A column on a geek demographic website where the writer reads a random comic book while going to the bathroom*, then writes a rambling review filled with bizarre tangents and snarky comments. Presumably funny but there has been no evidence to support such a notion. More popular in Canada than dogging, currently, but less respectable.
3. An interview show hosted by “Canadian” “comic” Tom Green where he hurls small rodents at stand-up comedians while they go to the bathroom* Renewed for a second season on Crackle.
*synonyms: Toilet, water closet, room of the porcelain throne, potty, restroom, Casa de poopy, ploppy house, Place to catch up on Bejeweled, where numbers 1-3 happen, indoor-outhouse, place where I banged your mother.
It’s weird to understand that Spawn has been around since the beginning of Image. A company that has transformed from a (tactically) bold/smart move by several big names to get a bigger piece of the merchandising and licensing pie for their creative work. At the outset the company had some “right place, right time” mojo in its favor; speculation came to the comic biz. It only took a few years of foil stamped covers, new #1 issues, and pre-bagged trading cards for the whole industry to drive speculation straight into the ground, but Image hit that eighteen month sweet spot (the time corridor akin to Vanilla Ice and/or MC Hammer’s career) to benefit from the positives. Then suffering from uneven success, clashing egos, accusations of financial chicanery, copious missed deadlines, a loss of status and vision. To the (not necessarily inaccurate) perception of being a glorified distribution shill. To its current perception as the go-to imprint for top-notch creator’s passion projects.
Oh yeah, that The Walking Dead fad too.
Through all that; all the ebbs and flows of the market(s), trends in comics, movies and merchandising Spawn has continued.
No small feat.
A co-worker of mine, aged 28, isn’t really aware of a world without Spawn. He had the toys and saw the movie… he even read the comic! To him Spawn is “Bad-ass”. Which is a fair summation of Spawn. He’s not really into comics (though he did plow through the Weapon Brown – Blockhead’s War omnibus in one day… so he’s got potential) so it might not be fair to state that he is unfamiliar with Savage Dragon, Wild C.A.T.S or Youngblood but, as a child of the 90’s, he had ample opportunity. Only Spawn got recall and “Bad-ass” status.
Once again; no small feat.
With all this effort put into emphasizing the durability and (my new favorite buzzword) cultural penetration of Spawn you’d think I was a big fan. Not really; issue #202 is, as best as I can recall, about the second or third full issue I’ve ever read. If it wasn’t the next book in my ever dwindling box I would’ve probably never read it. And that would’ve been a shame because Spawn (at least this incarnation with the team of Carlton and Kudranski) is a pretty interesting comic book. Al Simmons isn’t anywhere to be found in this issue, in fact a cat named Jim Downing is rocking the Spawn suit… or A Spawn suit. Jim, an amnesiac, is using the suit’s abilities to heal people, on TV, and is becoming a celebrity because of it. It seems Jim just wants to do some good and the attention and money is just a side effect.
Another side effect is attention, wanted and unwanted, and Jim’s deeds have drawn the eye of a Mr. Ramus. Ramus is (obviously from the creepy name, the fact that he is the head of a monolithic multinational corporation and has a cane with a gold skull top) a bad guy. And a vampire to boot. Ramus knows who Jim was and is coercing him by feeding bits of information about his past.
Playing the amnesiac card may be well worn, just ask the millions of Bourne Identity fans, but is still an effective narrative tool when handled correctly. I gather from the structure of this issue that the reader learns about Jim’s past at the same time Jim does. Which qualifies as handling correctly. Bonus points for having the big bad being the one that has the whole picture and is using that info to manipulate Jim. Also well played.
Ramus gives Jim a briefcase with a picture in it. A suitable, classy, and typical bad guy type of move. One of the many corporations Ramus must own is a business that makes briefcases. Which makes good business sense seeing as how often briefcases are used in everyday bad guy activities. He’s filling a niche. One assumes that if Ramus continues to dole out information in such a fashion (“I’m Married!” “I have a cat named Mr. Tibbles” “I used to wear parachute pants like MC Hammer”) Jim will not only be able to piece together his former life but have a stunning collection of high-end business accessories. Or, at the very least, a continual source of eBay items for his financial well-being if the faith healer thing doesn’t pan out…
Odds are it won’t pan out ‘cause Ramus probably doesn’t want a guy with a Hellspawn suit to grab his dry cleaning every once in a while.
Kudranski’s art is something to behold; like David Mack filtered through Hellraiser (the Epic comic series or the movie, your choice). As mentioned above Remus has his cane; skull canes have been a visual shorthand for rich, evil fuckers since forever. Kudranski knows this and gives the item its own panel instilling it with about as much menace as an inanimate object could have. Also on the same page; a close-up of a glass of whisky, cryptic phone conversation in the back of a limo all set against a high contrast photo of city buildings against a bone white sky. All great and fairly familiar images that say “Corporate bad-guy motherfucker” but damn if Kudranski don’t sell it like a boss. His blotted out collage visual mash-up style just drips atmosphere. Stark light chews at the corners of deep blacks or wash out all the small details to an overwhelming effect. Oranges and greys contrast violently. Tension ratchets up as small close-ups panels slice through half page wide shots. Evil faces pierce a sickly veil of light. The story may be coming from a suspense thriller angle but the look is pure slow-building horror film. Kudranski shows that this medium can do things that no other medium can do.
The story tension builds nicely; I love the story arc of a bastard getting memory loss and then doing good deeds with bastard methods. Once again, Bourne but also Wolverine, Total Recall, and the original Spawn. Jim ain’t no angel but he wants to do good; it just seems that his best friend’s wife, the forces of Hell (Clown skulks around in the back of one scene), corporate vampire motherfuckers, and even his own suit want him to do the opposite. And therein lies the appeal that Spawn has, I think; the bastard overcomes his bastard-ness and, with great struggle, becomes a hero. A much more earned title than the straight outta Metropolis do-gooder. Spawn might have been birthed with the idea of crushing other mediums for fun and profit but the reason it has lasted longer than any of its nest mates at the dawn of Image is that it is, when all that other stuff faded into an abandoned toy box in my friend’s attic, a comic book… first and foremost!
Random thoughts somewhat pertaining to the column but I couldn’t work in organically in the main review…
I love urban dictionary. Till I checked I was never sure about choosing incall or outcall.
Mercifully Tom Green doesn’t have a show on Crackle, or anywhere else.
I reviewed Cyberforce in an earlier comics on the can. It became an extended rant on what I thought was wrong with a lot of those first comics. Read it and see if you agree.
Cultural Penetration is a trademark of MIKECO, 2016
Cultural Penetration is also the name of my back to the roots punk rock band. I do a double bill with Fapdollar my dubstep DJ act.
Another advantage of having such a long running series is the rich life and stories secondary characters can build up. Sam and Twitch are in this arc and it keeps the story anchored even with the new guy in the suit. Plus with Sam at death’s door we see a tender side of Twitch. It’s quite touching.
Writing that bit about the briefcases made me think of the briefcase argument between Austin Powers and #2 in the first Austin Powers movie.
This briefcase is currently going for just under $45 on eBay.
Ramus draws a parallel of addiction between being a vampire and the Spawn suit. I guess vampires are qualified to expose on addiction.
Other visual shorthand: Airships = alternate universe, Parent on cellphone = neglected kid, wife beater = redneck.
I’ve threatened to do an issue of Big Trouble in Little China in this column for almost two years now. I did a straight review of the latest issue here.
NEXT: Maybe A Deadpool thing cause I have other Deadpool things lined up for February.
LATER: Still more in the box.