Probably the best parts of Spawn #229 are the ones reminiscent of the old HBO cartoon. The dark, nigh-incomprehensible scenes of horrible things growling at each other, debauchery and murder happening while two guys are talking, or the instances where Spawn (now some dude named Jim Downing) actually takes some initiative. That’s where Todd McFarlane and Szymon Kudranski click. During a scene where Downing is sleeping, and the Spawn armor reaches out to him in the dark, driving him to kill, Kudranski employs a sequence of four panels down the middle of a two-page spread of various people Spawn attacks. It’s a bit of disoriented, nightmarish imagery done as a series of quick cuts, culminating in a scream that escalates at the end of the spread, just as the “K7-Leetha” takes over Downing’s body (and repeats the process hinted at in the four panels).
Most of the script is weak, relying on a rather useless “chat room” scene in the first few pages and a protracted boardroom dialogue (Downing and friend on one side, the vampire Bludd and his lackey on the other) which becomes more tedious than informative or tense. It’s also at this time Kudranski’s artwork becomes weird in a different, less interesting way. Without the heavy shadows or the disorienting editing tricks of his better scenes, Kudranski draws his figures emoting in a stiff, plastic manner similar to those in the inexplicably-lauded Heavy Rain video game.
Still, it is impressive to see how far this series has come. I’m a fan of the older comics (and the HBO cartoon, if you can’t tell). Part of that might be because I was just entering adolescence when I found out about it (roughly the fiftieth issue), but McFarlane was doing something brilliant in putting out a book in the superhero milieu but was secretly a horror comic. An inverted, modern-day Divine Comedy with CIA, mobsters, child killers, and corrupt politicians intermingling with all those angels and demons. That it has strayed so far from the superhero field is astonishing, and a bit of a joy to read after going a long stretch without picking it up.