Neil Gaiman defined the universe of Spawn. Neil Gaiman is likely not interested in such a credit after years of legal battles with Todd McFarlane. To be clear, Gaiman did not create Spawn. Spawn is clearly and wholly the creation of Todd McFarlane. Even so, it is clear that most if not all of Spawn’s universe is much better explained and defined in Gaiman’s single issue of Spawn. In a single issue of Spawn, Gaiman managed to define the greater forces at play in the universe that Spawn occupies. Furthermore, Gaiman created two of the most significant characters of Spawn’s supporting cast. Gaiman offered plenty of plot threads that were developed by McFarlane all the way into Spawn # 100. Gaiman in a single issue helped show all the greater possibilities and depth of Spawn not only as a character, but also in defining the universe of the comic series.
Unfortunately, an astoundingly large legal battle would unfold over Spawn #9 with Gaiman suing McFarlane over royalties for characters he co-created. Spawn #9 introduced Cogliostro and Angela, characters that would recur throughout the years of Spawn, and appear in the Spawn film adaptation and animated series. McFarlane at first tried to bargain around the issue of royalties by claiming to have purchased the rights to Miracleman, after publisher Eclipse Comics collapsed halfway through Neil Gaiman and Mark Buckingham’s run on the character. Gaiman’s lawyers advised the author not to settle with a trade of the Spawn characters (Medieval Spawn, Angela and Cogliostro) for Miracleman as McFarlane did not truly own the rights to Miracleman (that is a whole other story). Gaiman won the court battle, and sold the rights to Angela to Marvel Comics. It was a long and grueling battle all over a single comic that Gaiman wrote. Something neither party would likely wish be brought up again.
Even with the amazing courtroom drama, this single issue of Spawn is a fascinating example of a critically-acclaimed author writing for a mainstream audience. Whereas Moore chose to use Spawn as a vehicle for social-satire, Gaiman presents Spawn as an epic-fantasy drama. Neil Gaiman also manages to create a massive fictional universe for Todd McFarlane’s creation in a one comic. Somehow, in only 22 pages Gaiman creates centuries of background history to Spawn, all the while developing Al Simmons and introducing new and memorable characters. Gaiman’s talent at establishing a fictional universe within an established fictional canon is not unprecedented. In the first issue of The Sandman, Neil Gaiman was able to create a new character that had existed since the dawn of time while simultaneously a character within the continuity of the then 50-Year Old DC Universe. Gaiman was able to find a way to answer why his protagonist Morpheus could be older than Earth, yet never have appeared in a single DC Comic prior to Sandman #1, with the potential to subsequently appear in every ongoing title published by DC Comics. Gaiman’s talent at creating a vast creative universe in a limited number of pages is yet again shown in Spawn # 9.
The story opens with a Medieval incarnation of Spawn being deceived and slain by the Hellspawn Hunter Angela. On the surface this is an excellent sequence that helps to establish the threat of Angela. But beyond the superficial adventure-narrative is the development of the fictional universe of Spawn. For, one, the implied army of Hellspawn that Al Simmons is a part of is outright confirmed. Futhermore, Gaiman in an unpronounced manner describes in explicit detail the exact nature of the Hellspawn. McFarlane had established that the Hellspawn were damned souls recruited by a demon (that Alan Moore identified as Malebolgia, not Satan or the ultimate ruler of Hell) for his war with Heaven. However, Gaiman goes into greater length to explain the nature of the war between Heaven and Hell, describing the war as an endless Cold War between the two celestial planes. Any attack made by either a demon on Heaven or an angel on Hell would be an outright declaration of war. Neither side wants to instigate the true Apocalypse and is instead content to permit certain minor skirmishes on the neutral plane of Earth. Earth is reduced to little more than a training grounds and a hunting reserve to the angels and demons.
An intriguing aesthetic choice made by Gaiman and McFarlane is their choice of applying a gender to both Heaven and Hell. Hell is a masculine plane that has the standard muscle-bound superhero figures and raw masculine monsters. In contrast, Heaven is composed of beautiful women who are barely clothed. The lack of clothing on the women is certainly a product of the era in which the characters were created. Yet comparatively the angels are much more free-flowing then the rigid and uptight costuming found in Hell.’
To the enthrallment of Spawn readers, Gaiman explains the stark image made by Moore that the numerous Spawn seen at the end of issue #8 are indeed the Hellspawns of countless generations. Gaiman opens a flood of possibilities for other Hellspawn series that can exist in countless different eras. Medieval Spawn is one of many potential new Hellspawn characters that serve to only enrich and deepen the quickly massive universe of Spawn. Gaiman also affirms that Al Simmons is the victim of recurring methods by Malebolgia. Gaiman states that Malebolgia selects an individual each century to become one of his elite Hellspawn for his war with Heaven. Gaiman also codifies that the issues plaguing Al Simmons affect every Hellspawn. In the debut issue of Spawn, Al Simmons was unsure of his identity and would slowly piece together that he had returned to Earth five years after his death. Angela’s guidebook states that Malebolgia always has his Hellspawn return five years after their death to ensure that all earthly connections have been severed with his soldiers.
Medieval Spawn in only a few pages is almost as well developed as Al Simmons. Medieval Spawn ruefully reflects on his beloved sister marrying a man Medieval Spawn would not have approved. Furthermore, Gaiman, going counter to McFarlane’s anti-heroic tendencies has Medieval Spawn have genuinely noble impulses, as he proudly wants to help the “victim” Angela. Had Gaiman not slain Medieval Spawn immediately, it would have indeed been fascinating to explore more adventures with this incarnation of Spawn in this timeframe.Lastly and perhaps most significantly would be Gaiman’s creation Cogliostro. Originally named “Cagliostro” in his debut issue, the mysterious figure would be similar to Star Wars Obi-Wan Kenobi of being a wise mentor to Al Simmons. Cogliostro is an excellent character who is fully knowledgeable about the rules of Spawn’s world and even begins to teach Spawn on how to break certain rules. The character would continue to be developed as a key ally of Spawn, being a mentor and advisor to Spawn in his many adventures. Gaiman envisioned the character as a wise former Hellspawn who avoided returning to Hell by never expending the finite supply of magic that Malebolgia supplies, a character trait that would slowly be revealed in the later issues of the series. Gaiman on a final note to his intriguing issue, adds the classic element of a prophetic destiny for the protagonist. Cogliostro obliquely states at the final issue that Al Simmons may be “the One”. What exactly was Simmons’ destiny as “the One” would be developed by McFarlane for years to come. Although Gaiman only contributed a single issue of Spawn, he laid the groundwork for countless plot threads and characters that Todd McFarlane would mine and build off of for years to come. While McFarlane is the undisputed creator of Spawn and the aesthetic of the series, Gaiman helped to truly define the world of Spawn and create the overarching story for Spawn.