I've been putting off blogging about this film, because I hated it. But I set out to do this, and I've always thought Bobby Bland's was good advice...
So I think Spawn sets kind of a lower bound for what superhero films are capable of. I set out to do this because I felt that as the best of the superhero films had achieved something pretty close to sublime in a pop culture way, and even the better-but-not-the-best of them had done some damn interesting things. So I wanted to understand the whole genre.
But of course I never expected that all the superhero films would be good - I'd already seen enough losers, and furthermore I'm also a believer in Sturgeon's Law. Here we see it in action.
The lower bound of superhero films is essentially mindless action. Possessing superpowers presents the possessor with the temptation to use them to satisfy his or her desires: with great power comes great responsibility is a line that's been used explicitly in at least one superhero film, but it's like the secret moral of most of them. But some of them don't care, or perhaps set out to cater to the preadolescent in all of us who would rather not have to recognize adult responsibilities. The infant who just wants to smash things. Fair enough: indulging in that fantasy is also part of the genre. But when that's all the story does, and when it does it badly, then you have...Spawn. 'Nuff said.
Oddly, that was my impression of the comic too. My only real period of intense, loyal reading of American comics came in the mid-'90s. I was in my last couple of years of college, there was a comic book store within walking distance of my apartment, I was bored stiff in Utah, my eyes had already been opened to the possibilities of the comics form by my encounter with manga (in Japanese - hardly anything had been translated at this point), and I discovered that American comics were in something of a rebirth. This was a big era for indie comics, when several big artists and writers were breaking away from DC and Marvel and starting their own companies. I had maybe a dozen or more titles I followed loyally, and read fairly widely beyond that. But Spawn was not one of them. It was pretty clear to me that the new artistic room created by the indie boom could be used for two things. You could (a) tell stories that the majors would never touch, because they were too weird, experimental, abstract, uncommercial, whatever, or (b) you could tell exactly the same kinds of stories that the majors told, but with more sex and violence. Spawn was the latter, obvs. I had no use for it.