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HBO presents
Spawn: The Animated Collection (10th Anniversary Signature Edition) (1997-1999)

"You're a killer. Born and bred. You see violence and you act. That's why he picked you."
- Clown (Michael Nicolosi)

Review By: Rich Rosell  
Published: July 25, 2007

Stars: Keith David
Other Stars: Richard Dysart, Michael Nicolosi, Dominique Jennings, Victor Love, Kath Soucie, James Keane, Micheal McShane, John Rafter Lee, Denise Poirier, Ronny Cox, Victor Brandt, Ming-Na, Ruben-Santiago Hudsen, Brendan O'Brien, James Hanes, Jennifer Jason-Leigh
Director: various

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (language, violence, nudity, sexuality)
Run Time: 09h:00m:00s
Release Date: July 24, 2007
UPC: 026359425325
Genre: television

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A B+B+A- B-

DVD Review

Todd McFarlane—who made a name for himself with some groundbreaking artwork with Marvel's Spider-Man series in the early 1990s—uncorked his own creation Spawn in 1992, under the Image Comics banner, and it did wonders for making the whole dark anti-hero genre popular. Sure, Alan Moore and Frank Miller had already made great strides in that department already, but McFarlane tapped into a somewhat more mainstream (in terms of the comic book world) presentation, with a tortured hero with his own set of problems. Big problems, too.

This four-disc 10th Anniversary edition steelbook release carries all three seasons of HBO's animated series, which ran from 1997 to 1999. The eps have all been digitally remastered, and though the quantity of extras is not the same as some prior editions, the fact that the discs are no longer flippers (and a new Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track has been added) should be reason enough to rejoice. And despite the preponderance of Spawn action figures and PG-13 live action movie in 1997, this animated series is definitely not for children, as it is loaded with obscenities, nudity and graphic violence, to say nothing of subplots involving pedophilia and child murder.

In life, Al Simmons was a ruthless assassin for a secret agency of the U.S. government, and when he was set up by his own people and murdered (burned alive via flamethrower, if you must know) he struck a deal with the devil. He would give his soul for one chance to see his beloved wife Wanda once again, only unbeknownst to Simmons that deal also included being resurrected four years later as a Hellspawn, whose main purpose is to harvest souls for the head-demon-in-charge Malebolgia. Decked out in a swirling crimson cloak and black hood, as well as a set of whip-like chains, the burnt-to-a-crisp Al Simmons—now know simply as Spawn—battles raging inner torment as he struggles with where his allegiances lie, the issues of uncontrollable rage and vengeance, and whether any scraps of his previous humanity still exist.

Each season is only six episodes, each running just under a half-hour. The first block of episodes covers mainly origin issues, as we're introduced to the complexity of Simmons' afterlife dilemma as he is—in staccato bursts—getting bits and pieces from his Earthly overseer, a fat, perverted clown with a little something extra under his skin. As Spawn takes up residence in the alleys of Rat City, with the rest of the homeless and disenfranchised, he spends a large portion of the remaining seasons waffling between becoming a defender of the downtrodden or doing the bidding of the evil Malebolgia. Only the presence of the mysterious Cogliostro, who serves as ominous narrator as well, helps keep Spawn's rage in check, even if it is only temporary.

The visual style of this series is its strongest suit, closely matching the panel-by-panel look of a graphic novel, with stark closeups and strange angles steeped in perpetual shadow, matched by bluntly coarse dialogue. It's a rather faithful adaptation of a comic (stories and artwork) and one that does not feel the need to dilute the more adult elements. Spawn kills a number of bad guys, tearing them apart into a number of pieces, and appearances by a serial killer who is also an agent of Malebolgia (Send In The KKKlowns) feature some gruesome animation. A child killer and pedophile are prominent in season one, as are four important characters to the Spawn comic universe, and the fact that they are used as sparingly as they are may surprise some. The menacing Overkill (Evil Intent) and beautiful bounty hunter Angela (Dominoes) have brief appearances during the first block of six eps, and it's almost as if the writers were trying to fit in too much Spawn mythology at one time. Season two is dramatically more focused, with the storyline becoming more cohesive and much darker.

The third season takes a while to find its footing storywise, though there are some major character developments that propel the final four episodes. Anyone who has ever read a comic knows that story arcs end and new ones begin (often haphazardly), and the lack of a finality to the Spawn storyline is probably the biggest dangler left out there at the end of the three seasons. The new revelations—including one about Cogliostro and reporter Lisa Wu—attempt to add some flexibility to Spawn's torment, as does a reveal about an unknown ability of his undulating red cloak.

I have to applaud the authenticity of HBO's Spawn series, by keeping it so true to its comic book roots—and not sugarcoating the ugly parts. Nothing can really replace the joy of reading a well-written comic, but this series is damn close to that experience.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: B+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: All episodes are presented in their original 1.33:1 fullframe aspect ratio, and they have all been digitally remastered.. A few instances of specking here and there, but otherwise a steady palette of deep, vibrant colors for the duration. Blacks appear dark and strong, and Spawn's undulating cape is always a consistent shade of red. The color reproduction on these transfers captures that dark comic book texture handily.

Very nice.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Spanishyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: An improvement over the previously issued 4.0 audio found on The Ultimate Collection, this new set carries a new mix in Dolby Digital 5.1 surround. Directional movement across the front channels is constant and effective, creating a wide, pleasing soundfield where gunshots, voices or Spawn's chains come in from all directions. Rear channels carry some small cues like the Clown's maniacal laughter or voices of extras, adding to the sense of dimension. Probably the biggest plus here is the active .LFE, delivering solid bass throughout the eps, enhancing the cinematic scope of the animation.

A Spanish 2.0 dub is also included.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-


Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 36 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Other Trailer(s) featuring Superman: Doomsday
2 Documentaries
1 Featurette(s)
4 Feature/Episode commentaries by Todd McFarlane
Packaging: other
Picture Disc
4 Discs
4-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: The four-disc set is packaged in a thin steelbook case with embossed artwork, and inside two discs each are housed on either panel. The packaging alone earns this release aesthetic high marks, even if the extra material is just so so.

Todd McFarlane provides four episode commentaries, one each for Burning Visions (S1), Home Bitter Home (S2), A Made Guy (S3) and Prophecy (S3). He has a tendency to go on a little (see the 50 minute interview on disc four) but within the framework of 28 minutes per ep he keeps things fairly focused. I was pleased with his somewhat honest description of how the series' progressed from a business standpoint, and about his working relationship with HBO Animation.

The rest of the supplements are found on disc four, beginning with the aforementioned Extended Interview With Todd McFarlane (49m:54s). To call this one chatty and overly detailed might be an understatement (didn't really need to know he used to sling burgers as a kid), but once he gets going it seems difficult to corral him. This one is recommended only for those who crave an in-depth personal account of McFarlane's life.

On the much shorter side is a Behind The Scenes Featurette (05m:00s), with McFarlane expressing the process in brief, including the need to have season one be the equivalent of an "origin" issue. Episode One Storyboard: Frame By Frame (24m:41s) takes the debut Burning Visions and presents it side-by-side with the completed version and the initial storyboards. The McFarlane Process: Step By Step (09m:11s) is another variant of a behind-the-scenes piece, offering up nerdy cool stuff like size comparison charts of all the characters. Lastly, a set of 15 text-based character profiles is also included.

Extras Grade: B-


Final Comments

Ditch those previously issued flippers and partake in this snappy-looking four-disc steelbook anniversary edition set, with all three digitally remastered seasons on their own single-sided dual-layer disc, as well as a fourth disc of supplemental material (though lacking some of what was found on the previously issued "Ultimate Collection").

The storyline is consistently dark and violent, and there are no punches pulled here to soften the grim stuff in any way. A fairly faithful adaptation of one of the more popular anti-heroes of recent years, with Season Two being the best of the lot.

Highly recommended.


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