By Ethan Alter · Senior Writer, Yahoo Entertainment
Todd McFarlane remembers the moment he knew he wanted to create a different complexion of superhero. The artist and writer was midway through his groundbreaking Spider-Man run when he found himself alternately intrigued and frustrated by a design limitation of Marvel Comics’s signature wall-crawler. “It always bugged me that I was drawing a character who was covered from head to toe, which meant that nobody knew who was underneath the costume,” McFarlane tells Yahoo Entertainment now. “You didn’t know if they were Asian or Latino or white, and I always had this curiosity about why. I mean, you can see the Flash and Batman from the nose down, so we know who they are. But for any character that’s covered from head to toe, the first question should be: Who is that? What’s their background and what’s driving them?”
In fact, McFarlane went as far as to create a scenario that spotlighted Spider-Man’s lack of identity, one that never made it into the pages of a Marvel comic. “I had this scene where your clichéd white Wall Street guy is walking down the street, and gets mugged by a minority character,” he remembers. “Spider-Man comes in and webs up the mugger. As he’s walking away, the Wall Street guy says, ‘Hey, thanks, Spider-Man! You saved me from that…” and drops an epithet. Spidey turns around, puts the Wall Street guy up against the f****** wall, looks him in the eye and says, ‘What color you do you think I am underneath this mask?’”
It’s no accident, then, that McFarlane had a specific creative agenda when he launched Spawn, his flagship comic and character for Image Comics, the artist-owned comics company that debuted to great fanfare in 1992. Like Spider-Man, the demonically possessed antihero was outfitted in a head-to-toe costume. But McFarlane also had a novel answer for who was underneath the mask: Al Simmons, a Black soldier and CIA agent who makes a literal deal with the devil after his untimely death that brings him back to Earth as a Hellspawn warrior.