Welcome another round of Super-Blog Team-Up, in which a group of bloggers writing about comic books tackles a shared topic. This time we have a very devilish theme, as Super-Blog Team-Up goes to Hell.
For my own entry, I’m looking at the original crossover of Erik Larsen’s Savage Dragon and Todd McFarlane’s Spawn published by Image Comics in 1996, which sees both characters exiled to the nether regions.
The infernal action begins in Savage Dragon #29, written & penciled by Erik Larsen, lettered by Chris Eliopoulos, and colored by I.H.O.C. Officer Dragon, the green-skinned, super-strong member of the Chicago Police Department, is attacked & kidnapped by his demonic enemy the Fiend, who has enlisted a sorcerer to send the Dragon’s soul straight to Hell itself.
Who is the Fiend, and why does she have such a huge axe to grind with Dragon? This helpful bit of exposition by Larsen provides all the information you’ll need to get caught up…
Dragon’s soul ends up in the Fifth Circle of Hell where, according to Dante Alighieri’s epic poem Inferno, the wrathful and sullen are punished for their sins. Dragon is soon joined by Spawn, aka deceased government assassin Al Simmons, who himself has been returned to Hell after using up all of his demonically-imbued energies to save the life of his ex-wife Wanda’s second husband Terry Fitzgerald.
Dragon and Spawn first encounter each other in Spawn #52, written by Todd McFarlane, penciled by Greg Capullo, inked by McFarlane & Danny Miki, lettered by Tom Ozrechowski and colored by Brian Haberlin, Dan Kemp & Matt Milla.
The inhabitants of Hell’s Fifth Level are divided over which of these two arrivals is their long-promised “messiah” leading Dragon and Spawn having to fight against each other. Spawn is victorious, but when the inmates of the Fifth Circle prepare to execute Dragon, an appalled Al Simmons tells them “Free him now. You must learn to turn the other cheek.” Which is, unfortunately, the last thing to tell an army of eternally-damned sinners, who quickly turn on Al. Now both Dragon and Spawn are about to be stoned to death… well, stoned to be more dead when they already are. What can I say? Metaphysics isn’t my strong point.
Before sentence can be carried out, the pair are transported to the next level of Hell, as seen in Savage Dragon #30. If there’s a particular characteristic of this plane, it appears to be the torment of eternal boredom, as Spawn and Dragon are left to spend hours waiting for something to happen. Al rages at his inability to advance further and finally confront Malebolgia, the Hell Lord responsible for his transformation into Spawn.
Dragon, on the other hand, has become convinced that this is either a dream or a hallucination, and he responds to their imprisonment in the fiery pits with a stream of sarcastic banter…
“Heaven and Hell are a load of crap! There’s no such thing as… Oh man — you’re right! This MUST be Hell – that piped in music sounds like Michael Bolton and Yoko Ono singing a duet. Ha! Oh looky — it’s George Burns! I knew he was going to get Hell for those God awful Oh, God movies! Maybe I can get his autograph!”
The Fiend, furious that Dragon is not only not suffering but is in fact refusing to take his predicament at all seriously, travels to Hell to force him to fight Spawn or remain trapped forever. Dragon, though, still believes none of this is happening and blatantly throws the fight, telling Al to continue on his quest. Spawn finally is able to teleport onwards to the next realm of Hell, his journey continuing in the pages of his own series.
As Savage Dragon #31 opens, Dragon is still trapped in the abyss. The Fiend begins sending an army of the Dragon’s deceased enemies against him, only for all of them to receive a thorough ass-kicking by him. In a sudden moment of epiphany the Dragon figures out the Fiend’s secret origin, although he still can’t quite bring himself to believe that any of this is actually happening.
Poop-pooing the thought that the Fiend made a deal with the Devil, Dragon finds himself face-to-face with none other than Satan, who’s now ready to claim Dragon’s soul himself. Before that can happens, though, God Himself arrives in Hell to fight the Devil for the fate of the Dragon. What follows is a bare-knuckle brawl of literally Biblical proportions as God and the Devil trade punches across the landscape of perdition. (Click to the below image to embiggen!)
Let’s take a moment to appreciate just how incredible Larsen’s artwork is here. Even if you were doing a “God vs The Devil” movie with a $100 million special effects budget it probably still would not look anywhere near as amazing as it does here on the printed page. That’s the thing about comic books: they can accomplish with artwork, with penciling & inking & coloring the depiction of characters & events that are just impossible to depict believably in live action, no matter how much money you might have.
Let’s also recognize the superb lettering by Eliopoulos. He really does a fantastic job with the different fonts. I’ve often observed that lettering is very-underrated skill, and this is a great demonstration of how important & effective it can be.
God finally cleans the Devil’s clock and sends him packing. Dragon then attempts to have a conversation with the Almighty about life, the universe & everything. Asking what is actually the one true faith, and what really happens to someone when they die, God informs him that each individual’s personal version of God is different, and so too each person’s beliefs defines what their afterlife will be. This leads Dragon to ask:
“You mean – if I firmly believed that I’d spend the rest of eternity making mad, passionate love to a bevy of leggy super-models – I’d get that?”
And he’s sufficiently intrigued when God answers in the affirmative.
God, finally growing tired of the extended Q&A session, sends Dragon’s soul back to his body on Earth.
In the next issue, discovered by his friend & fellow police officer Frank Darling, Dragon recounts his fantastical experiences in Hell. He admits it all sounds absolutely crazy. However, Dragon adds that “just to be safe” he’s thinking of abandoning his atheism for a belief in an afterlife filled with leggy supermodels.
The payoff for all of this is that 21 years later, when Dragon finally dies permanently in the pages of Savage Dragon #225, his soul arrives Heaven to find this waiting for him…
I really enjoyed most of the Savage Dragon / Spawn crossover because it was it was such an unconventional story. The two characters don’t really team up, with Dragon instead basically just getting on Spawn’s nerves most of the time. It really sums up Larsen’s unconventional, offbeat approach to creating comic books.
Y’know, I haven’t actually looked at the chapter that ran in Spawn #52 since it was first published. All these years later, McFarlane’s turgid prose really comes across as overwrought. I can’t believe I actually followed Spawn for 64 issues before finally losing interest. I doubt I’d have lasted anywhere near as long nowadays.
That said, the artwork by Capullo, McFarlane & Miki is very hyper-detailed, exaggerated and dynamic. The major selling point of Spawn has probably always been the art, so in that respect it succeeds.
That’s that’s why I’ve always preferred Savage Dragon. Larsen started off as a good, talented artist, but he’s also always had an offbeat, humorous, imaginative style to his writing. The quality of both his art and his writing has improved consistently over the past three decades, which is why to this day Savage Dragon remains one of my all-time favorite series.
Larsen’s fight between God and the Devil here was outstanding. Typically in comic books there are two approaches to the whole “Heaven vs Hell” conflict. The first is that, out of a desire to avoid controversy, God is a completely absent presence, and the Devil’s forces are shown to be running rampant totally unimpeded. That happens frequently in both Marvel and DC storylines. The second is that Heaven is a corrupt, squabbling, ineffectual bureaucracy, no better than Hell. That is definitely the approach McFarlane utilized in his Spawn series. You also would see that a lot in the Vertigo titles DC used to publish back in the 1990s.
So, in contrast, I found it a breath of fresh air for Larsen to have God show up and kick the Devil’s ass, for good to actually triumph over evil. Just because human beings are constantly messing up organized religion and abusing faith shouldn’t negate the possibility that there might just be an actual Higher Power that is unencumbered by mortal failings, and that on the cosmic scale maybe it’s conceivable for decency & morality to ultimately succeed.
Thanks for checking out my contribution to Super Blog Team-Up. You can find links to the other entries below.