Batman Spawn: The Comic Book Crossover Years in the Making
Exclusive: Todd McFarlane and Greg Capullo tell Den of Geek what it's like reuniting for their comics crossover 16 years in the making.
There’s something charmingly accessible about Todd McFarlane and Greg Capullo. Talking to them, you never get the feeling that you’re talking to a multimedia titan of geek culture or one of the most beloved Batman artists of all time, respectively. It feels more like running into two guys tailgating outside an Ozzy Osborne show, inviting you to geek out with them about their comic art collection, shooting the breeze about the car they’re working on together, and periodically dropping preternatural draftsmanship wisdom sprinkled with comic art history. And then McFarlane will say something like, “I’m in the business of cool. Period,” and you suddenly remember that you’re talking to two of the biggest names to ever create comics and that they’re teaming up for a fresh Batman Spawn crossover that is likely to be one of the biggest books of the decade.
Batman Spawn, out Dec. 13, sees villainous Gotham City secret society, the Court of Owls, using Spawn as a weapon in their war against Batman. It’s safe to say this isn’t how the story was conceived when this crossover was first announced. Mostly because the Court of Owls didn’t exist yet.
“Todd and I announced we were going to do this back in 2006 at San Diego Comic-Con, and it never materialized,” says Capullo, who went on to create the Court of Owls with his Batman partner Scott Snyder five years later.
In fact, Capullo went on to become one of the most popular Batman artists of all time. Following a massive, multi-year run with McFarlane on Spawn, he launched the New 52 flagship Batman title with Snyder and stayed on the book for a remarkable four-year stretch, during which Capullo’s consistency was only matched by the energy he brought to the page. His vision of the Dark Knight was firmly in the sweet spot between the hulking behemoth of artists like Frank Miller or John Romita, Jr., and the lithe gymnast of Jim Aparo or Neal Adams. “I think he could look more imposing when he’s a silhouette,” Capullo says. “I’ve known some very dangerous human beings, and they were like slabs of meat, [not] all ripped and cut, but boy, they fuck you up. So I wanted my Batman to be like that.”
McFarlane, on the other hand, has continued to be one of the biggest names in all of nerd culture. Since 2006, he’s worked on a still-in-development Spawn feature film, a variety of multimedia properties, and has run one of the most popular and successful toy companies in the world. Oh, and he also set a record for the longest-running creator-owned comic in history in 2019 when Spawn passed Cerebus with issue #301. Joining Todd for that issue: Capullo, whose work in Spawn #301 marked the 75th issue of that series he contributed to. “Greg and I have been around each other now for 30 years,” says McFarlane. “This shoe was easy to slip into because we literally just went back to doing what we did for all those years before.”
“The most fun I ever had working in comics was with Todd,” adds Capullo.
As for what McFarlane considers must-haves in a Batman and Spawn crossover, his answer is simply: “Batman and Spawn.”
He elaborates. “I approach [comic events like this] with the mindset of ‘What would 16-year-old Todd have liked when I was collecting?’ And if you had told 16-year-old Todd that my favorite writer and artist team, John Byrne, Terry Austin, and Chris Claremont, were going to take the X-Men to meet the Justice League of America? I’m in.”
The reality of Batman Spawn isn’t quite that uncomplicated, but its goals are certainly that straightforward. “We’re celebrating our 30th anniversary of both Spawn and Image Comics this year,” McFarlane says. “If you’re 30 and under, [Image’s history is] folklore.” That folklore includes the original Spawn/Batman crossovers from 1994—one written by Frank Miller with art from McFarlane and one written by a team of classic Batman writers (Doug Moench, Chuck Dixon, and Alan Grant) with art from Klaus Janson. Those stories represented the first time an Image founder’s character crossed over with a DC one, a massive event in the history of the then-new company created explicitly as an alternative to the corporate comics that had thoroughly mistreated McFarlane and the rest of his Image founder peers (and countless others before them). These two Spawn/Batman issues have never been reprinted until now: they will be collected together for the first time this November.
“In any form of entertainment, people always want to be a part of big events to say, ‘Yeah, I was there,’” says McFarlane. “This is our moment to say, ‘Hey, for all of you that missed out and weren’t there for this a couple decades ago, here we go again. We’re going to have some fun. And for those of you that were, we’re going to hopefully do a bigger, badder, better version of what we did the last time.’”
Capullo is all in on going bigger, and re-teaming with McFarlane has him confident they’ll pull it off. “Todd’s an artist; he has that visual mind and knows what’s going to make a good-looking comic and what’s going to look right and good on a page,” Capullo tells us. “This just feels like we didn’t really miss a beat, and we’ve been doing it all along.”
You’d think with everything McFarlane does aside from comics that the intervening years since that abandoned 2006 crossover would have modified his approach somewhat. Oddly enough, though, it seems like Capullo, the guy who’s been almost completely in comics since then (he’s done art for several metal bands in addition to his comics work), is the one who’s undergone the most change in the intervening decade and a half.
“I’ve got a good handle on Batman, but doing it in the context of working with Todd again and having Spawn in it just gives me a slightly different vibe,” Capullo says. “It still looks exactly like my Batman, but maybe the cape can be a little bit longer… he’s got cape envy.” Al Simmons, the CIA operative who makes a deal with the Devil to return to life and comes back with superpowers, a shapeshifting cape, and prehensile chains to be wrangled into the ultimate battle between heaven and hell, will do that to a guy.
McFarlane, for his part, doesn’t cross narrative streams. He’s been, at varying times, a comic writer, comic artist, screenwriter, Emmy-winning television producer, music video animator, licensing magnate, hockey team owner, and toymaker of some renown. But he works hard at keeping those threads separate.
“If you’re making a movie, then you make the best movie you think you can at that moment,” McFarlane says. “You’re making a toy, you make the best toy you can. And if you’re making a comic book, you make the best comic book. So I’m not concerned whether the Batman Spawn book will drive toy sales or make a good animated show or a video game. I’m not thinking of any of that. I’m thinking that in December, when people get excited, and they basically go to the store to go, ‘Oh my God, it’s finally out,’ that they will say it was worth the price of admission at that moment.”
It’s those comic storytelling instincts honed over the last 30 years that seem to be driving the book. Capullo gets to build from his work and have a blast with an old friend. “I’ve done 30 pages now; that leaves us 18 to go. And [Todd] goes, ‘Now comes the fun stuff.’ I’m going, ‘Wow. Now comes the fun stuff?’”
Capullo tells us with no small amount of excitement about little Clown minions (miniaturized versions of Spawn’s archnemesis, Violator, who takes on the appearance of a disheveled clown from time to time), and about the new Talon, the chief assassin of the Court of Owls, that they get to introduce in Batman Spawn. “There’s just too much fun stuff,” he says. “It’s like Todd is force-feeding as much fun into this thing as he possibly can. And he’s delivering the goods.”
McFarlane gets to jam with a buddy and use his knowledge of what really matters to fans to push out another banger of a comic. “To me, all this is easy stuff,” he says. “Would doing a Batman Spawn book with Greg Capullo be cool? Yeah. Is it going to look awesome? Yeah. Is Greg having a good time? Yeah. Will the fans dig it? Yeah.”
Batman Spawn #1 is in comic shops on Dec. 13, 2022. Batman/Spawn: The Classic Collection, collecting the previous two crossovers, hits stores a month earlier, on Nov. 15.