SHADOWS OF SPAWN (Shadows of Spawn, aka Shadow of Spawn) • Juzo Tokoro • Image Comics (2005-2006) • MediaWorks (Dengeki Gao!, 1998-1999) • 3 volumes • Superhero Action • Unrated/13+ (brief language, violence, brief nudity)
Ken Kurosawa, a Japanese-American street tough, dies and is a resurrected as a hellspawn, a masked hero with supernatural powers. Flitting back and forth between New York and Los Angeles, Ken must fight demons and protect his sister, an aspiring teenage actress, without revealing his identity. Shadows of Spawn is a licensed adaptation of Todd McFarlane’s Spawn, whose translated edition was also popular in Japan. Tokoro clearly knows his 1990s American comics; he makes an attempt at the heavy stylized crosshatching of the time, and introduces thinly disguised versions of several Spawn characters such as Mikaela (based on Spawn’s Angela), Cheveyo (a character based on the “Zombie Spawn” action figure) and even a villain with more than a passing resemblance to Brian Pulido and Steven Hughes’ bad-girl heroine Lady Death. However, his attempts to tie Shadows into the American series continuity (an effort unrewarded by McFarlane, who never acknowledged Tokoro’s boring creations) are ultimately detrimental to the story, as when the characters themselves state that Kurosawa is a merely a second-rate version of the original Spawn hero who supposedly exists somewhere offscreen. “You’re nothing more than a shadow of a spawn! Al Simmons is the real deal!” It’s hard to argue with that. The manga is crudely crafted, with stiff art and pages of talking heads delivering exposition, looking more like bad 1960s comics than McFarlane’s energetically spastic page designs. The slick computer coloring of the original Spawn is likewise reduced to familiar screentone effects, rendered muddy by the poor art quality of the English edition. In a somewhat tokusatsu touch, this Spawn fights by activating a “battle clad” suit of spiky armor, and another manga-ism comes via Beelzebub (“Bee” for short), a fairy-like devil-girl who supplements the Clown’s role as Spawn’s advisor. Padded out by a string of “meet-and-fight” bad guys and ending on a frustrating cliffhanger, the result is a tedious read.
* (one star)
I’d always heard Spawn was popular in Japan (my local comic store briefly carried some translated Japanese versions of the Spawn comics in the 1990s), so it was disappointing to see the much-touted manga adaptation. For people who really want to see what Japanese fans think of American superhero comics, I recommend locating a copy of Antarctic Press’s old one-shot “Justice” (reviewed in Manga: The Complete Guide), which features energetic excerpts from dojinshi (fanzines) devoted to Marvel and DC comics characters. It’s very hard to find nowadays, but well worth it.
Today’s winner is Gwyneth J. of Oregon! Gwyneth will be receiving 5 manga from my collection! I just came back from Oregon where I was a guest at Kumoricon. The highlight of the convention, for me, was probably running a late-night D&D game based on my upcoming graphic novel King of RPGs. A good time fighting snake men in the jungle was had by all.
A brief note to everyone who’s reading: just to reiterate, the contest cgi resets every day, so if you haven’t won yet, please keep signing up on the forms on the left-hand side. There’s a whole year of manga to go through (at least), so eventually there’s a very good chance you’ll get something. And of course, in the meantime, please let me know what you think about the reviews, and feel free to send me your photos of your manga collection, your manga tattoos, your manga-themed pyjamas, etc.!