Spawn / Batman: Red Scare
Writer: Frank Miller
Artist: Todd McFarlane
By Michael David Sims
Despite the creative dream team of Frank Miller and Todd McFarlane, Spawn/Batman: Red Scare is a real mess of a comic that should never have existed. And that's being nice. In truth, it has little redeeming value and is an absolute waste of money, even for collectors of all things Miller, McFarlane, Batman and Spawn.
While the book starts out like any other Batman story, what with the Dark Knight searching for arms dealers, it quickly degenerates into nonsense and rapidly spins out of control from there. In his hunt to prevent the high-tech weapons from hitting the streets, Batman encounters a giant cyborg (one that's very much akin to the antagonistic robot of RoboCop 2, also written by Miller) powered by the head of a bum. Curious as to why a Russian-built robot would contain the head of a Brooklyn bum, Batman surmises that "the answer's got to be in New York." (Hmm. I would have guessed that the answer was in Gotham City, because, you know, that's where he found the cyborg and all those weapons, but that's why he's the great detective and I'm simply a critic.)
There Batman hunts and poses and hunts some more while listening in on the conversations of bums. He figures that spying on them will reward him with the answers he seeks. In eavesdropping he hears myths of a legendary and nearly indestructible bum by the name of Al. He ignores their stories, however, and continues his hunt.
Meanwhile, Spawn also hunts for clues, but he's looking for his homeless brethren and knows nothing of this cyborg conspiracy. Perched high atop a roof, Spawn watches as two men attempt to set fire to a sleeping bum, and he pays them back in kind — using his magic to redirect the flames their way. Batman, of course, sees this and leaps into action. Never does he attempt to save the two men; he simply kicks Spawn in the kidneys and punches him 'til he realizes he's hardly scratching his hamburger-faced opponent. Spawn then makes quick work of Batman, and leaves him in the gutter.
Two things about the art right here. First, when Batman kicks Spawn in the back, Spawn's mask disappears. It's simply no longer covering his face. This is a problem that plagues the book. There are many times when, for no reason at all, his mask is simply gone. Be it in the middle of a fight or when he's talking to someone — there then gone. Second, the final moments of their first encounter are rendered — get ready for it — in darkness. Seriously. Five small panels that only show Batman's iconic yellow/oval emblem; five small panels that only detail the sound effects of punches and kicks and broken bones. Cheap. If Miller wrote it this way, he should feel ashamed of himself. If McFarlane truncated the fight to save space, he too should feel ashamed. This is an encounter that many fans had longed to see, and the creators opted to not show it. Genius!
Moving on (only because I love punishment and writing this is surely punishment of the highest order), Spawn eventually encounters another bum-powered cyborg and uncovers a key to solving this mystery. Inside the metallic husk is the head of his homeless buddy Chuck; outside the metallic husk is a giant computer monitor playing a prerecorded message. Spawn instantly recognizes the woman on the screen as... I don't even know. She somehow uses a combination of drugs and more drugs to persuade soldiers to fight her unjustified wars (and here I thought you needed to be President of the United States for that), and she smiles as they kill and maim. What has Spawn worried is that this woman is no longer using her real name; instead she's posing as a humanitarian longing to help the homeless. Obviously, her "help" consists of putting their severed heads into robot bodies and sending them to fight superheroes. Or something like that.
Frankly, if this woman was a real supervillain, she would have been laughed out of the supervillain club a long time ago for contrived, senseless schemes. And if Image had an editor, they would have asked Miller to rewrite this scrambled, dead end script. (Oh wait. Nope. This is Frank "he can't do wrong, so we'll let him write anything without supervision including a crummy sequel to The Dark Knight Returns" Miller.)
The final step of this woman's plan — I can't be bothered to recall her name, either of them — is to free the world by ridding it of people (she should have teamed with Ra's al Ghul). When that plan is thwarted (and I still don't know how the recently teamed Batman and Spawn stopped it, because it's accomplished in four panels), she unleashes a nuke on New York City. Oh nos! It's the dreaded "if I should die before my evil plan comes to fruition" backup plan.
Blah. Blah. Blah. The nuke is stopped, the city is saved, the villain is dead and Batman chucks a Batarang straight into Spawn's face. Which is the only interesting part of the story. Not because he does it, but because McFarlane actually brought the wound into continuity. Whereas this book is not part of Batman's continuity (it's a "companion piece to The Dark Knight Returns"), it does take place in Spawn's. For those of you who were dumb enough to be reading Spawn back then (or ever), you'll recall that, starting around issue 22, he had a slit down the center of his face that was stitched with a grimy shoelace. Though they couldn't mention Batman by name in a Spawn title that wasn't a crossover, Spawn did hint that a maniac in black gave him the injury. However, this was later recanted and was explained as being from a brawl he engaged in while fighting alongside Harry Houdini. [Editor's Note: Thanks to drqshadow for the corrected info.]
So that begs the question, if a crossover isn't going to be acknowledged by one or both of the companies at a later date, why bother? As much as I dislike Spawn, at least McFarlane had the respect to recognize that his character did battle with a hero from another company (for a very short period, however, and then, much like Spawn's origin, it was needlessly altered). Batman, on the other hand, who actually died during this story (don't fret; Spawn brought him back to life), never mentions this encounter again.
Hmm. Maybe that's a good thing.