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Todd McFarlane explains that King Spawn is not a king but he is a ‘king’

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King s%*#t

Spawn doubles over in pain as his foe taunts him. Also in the room: Gunslinger and Sinn, in Spawn’s Universe #1 (2021). Image: Todd McFarlane, Jim Cheung/Image Comics

With the release of a new Spawn series, King Spawn, just weeks away, Todd McFarlane used his Todd McFarlane Takes Over The Universe! panel at the 2021 San Diego Comic-Con to tease just what awaits the hell-born vigilante Al Simmons — and explain just what makes the new series so regal in the first place, as well.

In a surprise move for anyone expecting McFarlane to repeat his Comic-Con tradition of holding court solo during his panel, the Spawn creator took a back seat for the 72 minute virtual event, letting two guests do most of the talking. For the first 25 minutes, J. Scott Campbell — who created a number of covers for last month’s best-selling Spawn’s Universe one shot — talked about the process of creating cover art, and how it’s changed between his entry into the industry more than two decades ago and today. (Basically, his artwork is not based around a simple graphic image, so that it looks better on a smartphone screen; “If it can read that size, I think that’s a good sign that it’ll resonate,” he argued.)

The meat of the panel, however, was a conversation between McFarlane and King Spawn writer Sean Lewis about the process of working together to create the series, as well as what it takes to write comics in general.

When it came to planning what King Spawn should be, McFarlane was clear on one thing: “I’m not inclined to have to have, nor do I want, to have [the new series] emulate what Spawn is,” he told Lewis. “If I want the book to do the same, I’d just do both books.” Instead, King Spawn is going to be a title that will be “moody [and] gritty,” he teased.

Lewis shed a little more light on the darkness at the heart of the series. “I’m having an amazing time exploring the absolute darkness of Spawn and who Al is as a human,” he said. “I’m really interested in the humanity of Al. I think it’s the part I don’t understand the most.”

Specific inspirations for the series, Lewis revealed, include Frank Miller’s Batman: The Dark Knight Returns and Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson’s Punisher: Born. “It’s a pretty dark book,” he said. “There are lots of thriller elements to it, there’s a lot of horror.” McFarlane added another genre, saying that he told Lewis, “treat it as a book about war, and then it all makes sense.”

In terms of what King Spawn will be about, Lewis explained, “You basically have the embodiment of vengeance in Spawn, which is what makes him so fun and badass, and yet the one thing he can’t really get vengeance for in this character is Wanda, is losing his wife, and losing his life, from the very beginning… What does [vengeance] mean if you may not be able to get it for yourself?”

Spawn looms on the cover of King Spawn #1 (2021). Image: Puppeteer Lee/Image Comics

Readers shouldn’t be expecting King Spawn to be an entirely grim experience, however, with Lewis admitting that he finds “an amazing personal release” in writing Simmons when he’s in his more familiar, more chain-laden guide, saying that the juxtaposition between Spawn and Al Simmons is fascinating to him. “I want to keep coming up with the most elaborate, insane, absurd, crazy, but like incredible murder scenes as humanly possible, and at the same time, I want to see how grounded Al is, and what does Al need, if anything.”

McFarlane also made a point to explain just what the title of King Spawn means. Despite Lewis making reference to being interested in how the character, who’s traditionally a loner, deals with having “subjects,” Spawn’s creator made it clear that King Spawn should not be taken literally — instead, “King” is intended as a metaphorical prefix, not unlike Spider-Man being Amazing and Spectacular over at Marvel.

“He’s not literally going to walk around as a king,” McFarlane said, adding, “to me, the word ‘king’ signifies a leader … It’s a big word that has a big meaning. It’s not specific.” Lewis agreed, saying, “it’s more of a symbolic king. It’s ‘kingdoms’ in that Breaking Bad is about kingdoms.”

After talking to Lewis, McFarlane closed the panel by talking about future releases from his toy company — expect more DC Multiverse figures, as well as toys based on the new line of Spawn comics — and promising updates on the long-gestating Spawn movie, saying that a new script is due from some mystery writers that will “blow you away” when their identities are revealed. That might not be the only Spawn media fans can look forward to, either; McFarlane talked about “fielding calls almost nonstop for the last three, four months” from media companies interested in the property in light of the success of Spawn’s Universe.

Whether in comics, toys, or on the screen, it seems, it’s Spawn’s Universe, and we’re just living in it.