Batman / Spawn: War Devil
Artist: Klaus Janson
By Michael David Sims
By the end of my review of Spawn / Batman: Red Scare I made mention of the fact that though Todd McFarlane acknowledged the crossover between his character and Batman, it was only temporary and history was quickly rewritten so as to fit in with the rest of Spawn's twisted, revisable continuity. On the other hand, DC never even bothered to make mention of the meeting. Worse yet, when the two characters met again two months later (or, at least two months later in terms of our time; we all know how wonky comic book time is) it was as if they had never met. So again, I ask the question I proposed in the review of Red Scare: If a crossover isn't going to be acknowledged by one or both of the companies, why bother?
Money, of course, is the answer.
It is undeniable that, at the time, both Batman and Spawn were two of the hottest commodities around. The Tim Burton directed Batman Returns was two years old and fans were gearing up for Batman Forever (too bad the way that turned out, eh), and rumors of a Spawn movie were on the horizon (too bad the way that turned out, eh). So it only made sense to pair these two up. It was money in the bank.
Now I'm not one to believe creators only take on jobs for the money — publishers, sure, but not creators. So I'd like to think the three writers assigned to Batman / Spawn: War Devil genuinely had a vested interest in making it work. But I have my doubts, especially considering the way it turned out. It's either that they were taking a payday, or that there were too many hands in the pot. Or both.
If you ever have the chance to talk to someone like Barry Windsor Smith or Frank Miller or any creator who doubles as a writer and artist, they will tell you pointblank that it is best to work alone. The singular vision between script and art is uninterrupted; there's no one else to meddle with the story, to input their vision of how things should play out. When the writer and the artist aren't one and the same, however, the vision doesn't have to be interrupted, especially if the creators have worked together before. In those instances a rapport is formed, and very little is lost or altered between the writer's script and the artist's pencils. However, the same cannot be said when it takes three writers to pen a 48-page comic book, not even when those three writers know the characters better than anyone else. Imagine dumping three different puzzle boxes on the floor and then trying to put only one together; it simply becomes a jumble. And that's exactly what we have here.
Basically, Batman is tracking a shipment of explosives that have entered Gotham City. Though it appears as if buildings once owned by his alter ego are the targets, their destruction is not his concern. (He's, like, a trillionaire after all.) It's the loss of human lives, as always, that drives Batman to do all that he does. As he approaches one of those properties, he is plagued by an unsolved murder — that of industrialist Simon Vesper. Though he witnessed a sniper turn Vesper's head into mush, the vigilante couldn't reach the killer before he escaped on foot. Despite his death, Vesper's foundation continued his plan to build Gotham Tower. Now, six years later and on the eve of the tower's opening ceremony, Vesper has returned from the grave. Oddly enough only two people know that he was ever dead, the witness and the killer: Batman and Spawn.
As it turns out, it was Al Simmons who was ordered to kill Vesper. Playing the role of good soldier, Simmons followed his orders to the letter, but, unknowingly, knocked over the first domino in a very convoluted, nonsensical plot. It would seem that a demon, in the guise of a human, hired the mob to hire Colonel Simmons (why a Colonel in the US Army would ever take a job from the mob is beyond me) to kill the industrialist on the very grounds the tower was to be erected. In doing so, fresh blood soiled the land and opened a gateway to Hell — a gateway that would allow this demon to suck 100,000 souls into the burning abyss. The offering of these souls, as he sees it, would grant him favor with Satan himself and, thus, he would be honored with a special place at the dark lord's side.
In the end, Batman and Spawn prevent the demon from succeeding with three of Batman's grenades, an outpouring of Spawn's magical powers that are fueled by love for a woman he never met (and only saw as she was being tortured in Hell) and... a smiley face. (I couldn't make that up.)
As I said, convoluted and nonsensical; the melding of three writers' visions into one 48-page mess.
If you thought the story was bad, keep reading; the art is worse.
In my review of Punisher / Batman: Deadly Knights, I noted that Klaus Janson's inking job was "akin to a kindergartner's coloring book." Here, his pencils are worse. To call them "terrible" is to do a disservice to the word. They are, in fact, nauseating. Knowing that he was paid to craft these pages makes my stomach churn. From the looks of it, Janson believes everything to be either blocky or less blocky. Worse yet, he has no sense of proportion and believes someone would snipe a target from a distance with an impossibly large, scope-less handgun. To him, all corpses are male, lack rotting flesh and were buried in the same grey-green suit. To be as blunt as I can without cursing, the art presented in this book is an insult to every artist that came before and after Janson. He should be ashamed.
The simple fact of the matter is that Batman / Spawn: War Devil was published to steal $4.95 from the pockets of every Batman and Spawn fan. DC Comics had no intention of even trying to produce something of value, and, with garbage like this being churned out of their offices, they should consider themselves lucky that they were a subsidiary of Time Warner (and later Turner Broadcasting, then AOL); otherwise they would have filed bankruptcy right alongside Marvel just a few years later.
As a comic book fan I expect a certain level of quality and respect from creators and publishers, this book delivers nothing and slaps you in the face while yanking five dollars from your pocket.