Writer – Frank Miller
Artist – Todd McFarlane
Letterer – Tom Orzechowski
Colorist – Steve Oliff
Computer Colors – Olyoptics
Cover Price: $3.95
I’m not sure I’d call this piece a “request”, but I am covering this issue because a pal-o-mine reminded me that it existed! (Iowa’s) Joe Crawford asked if I’d ever covered this… and I suddenly realized that I haven’t done a single “prestige format” book on the humble blog. I ran upstairs to make sure I had this… I was sure I did, however… wouldn’t have the slightest idea what happened in it. And so, I figured this may be a fun one to cover. I was also reminded of just how many inter-company crossovers occurred in the mid-to-late 1990’s! Maybe more of them will pop up here from time to time.
Before moving on, Joe regularly collects his thoughts over at For the Discerning Reader. Definitely give it a look. He’s also got a permanent home on the ol’ blogroll over thattaway >>>>
I probably ought to mention that the title “Red Scarce” appears to have been given to the book post-publication. There is no actual story-title in the book itself.
Our story opens in a Gotham City warehouse. After disposing of a gaggle of thugs, Batman walks wounded until he happens upon the crate he was looking for. Inside, is a pair of battle gloves… which “hum” with power. Before he can properly admire them, he is attacked by a large robot!
And a fight is on! Batman puts the gloves on and starts pounding away. He manages to break open the robot’s “mask” which reveals that it has a rather human head! The head begins to speak… it’s as though he’s just been awoken from a long sleep. He doesn’t know where he is, and what’s more… doesn’t understand why he can’t feel his arms or legs. Well, I’m afraid we’ve got some bad news, boyo… you’re just a head! A self-destruct sequence begins, and so… Batman reaches in and yanks the disembodied head out of it’s bot-base with very little regard. I suppose I ought to mention that this is the Dark Knight Returns Batman… a little rougher around the edges than the one we’re accustomed to.
We shift to a brief newscast which introduces Dr. Margaret Love. This issue will serve as her first… and last appearance. Anyhoo, she is the Founder and President of “Heal the World” and has just been awarded the Laimbeer Award for Humanitarian Achievement. She’s probably going to become important later. Not sure if the Laimbeer prize is named after former Detroit Piston (and part-time Sleestak) Bill Laimbeer… but, Todd does have a bit of a penchant for namedropping famous athletes every now and again…
At the Batcave, Batman is studying the severed head. Alfred attempts to soften the mood by offering his master a spot of tea. Bruce ignores Alfred the entire time… he’s really quite a jerk to him. Anyhoo… he checks the dental records to deduce that the head belongs to a “New York Bum” but wonders how it ever got mixed up with a “Soviet Cyborg”… and so, it’s off to the Big Apple.
It doesn’t take long for word to spread that Batman is in New York. It’s even reported on the news. Batman has taken to hanging around with the homeless in hopes that he might get to the bottom of the cyborg deal… and keeps hearing legends about a man called “Al”.
Speaking of whom… at that very moment, Spawn is skulkin’ round the slums. He sees a pair of ne’er do wells pouring gasoline on a bum with designs on setting him ablaze. Stands to reason, right? Anyways, this doesn’t quite go according to plan… and the two geeks run straight away into Spawn. One empties his gun into Spawn’s chest… and that goes about as well as you might imagine. Spawn uses some Hellborn magic, and burns them to a crisp… an act that was witnessed… by the Batman!
And we get our customary “heroes fight due to a misunderstanding” thing underway. Spawn being… well, Spawn… and Batman being a human being, you can imagine it’s not a very even fight. Spawn actually takes it easy on the Bat… who drops a gas pellet and escapes before he can rethink it. Spawn throws up from the gas. Oh! I gotta mention that Spawn goes from masked to unmasked and masked again with every panel change during this fight. It’s been a long time since I’ve read this era of Spawn, but I don’t remember that being a thing… I could be wrong though.
|And Betty when you call me…|
Batman is able to flee about ten blocks before his body gives out. His injuries are quite severe… but the humiliation is far worse. He knows that “the punk” was pulling his punches. While Bruce heals, Al hunts… we see him enter a building bearing signage that reads “Heal New York”.
Inside the building, Spawn is attacked by… a giant robot! He manages to yank it’s gun-arm off and fire it back. This blows the bot to bits… and reveals, another human head! This head (Spawn’s pal, Chuck), like the one before, is befuddled and cannot feel his arms. There is a video monitor, on which a prerecorded message from Margaret Love discusses “rehabilitation”. Turns out she’s been kidnapping the homeless and transforming them into these robotic killing machines in the name of fixing the planet. Spawn blows up the base.
Back with Batman… he broods like a gargoyle until… the Bat-Signal goes off? In New York? Batman is briefly puzzled but figures he’d better check it out. Well, if he’s not gonna worry about the logistics of the thing… far be it from me.
At the spotlight stands… Margaret Love! She informs him that a man in a red cape and chains destroyed her base of operations… and, now fearing for her
life interests… must entrust the Batman to keep her upcoming fund raiser from getting “Spawned”.
Speaking of whom… we meet back up with him, as he’s vomiting in an alley. Not bad, two throw-up scenes in one book… and we’re not even done yet! Looks like it’s time for Round-Two, as Batman leaps into battle. This time he’s wearing a battle glove… which Alfred had shipped to him via two-hour transit… or something. That’s awfully quick… hmm, maybe Gotham really is in New Jersey? Anyhoo… a fight is on.
Spawn still beats the hell out of Batman… but the fight is a bit more even this time around. They roll around until they find themselves surrounded by more giant robots… one of which… kills Batman… or would have, if not for the next bit.
Spawn unleashes his Hellpowers… and just atomizes the cyborgs, all the while Batman mutters about Spawn’s “lack of discipline”. I mean, he really goes on about it… it’s like he’s a dad in the 1950’s. At this point, Batman’s heart has already stopped… and there’s almost no blood left in his body. Okay. Spawn believes it would take a miracle to save him… and decides that perhaps he should be that miracle.
He reaches into Batman… and the two sorta-kinda mind meld, and experience one another’s origin story. I can’t be for sure… but, I think they’re actually trying to tie Margaret Love in which the murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne. Again, it’s not exactly clear… but it’s the impression I’m getting. Which, if true, would be… ya know… layyyyyyyyyyyyme.
After their bonding, the fellas decide to team up.
Their destination is a cruise ship which is playing host to Margaret Love’s fund raiser. She is hob-nobbing with various VIPs… including the VP of the USofA. He’s a mustachioed gentleman, who I can’t place. During time of publication, this would have been Al Gore… though, it’s Miller… and Dark Knight Returns Miller at that… so, this might just be the strangest looking George H.W. Bush ever put to paper. She shares with him her epiphany… the problem with the planet is… the people! She plans to purge them all! To which, the Vice-President “nods vigorously”, because, ya see… this criminal mastermind, Dr. Love… spiked the punch. Seriously.
She plans to heal the world… and reveals her cache of nuclear warheads. Everyone’s cool with it, even the recently arrived President of the United States… because, again… she spiked their punch.
Spawn and Batman arrive shortly, and make short work of the guards… and just a single page later… Spawn kills Dr. Love. Wait, what? Okay. Maybe we were running out of pages to fill by this point. Anyhoo… before she dies, she triggers a nuke to fire into the heart of New York City.
Spawn teleports he and Batman to the missile… and Batman is able to shut it down. It plops into the drink… New York City is saved.
We wrap up with Batman and Spawn having yet another contentious chat… which ends with Spawn asking if they could just “bury the hatchet”. Batman, being a total jerk-ass says “bury this”… and hurls a batarang right into Spawn’s hamburger head. Wonk wonk.
As cool as it was to see Batman and Spawn going the route of beating the hell out of one another before teaming up against a common enemy, I gotta say… this was a bit of a mess. Todd brings his A-Game here… this is a very pretty book… the story, however, is kinda rough.
The entire issue feels kinda empty. There’s very little build up past the initial confrontation between Batman and Spawn… and even that goes about as predictably as possible. We knew Dr. Love was going to be the big-bad… but, I really didn’t remember her being dealt with in one page! That was kind of a dud, no?
Also… like I mentioned above, it almost feels as though Miller was trying to shoe-horn Love into Batman’s origin. Granted, this is Dark Knight Returns Batman (which before Flashpoint was designated to have taken place on Earth-31) so I guess all bets are off. Just a weird addition, especially if she were to fall so anticlimactically. Then again, I might just be reading too deep into this one… definitely sounds like something I might do!
Let’s stick with Dr. Love for a bit… her methods leave a bit to be desired, no? I mean, kidnapping the homeless to transform them into cyborgs… yeah, this is comics… she can get away with that, at least for a little while… but, winning over all the global movers and shakers with spiked punch? C’mon… there’s a certain level of silly I can accept… this is a bit too much.
Overall… this is an art book. You buy this to look at the awesome McFarlane work… and the story isn’t so bad that I’d recommend passing on it. You can probably get this for a song these days… personally, I come across it fairly regularly in the cheap-o bins. It’s worth grabbing for the novelty, the amazing art… and, ya know… if you’re in the mood for a batshtuff crazy book, you could do worse.
Anatomy of a Shoelace-Face:
Now, howabout that ending, eh? Looks like Spawn brought a souvenir scar back with him to his own book, don’t it? Well… yes and no… but mostly no… okay, completely no… but let’s not ruin the fun.
For folks familiar with the (many) publishing woes of Image Comics early on, it really shouldn’t be much of a surprise that… well, a few issues of Spawn shipped out of order. If you were collecting the title off the rack, you may have noticed the issue that followed #18 (February, 1994) would be… #21 (May, 1994). But, what happened to #19-20? Well… they come later.
|Just a funny pic for Joe!
From Spawn #22 (June, 1994)
words – Todd / art – McFarlane
In the months between issues #19 and 21… this one-shot with Batman hit the shelves… so when in issue #21, Spawn shows up with his face sewn up with a shoelace, it led many of us to assume that the crossover might just be in (at least Spawn’s) continuity. Adding fuel to the fire, when Spawn was questioned about his “new look”, he responded with:
|From Spawn #21 (May, 1994)
words – Todd / art – McFarlane
There was a helpful footnote saying that this occurred during the “lost issues” that weren’t out yet. It was ultimately revealed that Spawn got shot in the face by Houdini when issues #19-20 shipped (Toddless! Instead with Tom Orzechowski and Andrew Grossberg writing, and Greg Capullo on art) in October and November of 1994.
|From Spawn #20 (November, 1994)
words – Andrew Grossberg & Tom Orzechowski / art – Greg Capullo
So, there ya have it. Sorry for the black and white pics… I didn’t feel like digging through my longboxes and just went with the (highly recommended!) Spawn Compendium edition. Hopefully Image/Todd will finally get around to publishing a Volume Two one’a these days! Hopefully I’ll get around to actually reading it through first…
|I wonder if this is the first Greg Capullo Batman picture!
It’s almost gotta be, right?