If you cared for English-language comics, you might have heard of the long, strange, and fantastical mess of things behind the ownership of Marvelman. It is just odd, and somewhat irrelevant. So, here’s a bit of exposition behind all this: Marvelman is some comic franchise/character Neil Gaiman, famous comic artist and scriptwriter, tries to revive, for some reason. At one point Todd McFarlene thought he had the rights, and it happened that Gaiman is a co-owner of some of the key Spawn characters, namely Angela, Cogliostro, and Medieval Spawn. Anyways, at one point Gaiman and McFarlene decided to trade the rights to Cogliostro and Medieval Spawn with Marvelman (as it was worth pretty close to nothing at that point, compared to having a piece of the Spawn empire at the time). This was 1997.
However things didn’t work out between them, and they had to call in the lawyers. And there were judges. I’m going to come clean: I’m totally interested in this case because of Posner, and how he deals with this topical matter, and the topical matter itself. I care for Gaiman a tiny bit and definitely do not care about McFarlane at all; which is probably more than how much I care for Spawn or Angela or Marvelman (as a character).
But when I read this, I just can’t imagine someone like Posner (or one of his clerks, more likely) that would pour over the general concepts of Spawn. I suppose by the time that he authored the opinion he would have had the chance to see the movie. Yeah, I’m a bit of a Posner fanboy.
Ah well, I’ll let his writing do the work:
We need to do some stage setting. Gaiman and McFarlane are both celebrated figures in the world of comic books, but they play different though overlapping roles. Gaiman just writes scripts; McFarlane writes scripts too, but he also illustrates and publishes the comic books. In 1992, shortly after forming his own publishing house, McFarlane began publishing a series of comic books entitled Spawn, which at first he wrote and illustrated himself. “Spawn,” more precisely “Hellspawn,” are officers in an army of the damned commanded by a devil named Malebolgia, who hopes one day to launch his army against Heaven. The leading character in the series is a man named Al Simmons, who is dead but has returned to the world of the living as a Hellspawn.
Al’s story is an affecting one. Born in a quiet neighborhood outside of Pittsburgh, he was recruited by the CIA and eventually became a member of an elite military unit that guards the President. He saved the President from an assassin’s bullet and was rewarded with a promotion to lieutenant colonel. He was placed under the command of Jason Wynn, who became his mentor and inducted him into the sinister inner recesses of the intelligence community. When Al began to question Wynn’s motives, Wynn sent two agents, significantly named Chapel and Priest, to kill Al with laser weapons, and they did, burning him beyond recognition. Al was buried with great fanfare in Arlington National Cemetery.
Now Al had always had an Achilles’ heel, namely that he loved his wife beyond bearing and so, dying, he vowed that he would do anything to see her again. Malebolgia took him at his word (“would do anything” and returned Al to Earth. But a deal with the devil is always a Faustian pact. Al discovered that he was now one of Malebolgia’s handpicked Hellspawn and had been remade (a full makeover, as we’ll see) and infused with Hell-born energy.
Returned to Earth in his new persona, Al discovers that his wife has remarried his best friend, who was able to give her the child he never could. He absorbs the blow but thirsts for revenge against Jason Wynn. He bides his time, living with homeless people and pondering the unhappy fact that once he exhausts his Hell-born energy he will be returned to Malebolgia’s domain and become a slave in an army of the damned with no hope of redemption. He must try somehow to break his pact with the devil.
Even better is when he goes on and describes Angela and the other Gaiman contributions regarding Spawn issue #9:
McFarlane’s original Spawn, Al Simmons, was a tall figure clad in what looks like spandex (it is actually “a neural parasite”) beneath a huge blood-red cloak, making him a kind of malevolent Superman figure, although actually rather weak and stupid. His face is a shiny plastic oval with eyeholes but no other features. Gaiman decided to begin Spawn No. 9 with a different Spawn, whom he called “Olden Days Spawn.” He explained to McFarlane that “[Olden Days] Spawn rides up on a huge horse. He’s wearing a kind of Spawn suit and mask, although the actual costume under the cloak is reminiscent of a suit of armour.” McFarlane drew “Olden Days Spawn” as (in the words of his brief) “essentially Spawn, only he dressed him as a knight from the Middle Ages with a shield bearing the Spawn logo.” To make him credibly medieval, Gaiman in his script has Olden Days Spawn say to a damsel in apparent distress, “Good day, sweet maiden.” The “damsel” is none other than Angela, a “maiden” only in the sense of making her maiden appearance in Spawn No. 9. Angela is in fact a “warrior angel and villain” who, scantily clad in a dominatrix outfit, quickly dispatches the unsuspecting Olden Days Spawn with her lance.
We learn that this event occurred in the thirteenth century, and the scene now shifts to the present day. Angela is dressed as a modern professional woman. The Al Simmons Spawn is lurking about in an alley and it is here that we meet Count Cogliostro for the first time. McFarlane had wanted a character who would be “basically. . . the wisened [sic] sage that could sort of come down and give all the information and assimilate it.” Gaiman interpreted this as an instruction to create “a character who can talk to Spawn and tell him a little bit more about what’s going on in the background and can move the story along. ” So he created an “old man, who starts talking to Spawn and then telling him all these sort of things about Spawn’s super powers that Spawn couldn’t have known. And when you first meet him [Cogliostro] in the alley you think he’s a drunken bum with the rest of them, and then we realize no, he’s not. He’s some kind of mysterious stranger who knows things.”
Gaiman further described Cogliostro in a draft of Spawn No. 9 as “a really old bum, a skinny, balding old man, with a grubby greyish-yellow beard, like a skinny santa claus. He calls himself Count Nicholas Cagliostro” (later spelled Cogliostro). In a brief scene, Cogliostro, drawn by McFarlane as an old man with a long grey beard who faintly resembles Moses–McFarlane had been dissatisfied with Gaiman’s verbal description, which made Cogliostro sound like a wino–explains to Simmons-Spawn some of the powers of Hellspawn of which Simmons is unaware. Cogliostro displays his mysterious wisdom by calling him “Simmons,” to the latter’s bafflement–how could Cogliostro have known? Angela then appears in her dominatrix costume, there is another duel, and she vanquishes Simmons (whose powers are in fact unimpressive), but does not kill him. He then blows himself up by accidentally pushing the wrong button on Angela’s lance, which she had left behind. Happily he is not killed–merely (it seems) translated into another dimension–and will reappear in subsequent issues of Spawn.
I mean, this is just brilliant. I don’t think many fans can even write and grasp the concept of Spawn so cleanly as Posner did. Granted back in 2004 when this was news, I wasn’t a Posner fanboy and I was equally ignorant of copyright law, so this didn’t ring a bell. Now I revisit the same material for class and I go all LOLOL over it. Sigh. At least you now know how it has to do with me. It does serve an important lesson for you fancy pants creative types, so know who you collaborate with!
Ahh, curiousities of American law and business methods.