DC’s Dark Knight and Image’s Hellspawn are colliding once again this December. Batman/Spawn marks the third time the characters have crossed over, and the first time they’ve met since 1994. As monumental as the reunion of Batman and Spawn is, the reunion of creators Todd McFarlane and Greg Capullo is equally noteworthy. The pair enjoyed a nearly decade-long collaboration on Spawn in the ’90s, have worked together sporadically in the years since, and were even originally supposed to team for a 2006 Batman and Spawn crossover that never materialized.
Ahead of the one-shot’s preorder cutoff date, The Beat chatted with McFarlane and Capullo about what brings Batman and Spawn together in their latest crossover, the experience of working together again, and much more.
Joe Grunenwald: Tell me about Batman/Spawn! We know the Court of Owls plays a big role, but can you tease a little more about what brings these two characters together again?
Todd McFarlane: I’m playing with time a little bit – as a matter of fact, maybe a lot a bit – in the story to create a moment where something big happened in both these guys lives on the same day, and there’s now the anniversary of that day, and there’s a clock, and something has to happen on that day. It’s a clock for everybody, the good guys and bad guys, everybody in-between. But they’ll find out that at first, they were set up to be adversaries, and will quickly realize that they’ve actually both been duped and they’re actually on the same side, and when they compare notes, it’s like they’ve both sort of been pawns in what the Court has been doing all this time in their existence. So now the Court is going to try and push one more button, in this case, a very big button, and that involves using people from every sort of corner that they exist in.
I’ve got a group of characters called The Court of Priests. That’s on the Spawn side. So when Greg [told me about The Court of Owls] I went, ‘What? The Court of Owls exists forever, my Court of Priests exists forever, Spawns could exist forever, so maybe there’s just this giant thing called The Court.’ Forget what the the ending of it is, The Court exists everywhere in all time, space and dimension in some form. And now, they’re pulling a couple of the threads, in this case, the Court thread in the Spawn universe and the Court thread in the DC Multiverse. And what does that mean? And oh, by the way, these two guys are linked by an event that occurred at the same time to both of them, and here we go, that’s sort of the catalyst, and it sets everything in motion thereafter, boom, here we go.
Grunenwald: You mentioned it a little bit, and the preview pages we’ve seen seem to highlight Batman and Spawn as two sides of the same coin. How do you see them in relation to each other?
McFarlane: I would say that, that opening, that one page that actually sort of shows both of them, sort of solves two problems really quickly storywise. It shows some of the commonality of these two guys, especially after the very beginning where they’re both scrappers. And by the way, I think it’s important to say these two heroes have been fighting their whole life. They’ve been fighters, mentally and physically, their whole life. Obviously Batman, to get past the death of his parents, and Al just being a Black man living in a poor part of town. You just have to become a survivor. And the difference is, given that they’re both fighters, how did their lives diverge? One guy’s a good looking billionaire [who] lives in a mansion, and the other guy had his identity burnt away and lost everything that was meaningful to him, and doesn’t have any steady income. So very quickly I just want to go, here’s what’s a little bit the same, and then here’s what’s different. And those differences are why one is Batman and one is Spawn, right? They have different mindsets to how they basically tackle the dark things that go bump in the night.
Grunenwald: The dynamic between Batman and Spawn in the original crossovers was very much about Batman as a seasoned veteran and Spawn as a relatively green upstart. How will their dynamic have changed nearly thirty years later?
McFarlane: I think that the differences are still there. Spawn has gotten more mature. So I think his anger and his rage has been tempered somewhat, although it’s still there, right? You never lose rogue rage. And Bruce Wayne, Batman, he’s a detective, right? He hasn’t necessarily survived all this time because he’s so strong, and he’s got good karate moves or whatever. It’s because he can outwit the opponent, he can figure out, ‘He’s twice as fast, twice as big, and there has to be a weakness to that.’ Batman is the thinker of the two. Not that he can’t be a brawler when needed. But basically if Sherlock Holmes isn’t around, then then you want Bruce Wayne. Al Simmons is never going to fill that void. So it’s gonna matter that Batman is here. So it’s like, ‘I get it, you can lift a car over your head, Spawn, [but] we don’t need that right now. We need something else.’
Grunenwald: It’s been a few years since the two of you have worked together on interior pages. How’s it been being together again?
Greg Capullo: I’ll give you one word: Joy. That’s what it is, one word: Joy. Todd and I have had a great working relationship for our entire time together, and it’s been the best time I’ve ever had working in comics. And it feels like we’ve not missed a beat. It’s just going home for family reunion, you know. So we’re both at the kitchen table, eating our favorite foods, having our favorite conversation. And I like that. For me, it feels like we’ve never been apart. It feels just like I’ve gone into a time machine, and I’ve walked back into my days on Spawn and we’re just doing what we do, and the way that we did it. It’s funny because the lawyers spent so much time getting their contracts together, they ate up all this lead time that we had originally had, which would have been luxurious, but it’s not the case now. And I said to DC, because they were nervous about it, I said, ‘You’re dealing with McFarlane and Capullo. We get shit done.’ And they go, ‘That needs to be on a shirt!’ So yeah, it’s comfortable, and we’re doing what we do, and we’re getting shit done.
McFarlane: That’s it, we’ll get it done. If my prior engagement with Greg had been a couple of issues or something like that, then you know, he’d be up here [raises hand to chin level], and I’d admire him for that time. But the relationship goes way, way, way, way beyond that. It started way back in the early ’90s as hiring a young kid that I thought had some potential, right – way underestimated that. I thought he’d turn into really good, I didn’t know he was going to be a Hall of Famer. And we haven’t really broken contact, whether we were on different books or whatever, we’ve always sort of stayed in contact. Like Greg was saying, [it’s] more of a family relationship than a work relationship. We know what our skillsets are, and we know what we did in the past, and we know what we’re capable of delivering.
You don’t really get that many opportunities in your career to do things – especially at this advanced age that Greg and I are at, because we’ve been at this for three decades now – that sort of gives you a bit of a rush. It reminds you of when we were 20, and we first got into the industry, and every page was the best page ever, right? And you’re showing your wife or girlfriend and your neighbor the pages, and they humor you and they go, ‘Oh, that’s nice.’ Same thing, right? It’s a joy to be able to work with Greg again, and obviously, in the meantime, his skillset has just gotten off the charts. I mean, I get to see the pages for you do. I get to open up every one of those packages and get to see the pages before you do, and he continues to blow me away. I’m going, ‘Wow, wow, wow, wow.’ And also on this book, specifically, we’ve worked so loose, I don’t even know what’s going to be on the page. So when I open up each package, I’m like, ‘Oh, my gosh, I didn’t even have that in mind, this is going to be awesome to either ink or awesome to write around.
Grunenwald: Are you guys working Marvel-style, plot-first then?
McFarlane: We may have created our own style over the years. [laughs]
Capullo: Yeah, I would say, by what I’ve heard, it’s closer to the way Stan [Lee] and Jack [Kirby] worked together. Because I’ve heard that Stan would get up on a table and act stuff out for Jack sometimes instead of writing anything down, and I can tell you, when we did Spawn #300, Todd visited me at my place in Sedona, and he was literally doing that. I didn’t allow him to get up on the table because it’s brand new, but he was doing it all and he’s like [makes noises, motions action with his arms] with the sound effects and everything. I mean, if you had a recording and saw the way we are, it’d be quite entertaining, as entertaining as any of the books that you see us do together. So yeah, at best it’s a Marvel house style.
Grunenwald: This crossover was originally announced back in 2006. What are you both bringing to this book now that you wouldn’t have been able to back then?
Capullo: Well, for me, it’s the fact that I now have a decade of Batman under my belt, which I didn’t have back then. I was very familiar with Spawn, but now I’ve done both characters for pretty much the same amount of time, so it’s really perfect timing for me. It’s funny because Marie Javins, [DC’s] editor-in-chief, she phones me up, and she goes, ‘Hey, would you be interested in doing a Spawn/Batman crossover if we got it?’ And I’m like, ‘Yeah, sure, okay, I’ve heard this before.’ And she goes, ‘No, no, I think we were at a place now where we might be able to get it done.’ I was talking to Jim [Lee] about it and everything with it, and I was just like, ‘If you can get it together, yeah, fine, sign me up, of course I’d be happy to do it.’ And then I tell my wife, I go, ‘This is not gonna materialize. I’m not holding my breath. I’ll continue to work on The Creech while they sort this all out.’ And then, lo and behold, they managed to pull it all together. And eat up all of our lead time while pulling it all together. So Todd and I are now crunching like sons of bitches. But we’ll get it done. And it’ll be fun. It is fun. And I think the fans are gonna love it.
Grunenwald: I can tell you’re not grumpy about the lead time at all. [laughs]
Capullo: Oh, I’ve been screaming a few days over here. [laughs] When you’re working sixteen hours a day, seven days a week, and you’re 60, going, ‘Yeah, I could be dead tomorrow and this is how I’m spending my life, at a table, like this is the golden days of my life.’ Yeah, I can get very cantankerous these days about doing that, but it is what it is. And I’m in the home stretch now. I’ve got like four or five pages left to draw. So I’m out of the woods soon.
Grunenwald: Is there anything from those originals 2006 plans that made it into this book? How much has changed since then? Obviously the Court of Owls didn’t exist in 2006.
McFarlane: What survived from that idea to today was trying to show the similarities and the differences of these two characters in a sort of Polaroid shot, you know, because we want to get 48 pages, and you want to do some really sort of dramatic, interesting comic book things, but acknowledge these two individuals being different, right? The original story came about the whole idea that, Al Simmons is basically burned, he looks ugly, and all he wants to do is get back to his wife and lead a normal life. And Bruce Wayne is handsome and he’s got money, and the girls throw themselves at him, and he doesn’t even want to go on a date, he just wants to basically go get the bad guys. Where Al’s like, ‘I don’t even want to get the bad guy, I didn’t even sign up for this, I just want to get back to a normal life and get back to my wife.’ And so it was sort of built around out going, ‘Man, if I had what you had. Everything you have is really what I want. I want my looks back, I want to have money and be able to basically live a normal life and go on with it. And you have all that and yet you don’t seem to value that.’
So that was the original story, you’re sort of playing on that, and I’ve sort of kept some of that. Showing that, although at first blush, from a distance, it may look a lot the same, because it’s nighttime, and they’ve both got shadows and long capes, that they have different personalities that have gotten them to where they’re at, and their view of the world is different, good, bad or indifferent. Both have served them admirably well to make sure that both of them have survived. One isn’t better than the other, because they’re both still alive, fighting the war. And that’s all that matters, to survive, and eventually, hopefully, bettering your enemy. Those components are still going to be in this book, but not heavy-handed, right? Because it should be a rollercoaster ride, it should be fun.
Grunenwald: Is there any imagery or any moment from the book that you’re particularly excited for readers to see?
Capullo: There is. [laughs] There’s a bunch of them, there’s a bunch of them, but I just turned one in last night that I think it’s gonna get a lot of people talking and excited. We’ve got some moments.
McFarlane: You want to be able to hopefully have three or four visuals in a book that’s this long that will be memorable. That people hopefully in five years will go, ‘Man, remember that shot of that? Remember that? Oh, my gosh, oh, my God.’ So hopefully, I mean, obviously, I think Greg has delivered on those and more, because I think there’s a lot of subtlety in some of these pages and some detail that’s in these pages. That is quite magnificent that I think on second read, once people sort of go ‘Oh, I’m just gonna look at the artwork,’ they’re going to see the deft skillset that Greg has, which is at times in a league of his own. Hopefully we even get to the point where they’ll reprint the book someday, all in pencils, and then all in pencils and ink with no word balloons on it, or whatever, so people can just sort of see the amount of work done by a couple old dudes.
Capullo: I’ll tell you, I’d have been done with this by now if I had done it in the way that Todd and I used to work, in which I’ve worked a lot of times, which is instead of filling all blacks, you know, you just put an X, [and the] inker knows to drop in the heavy black, but I anticipated that they’d want to do something like a pencils-only version, so I’ve been spending the many extra hours shading every single panel of every single page with very few exceptions. So yeah, these are full pencils. But interestingly enough, when I work with Todd, I learned early on – now I give Todd a lot when I pencil, but no matter what you give Todd, and I say no matter who Todd inks, it’s gonna look a little like Todd McFarlane, because he’s got a very distinct inking style. So I don’t obsess on being precise with everything I want. I know that I could use shorthand, like if I have an area that has hatching, I know that if I give 20 hatches, he’ll know that I mean, I want 30 or 40, whatever is appropriate for that area. And they don’t have to be tightly done either. Because it’s silly to do it tight because the inker is just going to kind of use his hand anyway. But if he tries to rigidly follow you, it’s not going to have the life and the snap that you’ll have if he’s going from a somewhat looser approach. So when I draw for Todd, I draw a little bit looser, things that are more open for him to just take from that point and go and have fun. He knows exactly what I’m looking for. We’ve worked together long enough to where, yeah, I don’t have to be anally tight. You know, I just give it to him knowing it’s gonna get exactly where I want to be.
Grunenwald: Todd, I’m a toy guy, and McFarlane Toys has the new retro-style Super Powers figures coming out, which I love. Would you ever consider doing a similarly retro-style Spawn figure so readers can recreate their favorite Batman/Spawn team-up moments?
McFarlane: Yeah, we’ve talked about that. I mean, everybody has their sort of wishlist of what they can and can’t do. We wanted to get out of the gate with the Super Powers [as] another collaboration between my companies and DC [and] Warner Brothers. We’ve had a pretty good track record when we team up to have good results, right? You know, it was just announced the other day that the Joker writers are jumping on the Spawn movie side of things. There’s a lot of connection between Warner Brothers and McFarlane and putting stuff together. So yeah, the answer is yes, it would be nice to, because again, it becomes a blend and you can then do your own crossover in plastic at that point, right?
Published by DC Comics, Batman/Spawn #1 is due out in stores and digitally on Tuesday, December 13th. The preorder cutoff date for the one-shot is later this month.