Todd McFarlane is under the weather when I talk to him. Just back from D23 Expo, I thought it might have tired him out a bit but it's worse than that. "I'm recovering from Covid now." Oh, did he catch it from Mickey Mouse, I asked? Is that what we were saying here? "I don't know you can get it anywhere but it's like I go, hmm, when would I have been round other people, oh yeah one day, where I was around tens of thousands of people. I mean if I was a betting man, I can't say with certainty, but if I was a betting man…" I told Todd that he is a betting man. And that this has got him in trouble in the past. "Yeah, I am too."
But we were here to talk about the upcoming Spawn/Batman crossover with Greg Capullo. Just not actually talking with Greg Capull,o who strangely found reason to absent himself. Now, Todd McFarlane is a very independent man who quit the main publishers even before there was an Image Comics to quit for, who has published stories about his issues with comic book publishers in the past, and has over decades ploughed his own furrow. So why go back to DC Comics after such a long time of dogged, bloody-minded independence and after such recent success with Spawn? Todd tells Bleeding Cool, in a round about way;
"They understand the status of both Greg and myself and the industry. We don't need that much help putting together 48 pages, Greg and I, that's what we do in our sleep. So they've been quite hands-off, to the point of saying are we ever going to see a plot? There are a couple of scenes that are sensitive to Batman, and I know that we need to make sure we don't step by the mountain. But you know, I can't do anything wrong with Spawn, and Greg's been doing Batman for 10 years, so the only real moments of editorial that I see, is once I start writing the script. Which is fair, they may say, oh you know what Todd, Batman wouldn't say that, or wouldn't do that. And I'm not overly fluent in the current status of Bruce Wayne and whatever, and it also depends where this is taking place and at what time."
Which is what intrigued me about the announcement, that it would involve the Court of Owls, something established in recent Batman continuity, by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo.
"I did to Greg what I do to all my artists, say hey Greg, let's do this cool Batman crossover and then having the conversation with DC and the lawyers, then you get to the point, oh we've got to come up with a story. So I asked a simple question I ask every artist, what do you want to draw? I didn't have any hell-bent story in my head, so he just said 'I get a lot of a lot of email and a lot of comments over the years and the one that they like a lot are the Court of Owls'. Now it was interesting because I didn't really know that much, but when I did my research on them, actually I don't think Greg was even paying attention to this, it actually worked pretty well, because they've spanned a lot of time in a lot of centuries. So I go so you've got a Court of Owls that have been around for hundreds and hundreds of years I've got Spawns that have been around for hundreds of hundreds of years, and we actually have a group in our book, King Spawn called the court of… something."
It was the Court of Priests, Todd.
"So I go, you've got a court, we've got a court, you've got time span and multiple iterations of it, I've got multiple iterations, this is going to be super easy. Years ago, Rich, there was – I don't know if you ever saw some of it – the story I had in my mind was going to be Spawn/Batman/Joker/Clown right."
I did see some of it. Indeed, there was this cover below…
"I wasn't overly concerned about coming back to that story, I don't think there's a lack of Joker material on the marketplace, I don't pay attention, but it seems like there might be an abundance of it… I see Marc Silvestri did that too. I didn't know when they were going to publish that book until after we had literally announced it. There's a little bit of a wink and a nod, to the two big bad guys. I don't want to get distracted with it being like Metal where it's like you got every character because we could I could draw all the Batman bad guys… and I went, no, let's just pull it back and have some fun with what we're doing here."
We aren't going to see earlier Spawns mixing with earlier versions of the Court Of Owls though.
"A lot of this would be tied up in captions… there's a couple of sort of scenes where I'll give some of the backstory as to why this can make sense. I know there's no true continuity but in an odd way, if there was continuity, which there isn't, that it would actually work. With all that happened in the last few years, and so on and especially with the Court Of Justice…" It's the Court of Priests, Todd… "So it has to be in that box, it's sort of modern day."
"It's not that much different than when Greg and I started working together in 1994. We transport ourselves 30 years back and just go, hey man, you come up with a cool story, what do you want to draw, and we just do it. I give him pages which I try to do with every artist, that I would want to draw personally, I try to limit the number of pages that I would have groaned at. Also in the back of my mind, I understand that there's original art to be sold, so we're always trying to put a few extra shekels to the artist, this scene is going to have a couple of pages you're going to really be able to sort of getting a few extra dollars, especially for all the heavy work that they do, I think we sort of owe it to them."
"I gave him a two-page spread recently and said, hey we have to have at least one cool shot of both of them in a two-page splash. They both got those capes, and they can get a little crowded even on one page. Eventually, I've got to do my cover, and I'm gonna have to figure that out too. Greg said 'I don't really want to do them jumping because they don't really fly, and then if I do them on top of the building and then at some point in the conversation I just went, Greg, stop, you're overthinking it. Can you put the two of them in a two-page spread on top of the building? Of course you can, and you know why? Because you're going to draw the hell out of that. So think about when we were 15 years old, right, take all your favourite artists, or even your favourite artist today and say they're going to draw a two-page spread of Spawn and Batman and they can only draw them at the top of a building. Aren't you already excited? The thing that made us crazy when we were kids going "oh my gosh, oh my God" wasn't seeing Wolverine being nasty for the very first time, it was him being nasty drawn by that guy."
And that guy was John Byrne.
"All those actions have been done, dozens and dozens of times, we don't have to invent it, you just have to do whatever, and then the only thing was perhaps maybe we can add some little Easter eggs in the two-page spread, because all those people are going to want to look at is the magnificent drawing of the two characters that if we could sneak something here, and sneak something there just to tease them, then maybe we sort of smile, and people go what is that in the background there? And then they get a little bit of bonus gravy. So he gave me the sketch, he always does two or three because he's always doubting himself, and I just saw it, and here we go. I saw it complete and it's going to be exactly what it needed to be, which is yeah, this is why I'm buying the book."
But back to the Byrne.
"I don't think on books like this that we should forget what it was like to collect when we were 16 and 17 and 18 right and so if when I was that age, if somebody said, hey Chris Claremont and John Byrne and Terry Austin are going to do X-Men versus the JLA, what are you talking about, I'm in. They could have been fighting the Marshmallow Man, I don't even care. So I think it's rare when people can do and add that excitement and then deliver stories that are staggering on top of it. You make this a comic book that people go, man, that was cool, and oh, by the way, the bitching visuals. We don't get many of these times in our career to do these right and, I've said Rich, I'd never go back to Marvel and DC. There's only one condition, and I've met the condition, Spawn comes along for the ride. I don't consider me doing this lowering any standard, I just go, oh my God they're gonna let me do Batman. Wait till the executives find out way up high… and Rich. in dealing with the lawyers. it took way longer than it should have. They try to muscle me a little bit, a lot of it, and I'm like, dudes, this is easy. If you and I were making a strong Batman movie crossover I agree with you 100, you guys got the bigger brand on the movie circuit. And on the toy side, because I do both, yeah you guys, check check, you win. But we're doing f*cking comic books, so you check the sales last year, the number one was my book, and so let's just talk about what we're actually making… comic books. I'm sure that this is their first time dealing with the Boil Weevil that is called Todd, right, because again they're like, well who's your lawyer? Me. Yeah, well the legal person that will be doing all the going back and forth and marking up the contracts? Me.Who's your Business Affairs? Me. I actually almost find it entertaining, the corporation's first move is 'we will take everything and give you nothing… in all time, and space and we'll give you nothing, what's your comeback?' Because, Rich, sometimes the starving artist will take that deal. My frustration is that I've been up against it many times over the decades in many, many situations where they hold you accountable for somebody else's deal, or there's precedence, so I've always negotiated especially when I'm dealing with Spawn. I'm not selling you whatever it was you bought in the past, I'm selling you this thing here, and this thing here is for sale at this price."
"With these crossovers, there's a bit of sausage making, behind the scenes, doing all the legalities, it's part of the process right so you plough through and then when you finally get it signed, you go 'oh good, now we can get back to the creative and DC, on the creative front, has been nearly hands off right. Greg had a great quote, I'm gonna make a shirt of it that, 'Greg and Todd dot dot dot we get sh-t done.' Maybe they have to chase other people, but you got two old vets, you need 48 pages, just tell us, we're gone, we're off to the race and so we're almost there, because we're just work horses."
Expect to see the boys wearing the shirt for the rest of convention season. Once Todd is over Covid. Spawn/Batman will be published in December from DC Comics as well as a collection of the previous Batman/Spawn crossovers.
BATMAN SPAWN #1 (ONE SHOT) CVR A GREG CAPULLO BATMAN
(W) Todd McFarlane (A/CA) Greg Capullo
Two dark heroes, cursed by tragedy, find their paths again crossing…but not by choice! What sinister foe is at work, pitting the Dark Knight against the Hellspawn? From the shadows of Gotham City to New York City, this epic event is the blockbuster you've been waiting almost two decades for! Retail: $6.99 FOC Date: 10/23/2022 In-Store Date: 12/13/2022
BATMAN SPAWN THE CLASSIC COLLECTION HC
(W) Doug Moench, Chuck Dixon, Alan Grant, Frank Miller (A) Klaus Janson, Todd McFarlane (CA) Greg Capullo, Todd McFarlane
An ancient evil has arisen in Gotham City. The last time it appeared, an entire colony was wiped clean from the face of the Earth, leaving only one clue: Croatoan. Whoever or whatever Croatoan is, it'll take all of the Batman's investigative skills and the supernatural abilities of an ex-soldier turned Hellspawn to save Gotham's citizens from the hell that is about to be unleashed on our world. For the first time in three decades, this edition of the classic meeting between comics' caped avengers of the night reprints Batman/Spawn: War Devil #1 by legendary Batman creators Doug Moench, Chuck Dixon, Alan Grant, and Klaus Janson…plus the Spawn/Batman one-shot by The Dark Knight Returns writer Frank Miller and Spawn creator Todd McFarlane, which brings Batman to Spawn's home turf of New York City! Two heroes with different methods in two very different tales. Capes will clash. Retail: $19.99 FOC Date: 9/18/2022 In-Store Date: 11/15/2022