Pairing a long standing comics icon with one of the hottest properties of the 1990s, Spawn/Batman goes all in with creative talent as well. Frank Miller, of The Dark Knight Returns and Batman: Year One fame handles the writing, while Todd McFarlane, creator of Spawn and award winning artist, handles the art chores. Spawn is very clearly influenced by Batman in some ways, but also manages to be his own character. Still, a superhero team-up book is a delicate balance: both characters must be shown to be formidable and important to the story, and the dynamic between the two has to be entertaining. More importantly, it has to be a coherent and enjoyable ride within the context of any other work of entertainment. Are these two comic book superstars up for the challenge?
As you'll discover if you make it past the fifteenth page or so, the answer is a resounding no. Every element of this book is a complete disaster, from its insane portrayal of Batman, to its inane plot, to its utterly incompetent villain, this is a rather surprising failure with no real positives to draw from.
The story centers around the efforts of Batman, and later Spawn, to get to the bottom of recent black market transactions involving, among other things, horrific giant robots controlled by mind-wiped human heads. Of course, since it is a superhero team-up book, the story, in this case a generic and entirely forgettable one, often gets shoved to the side so we can be treated to the interactions between these two characters. Where the book falls so flat is in this interaction. There is a great deal of aimless friction between the two that manifests itself in them beating each other to a pulp for no apparent reason, all while uttering some of the most repetitive and mindless dialogue ever seen. Friction between two ultra powerful beings can be a captivating thing. We can learn more about the character's ability to handle criticism and put aside differences, all while highlighting what makes them special through their contrast with the other hero. Of course, this is most poignantly shown through dialogue or genuine interaction, and not Batman delivering a flying kick to Spawn while Spawn elbows Batman in the abdomen, so it's really no surprise that the book does absolutely none of this and doesn't add anything new to either character.
Batman's character is absolutely butchered for the sake of this story. He treats Spawn with no respect, for seemingly no reason, decrying him as an undisciplined fighter who relies on magic tricks even though Spawn uses those same magic powers to get Batman out of a tight spot or two. Worse still, Batman's detective skills and inquisitive nature don't appear anywhere in this book. His first instinct upon seeing Spawn is to start fighting, with no effort made to ask questions or get to the bottom of what's going on. This serves as a great excuse to show the characters fighting one another for half the book, but an extremely poor excuse for a story.
Batman isn't even the worst character in the book though. Our villain, Dr. Margaret Love, is a hodgepodge of clichés with no clear vision for her plans and a laughably stupid way of going about them. She wants to rid the world of its idiot masses, trimming the number of people on Earth to a small number controlled by her technology. At face value, it isn't terribly different from the goals of someone like Ra's al Ghul, but of course, in execution it completely falls apart. She plans to cause a nuclear armageddon to thin the herd, but doesn't seem to realize that this would kill everyone on Earth sooner or later through a contaminated atmosphere, ruined food supply, and destruction of almost all the world's ecosystems. If her plan was to destroy Earth, this wouldn't be such a bad idea, but for someone with such huge ambitions of world domination, a plan so simple minded and poorly thought out is crippling to her ability to be taken seriously, although it does perhaps work as a capsule of the book as a whole; all bombast and splash pages and legendary characters, but absolutely nothing in the way of fundamentals or intricacies.
Worse than the story is the actual script. We get tons of purple prose in the narration. Frank Miller tells us, via an incredible flurry of sentence fragments, things that are clearly happening on the panel, violating one of the key elements of storytelling, and takes the hard-boiled detective trope up to 11 with his overwrought descriptions of everyday things. This sets a poor tone for the entire rest of the book, and the dialogue isn't much better. The exchanges between Spawn and Batman are incredibly repetitive- Batman refers to Spawn as an "undisciplined, stupid punk" while Spawn literally just starts repeating his sentences in the middle of battle. If their reasons for fighting one another weren't stupid enough, the dialogue during the actual event ensures that their encounter is an embarrassment that stains the reputations of both characters, though Spawn comes out a little better because he seems to be a little more reluctant to do battle and actually saves Batman's life a time or two.
Even the normally excellent Todd McFarlane is unimpressive in this crossover. He does a great job drawing his own creation, Spawn, but the same cannot be said of his interpretation of Batman, Alfred, or the random assortment of original characters introduced in this book. Everyone looks blocky and unnatural, and he tries to drawn Batman to look like Spawn in a different color scheme (same dramatic cape with a life of its own, same piercing eyes offset against a dark silhouette of the character.) It's not terribly impressive, and with the inclusion of overly garish coloring choices that don't convey much of anything, and narration boxes that are confusing and colored oddly, the artwork in this book feels much like the story itself- low quality and utterly lacking a heart.
The storytelling suffers a bit from McFarlane's artwork as well. Splash pages are all too frequent, and they typically provide us with nothing more than further elongation to the already tired plot point of Batman fighting Spawn. Even the pages that are supposed to add to the story typically create confusion. Spawn's magic is poorly explained and even more poorly drawn, the overabundance of shadows often make it very difficult to make out what is going on, and the final battle sequence, the part of the book where Spawn and Batman actually team up, is over in two pages and conveys nothing of their manner of fighting together.
The kind of book that gives superhero team-ups a bad name, Spawn/Batman may be good for a laugh, particularly the disastrous "stupid punk" segment, but it's not worthy of the characters it portrays or the creators involved in making it.