Book Review: HellSpawn – The Ashley Wood Collection – Author Steve Niles, Ashley Wood

HELLSPAWN: THE ASHLEY WOOD COLLECTION (PAPERBACK)
Written by Brian Michael Bendis, Steve Niles
Art by Ashley Wood
Published by Image Comics
Publication Date: 2006
Format: Color – 224 pages
Price: $24.95

The TPB “Hellspawn – The Ashley Wood Collection” collects all 10 issues of the break out Spawn comic illustrated by Ashley Wood. Hellspawn differs from many comics as it truly is meant for an adult audience. This of course is what makes it special. The Spawn represented in these pages is dark, brooding, vengeful and unrelenting. Not that these qualities aren’t found in the other Spawn series but the reader is plunged right away into a evil dark world inhabited by even eviler characters. That darkness I speak of is enhanced, molded and presented under the masterful work of Ashley Wood. Something about his approach using pen and ink, collage, photographs and experimental combinations digs far deeper than a simple hero comic book. It brings life to the pages in new ways that were inspired by some of his peers approaches.

This particular series was most important to me because it represented the Ashley Wood I hoped that would have stuck around. Fans of his artwork may be all too familiar with his movement away from the darkness and the inventive approaches and into retro styles and robots. While that may sit for some, I always thought it a loss to forgo the direction he started. At times his work ranges from absolute brilliance to sloppy thrown down lines that question if he was even awake when he drew the panels. In fact the readers may notice that the issues even began to change there direction as they pushed forward. That is……. the dark realism slowly becoming more pen and ink driven.

My guess was that the comic book fans may have confused the approach as cheating and too photo-shoppy…though I found it to be a highlight of a feeling and exploration that deepened the evil nature of the characters. We do get some breathtaking covers with each issue. Painted, drawn, painted photos…..and thought provoking blends that engage the viewer to stare long into the works of art and perhaps get lost in its remarkable invitation. This volume features all of these covers at the book ends with a few new sketches and paintings not used in the previous volumes. At the highlight this book also features a brand new painted Spawn cover, that stands as one of his best yet.

Though now on to the story. The book takes place in modern times when all sorts of chaos is beginning to unravel the seams of society. We have the social media featuring religious leader Gary Danes who goes on air condemning all races that aren’t white to the frenzy of angry watchers. We have young girls committing suicide and equating the fabric of reality and life. We have the clown wreaking havoc in small does of corruption influencing lives and damning others. We have Spawn at the helm trying to make sense of it all and killing off those he can. It’s a virtual whirlwind of dark times that stretches way beyond simple good vs evil characters. In some ways it reflects current times with a supernatural theme attached to it.

As they note in the story, ” the streets are paved with fear” . There are times when it becomes too involved into itself perhaps leaving the readers guessing at the splits of narrative. Though as a collective, the panels mirror the words in dark intent and ambiguity. Spawn is a warrior.

As a result, hells darkest have been sent out to counter balance the intent. Clown who often morphs back and forth between his “Violator” mode seems almost indestructible and yet seems to find humor in taunting the inhabitants to do bad things. The media humor only serves to reflect that which we live in as I write. That we sensationalize much of this evil to new heights. Whether its literal or intended, the point is made. In summary, Spawn at times is represented literal and others as more of a consciousness within others.

Horrible deeds to satisfy needs are implemented in this world on a daily basis not from the demons that lurk down under but within humanity itself. Whether Spawn can serve as a savior is perhaps even beyond the chaos that broods within the hearts of men. This and the tales that are told represent the heart of this book.

Wonderfully illustrated, hauntingly realistic and boldly written “Hell spawn” is perhaps one of the greater achievements from the Image comics team.

Available from www.amazon.com

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