Shoryuken interview: Spawn Creator Todd McFarlane talks Mortal Kombat 11, SoulCalibur II, and defending the right to expression

By on March 7, 2020 at 10:00 am
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McFarlane gives NetherRealm the keys to the Spawn kingdom for his appearance in Mortal Kombat 11.

Mortal Kombat fans and Spawn fans alike have been filled with excitement since the character’s confirmation as a DLC fighter last May.

Being a fan of both franchises, I had to reach out to Spawn‘s creator himself, Todd McFarlane, to get his insight on the character’s interpretation in Mk11 as well as discuss his previous work in fighting games.


Austyn “Lazybones 2020” Roney: Mortal Kombat is one of the biggest titles in the fighting game community and whenever Spawn was announced for Mortal Kombat it was a huge deal for not only Mortal Kombat fans and for Spawn fans, but for me personally because I am both!

First, I wanted to congratulate you, Spawn is doing incredible right now, Spawn 300 was one of the best-selling comics in 2019, I have actually been collecting them since 300 came out. Starting there and going back while keeping up with the new releases.

Todd McFarlane: Oh, thank you, now you just have to procreate and have all of you guys buy up all of the comics. (laughs)

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Lazybones2020: I just read 305 earlier, that was a really cool story, I am excited to see where it goes!

Back to Spawn in being in Mortal Kombat, back in 2015, you stated that NetherRealm could use Spawn for a couple of their games, but that offer was set within a certain window. With Spawn being in Mortal Kombat 11, was that window you mentioned earlier coming to a close?

McFarlane: Spawn being added to Mortal Kombat had nothing to do with any kind of window on my side. These kinds of things, where companies will call me up and ask me if they can use my character, will come up from time to time.

Lazybones2020 Well, the timing couldn’t have been better for how great things are going for Spawn and when the record was broken with issue 301.

McFarlane: Well, none of us knew that would happen right? They had hundreds of other characters to pick between and they landed on Spawn and all I could say is, “cool, let’s do this!”

When these guys came to me and asked if they could use Spawn, I said the only requirements were that I need you to make him a really exciting character in your game, so that if nobody knows Spawn, they will go, this guy, he’s my favorite. I told them to make Spawn work in their game, play to what your audience likes. Make a cool video game character.

[Editor’s Note: Replaced the previous video that announced Spawn with his character trailer from Final Kombat 2020.]

Take someone that we both know is the Intellectual Property “Spawn”, but literally do whatever it is that you want with him to make him fit your game. Don’t feel tied to the comics, or the show, or the movie. If that means you make up some new stuff to make him cool for your audience, then so be it.

Even if you tell someone to do whatever they want, they will take baby steps. At first, they showed me a few ideas and I would have to keep telling them, “Get crazier! Go bigger!”

I told these guys, look, I am not in my twenties anymore, I’m older, I’ve got thick skin, get creative! Eventually, the guys at NetherRealm got to the point where it all clicked. “Wow, we can really do anything!”

Lazybones2020: That is incredible, and it has to be a great opportunity for NetherRealm because it seems that with most guest characters, there are a lot of limitations in their interpretation. But with Spawn, it sounds like you are giving them free rein!

McFarlane: Being an artist, I know what it is like to feel boxed in, being told what you can and cannot do with the thing you are creating. I assume these people feel the exact same way. By giving them the freedom to create whatever character they want, that is when you get good results.

Instead of saying, here are the rules, I say, Spawn in this game is not a continuation of the one from the comics, this is a Spawn for people who like video games, and not just video games, but Mortal Kombat games. They need to think he is cool for who he is in the game. Make him fun, make him cool, with his abilities and his cape, which might not always be red with a push of a button!

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Lazybones2020: That’s awesome! A really cool detail. With Spawn, he was in SoulCalibur II, and you also created the original character, Necrid for that game as well. What was it like working with Namco and how does that process differ from what it has been like with NetherRealm?

McFarlane: Namco wanted a lot more input during the development of SoulCalibur II. It was Greg Capullo, who was working on his book at the time, and I and they wanted a lot of drawings and input on what was going on with Spawn in that game.

With MK11 I haven’t voiced my opinion too much. I figured that if I sit back and told myself, let’s just see what they can do, they could pull off some really cool stuff. If I needed to, I could reel them back in, but that never happened. They have never disappointed me.

The only criticism that will come from me will be that they didn’t go far enough. Big corporate brands want to protect everything because they have so much money invested in these characters and things like that, but that really limits what you can do. So I said, go full boat.

Assume I just signed over the copyright to Spawn, show me what you would do with that freedom. From there they went on to create a character that they wanted to play.

Lazybones2020: I recently saw all of the Mortal Kombat toys that you and your team have been working on in stores and they look incredible the detail is fantastic.

McFarlane: The detail is theirs; it is all on them. I just take the detail that they give me. It is all their design; it belongs to them.

Lazybones2020: Which isn’t common with a lot of toys, they usually don’t go all-in on the details, but the toys at McFarlane, they don’t sacrifice a single thing.

McFarlane: I have a sense of pride when it comes to the quality of the products that we create. Going back to what we were talking about before, these toy companies that are publicly owned, they do everything to maximize their profit margins.

I don’t need to protect the brand of Spawn. To me, I see Spawn within a word cloud. I feel that if you polled 1000 people, they would all come back with two words that described the essence of the character. Those two words are cool and badass.

So, whenever we make something those two words are being applied to it, and we make sure the products we sell are as accurate as possible. It is okay if I lose some money by making a figure more detailed, because to me, at the end of the day we will sell more toys if they are of a higher quality! So, I’d end up making whatever investment I made back because I know that people want the properties they enjoy being well represented.

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Lazybones2020: I saw an ad for the Spawn figure coming out in the MK11 line, and he looks awesome! That is the first look at the full design at Spawn. His cape was something we didn’t get with SoulCalibur, it had to become his ax.

So, just with the technical improvements, it is something that is really cool, and without going into too much detail, like you said his cape could change with a touch of a button, can we expect a lot from it in Mortal Kombat?

McFarlane: You know yeah, his cape is alive, you can take advantage of that, you’ve seen it do all sorts of things in the comic books. He has his weapons and all of his powers, there is a lot of opportunity with the character.

They did a good job of making sure that if you like the mystic part of Spawn, you can play him like that, if you like the weapons that he uses, you can play him like that, if you like fisticuffs, you can play him like that. You can do each of those things or all the above. They did a really good job of giving options.

Lazybones2020: And that’s how I view Spawn, he is the “All of the Above” character, he’s got it everything. I did notice though that he has a sword which is something you don’t see Spawn with too often, but you do see him with one at the end of Spawn 305, so it will be interesting to see some swordplay with Spawn in both Mortal Kombat and the comics.

Let’s say if you made an original character, like you made Necrid in SoulCalibur, in this Mortal Kombat universe, you were given that same opportunity, what kind of character would you create? What would be the McFarlane take on Mortal Kombat?

McFarlane: You know there are already so many characters in Mortal Kombat that they have made themselves, that I think I would rather reverse the role of some of these guys. I would be interested in taking the original ten who have been around for the longest and make them a bit different, not better, just different than what people are used to.

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Lazybones2020: Going back to Injustice 2, they did a poll for who fans wanted to join the game that was a non-MK character, and Spawn lead the poll. It is great to see these things come full circle.

While it would have been nice to see Spawn in that game so he could interact with other comic book characters, the world of Mortal Kombat feels like a better fit. Especially given all that is possible in that series, the sky is the limit in terms of the action and the fatalities.

McFarlane: The one thing I think is super smart on their end, you know we are all in competition with everyone, but the thing they did that was super cool was the fatality. They went all-in on that whenever they first started and you know, either people were going to be offended or they were going to think it was super cool.

There are a ton of people like us who see those kinds of things and chuckle, you know it’s out there and it is kind of funny, but there are other people who really can’t grasp this concept. These are the people who don’t play video games so they couldn’t understand, and to me, this is offensive to us on a couple of different levels.

There is no documented science that proves that video games correlate to real-life violence. If there was, you know that whenever this conversation comes up, they would wave it in front of our faces, but it doesn’t, so they don’t.

Lazybones2020: It really stifles creativity if we let ourselves get too concerned about the potential of anything we make being used to justify whatever they have going on already in their own head.

McFarlane: People are capable of partaking in media and not being influenced to do terrible things. Kids know the difference between the ages of 5-7 that what they see on TV isn’t real. Whenever they are watching Looney Tunes, they know there isn’t a 6-foot tall rabbit that can talk, or you know a talking mouse named Mickey.

Somehow, somewhere down the line, when we all get older, people who are between 18 and 25, they all of a sudden become incapable of doing this. I don’t buy that, that’s not how people work.

Just say you don’t like the content. These things are no more harmful than the typical action movie. There are bad people out there sure, psychopaths, who do awful things, but we can’t let them control what we can create.

I fight on your side; I am a very vocal advocate of defending the content we enjoy.

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Lazybones2020: I’ve been reading Spawn from the beginning since I started collecting with 300 and back when things were on a smaller scale, the stories in Spawn would talk about the darker things that do happen in the world. But Spawn as a character would try his best to put a stop to them, something we wish was possible in reality, for a powerful force to do the things we can’t.

McFarlane: In issue 29 of Spawn, there was a dad who was beating his kids. Spawn found out about this and knew he couldn’t just kill him; these kids couldn’t lose their dad. Spawn decides to tattoo the abuser instead, he tattooed “I beat my kids” all over his body.

Al thought that this would embarrass the father, put him on the right path, humble him to stop what he was doing, but instead, it makes him twice as angry. One day one of the kids ran for his dad’s gun to protect his brother, he shoots his dad, and he ends up dying anyway.

This was just one of those stories about how you can’t play God. Like Stan Lee said, “With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility.” Al Simmons is a completely flawed character, just trying to figure it out. To figure out how to deal with the circumstances he is in. It is way more interesting to see the flaws.

If you or I were just shot by lighting, we wouldn’t change just because we got powers. Austyn, you would just be a strong journalist. It wouldn’t make you any smarter or any better of a person.

What makes the story interesting is thinking, “Hey, how did Austyn get to now from who he was ten years ago?”

Not everybody is created equal, Al might succeed and become the greatest hero ever, or he might fail miserably.

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Lazybones2020: How is the movie direction going? I have been reading your interviews each time there is a new development with the film and with the success of Joker, you were saying that it breathed new life into Rated R Superhero flicks. Without having to go too deep into it, what is going on with your movie?

McFarlane: Last week I got some discouraging news, we had an academy award-winning guy who was going to do the movie with us, but he fell off. We had people willing to fund the movie as long as we had this guy attached but schedules were conflicting, and things had to change. That’s how close we are to getting this thing off the ground.

[Editor’s Note: Todd McFarlane was referring to an Academy Award-winning writer who is no longer committed to the project. There have been some outlets using this quote stirring rumors about Jamie Foxx leaving the project which are false.]

Hollywood is a different place right now; they understand the value of what Spawn can bring to a reasonable budget. Joker lit the fire, up until now it felt like I was pushing up this bolder on my own, but now there are others joining me who know that these stories should be told.

I have very few demands for the movie. It has to be Rated R, there’s no debate around that. With the story I want to tell, my intent goes back to that Spawn Cloud. I am less concerned about what happens in the movie as long as Spawn is “cool” and “badass”. The last demand is that I am the director. That’s it. Everything else is up for conversation.

I just want to show that there are better and smarter ways to entertain an audience than what they are used to. So much more is possible once you open yourself to Rated R stories. But I can’t just do a cardboard version, I need the budget to do it. Just enough to make it the right way.

Lazybones2020: I am right there rooting for you and I hope that things move ahead smoothly.

Now before I forget, I’ve got to ask, who are your favorite characters in Mortal Kombat and SoulCalibur?

McFarlane: I’d have to say Scorpion. I know that’s not very original, Scorpion is everybody’s favorite, but I really like that guy.

In terms of SoulCalibur, you know, it has been such a long time, that I would have to say it was the character I worked on, Necrid. I think he came out really cool and gave the cast a little bit of a different flavor.

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Lazybones2020: Thank you very much for your time and best of luck at Toyfair 2020! I am excited to see what comes from McFarlane Toys.

McFarlane: Oh, we are going to kill it! I know we are going to do awesome. After that, I am heading Final Kombat in Chicago where we are finally going to unveil Spawn! Keith David is going to be there; you aren’t going to want to miss it.


Unfortunately, by the time this interview was published, the public event for Final Kombat was canceled due to the coronavirus. The tournament will still be live-streamed, Sunday, March 8 so be sure to tune in for the first look at Spawn in MK11 and some great fights.

Spawn will be available in Mortal Kombat 11 on March 17 through the Kombat Pass or sold separately.

Sources: Polygon; McFarlane Toys; Mortal Kombat

Shoryuken.com Associate Editor. Austyn James Roney began his gaming journey with Super Smash Bros. on the N64 but learned the ways of the fighting game genre with Marvel vs. Capcom 3. Loves all fighters, regardless of dimension or playstyle.