Todd McFarlane on Bringing the Iconic Hero to Call of Duty

ComingSoon Senior Editor Spencer Legacy spoke with Spawn creator Todd McFarlane about the character’s crossover with Call of Duty for Season 6. McFarlane discussed why Spawn works so well in crossovers and Keith David‘s iconic performance as the character.

“A deal with the devil is fulfilled in Season 06’s Battle Pass,” reads the collaboration’s description. “Witness U.S. Security Group assassin Al Simmons’ transformation into the legendary antihero Spawn. Unlock further Spawn-themed rewards and Operator Skins throughout the pass, including additional visitors from the Underworld.”

(Photo Credit: Activision)

Spencer Legacy: In your eyes, what made Call of Duty a good fit for Spawn?

Todd McFarlane: Well, let’s talk about the character himself. Right underneath the mask in the costume is a guy named Al Simmons — more specifically, Lieutenant Colonel Al Simmons. So literally since issue number one, there’s been the presence of military in the mythology of this character. So, besides him being popular on the comic book front for 30 years. There’s a natural military aspect that I think probably makes him a little bit easier and more seamless to integrate into the Call of Duty game than if you were parachuting other licensed products into it.

So when we were having a conversation with the dev team, we spoke about that more, instead of it just being Spawn or Spawn with big guns. There are iterations — not only in the comic book, but on the toy side of him — as Commando Spawn, decked out in his Desert Storm look, his military looks, and then Al Simmons himself, pre-becoming Spawn; he was just a badass in the military.

He was in the Special Ops. So I think when everybody thought about it, I think they came in with, “Hey, let’s just do a Spawn. It’d be cool.” And then we sort of expanded out, which is why it’s not just the OG Spawn — it’s Spawn and a couple different looks, a couple different characters, and then even some of the Call of Duty characters with “cosplay paint jobs” of Spawn on them.

What was the process of picking which Spawn looks and characters you really wanted to include like?

Well, every week we have a meeting and they show me the progress. As a matter of fact, I was just in L.A. at the office there and got to see it all up close and personal for the first time a couple days ago. After this phone call, we’ve got our weekly call. So the first couple of meetings, they just bombarded me with, “Hey, here’s a bunch of what ifs. What do you think?” My comments were a couple aesthetics and a little bit of asking them to just push it even further, saying, “Don’t be so safe with the character. Don’t worry about being loyal and making it consistent with the comic books or whatever. Make it so that it plays really well and he fits really well as much as possible in Call of Duty.”

So that the vast majority of players who’ve never heard of the character will still be drawn to him and, in some cases, may pick him to play and, at some point, will become one of their favorites to play. They have no idea that he was a comic book character, toy character, movie character, or anything else. They just think he’s a great video game character. That’s the victory.

This isn’t the first time Spawn’s crossed over — there are games like Soulcalibur II and Mortal Kombat 11 and lots of comic crossovers. What do you think makes him, as a character, so adaptable and so easy to fit in with other different franchises?

I think a couple things. One: I’ve had the good fortune of Spawn been around for 30 years. When a brand that has decades long legacies behind them, your value now is through attrition, right? I know a lot about the Kardashians and I don’t even read about them. [Laughs]. And somehow they’re in my head.

On the comic book front, you can’t really get your hands on a lot of the Marvel and DC characters because they’re owned by Disney and Warner Brothers. So I think he’s by far the number one option once you go outside those two. He’s got, as I mentioned before, the military thing in there, and I’m not a public company and I can give a lot of flexibility to the developers and the art teams to basically have as much fun as possible so that they’re not having to follow my rules. If anything, my rule is that there are no rules, and I say it out loud as much as possible in every meeting, to keep pushing and pushing and pushing to let them have as much fun as they can.

To me, we’ve got to do something that works for the video game, period. Don’t let a tail wag a do, and the comic books and the toys and the movies and animation — those are tales. Just do the video game upright. Do the character upright as a Call of Duty character, even forgetting that he’d been in any other video games prior. Just focus on that. What’s the best iteration of Spawn in Call of Duty? That’s the goal. Go.

Spawn’s also been portrayed by quite a few people, but what do you think an actor needs to really have or understand to really nail the character?

That he doesn’t really have much of a sense of humor. He’s pretty deadly serious and has a little bit of that sort of Outlaw Josey Wales attitude that you do and you leave and you don’t really talk much, right? You let your actions do your talking for you. So he’s a bit of a gunslinger. He’s a badass, right? I don’t know, I was drawn to those characters when I was younger. The guys that were called the vigilantes or whatever that sort of worked outside of the normal perfect way that Superman did everything politely. I like the guys that are rough around the edges — the bad boys. I think that’s part of his charm to a lot of people, also.

Before the strikes, the Jamie Foxx-led Spawn movie was underway. Does he have those qualities and how are you feeling about that?

Until Jamie says he can’t, he’s still my guy. I’m very loyal to people, and Jamie was my guy and has been my guy. He’s had a bit of a setback and he says he’s going to get back to the top of the mountain. I have no doubt. I know Jamie — he is a very strong-willed, determined human being. So he tells me, “Don’t worry about me, Todd. I’ll be there when the bell rings. I’ll be there.” So I have complete and utter confidence.

I can’t wait to see him do it. Another person who’s famously played Spawn is Keith David, and back in 2017, he said it was one of his three favorite roles ever. How does it feel to hear him have such pride in voicing a character you made and who’s so close to you?

His version actually ended up being so good that like, I can’t hear anybody else’s voice. Whenever I hear … even when he’s doing another character, even when he’s in another movie and I hear it, I go, “Oh, Spawn!” Then I have to go, “No, it’s Keith, David.” So I’ve sort of stolen Keith David’s persona to make it Spawn’s, but if you like Keith David’s voice, I think you will be quite pleased with what’s happening in Call of Duty.

Those live-action introductions you did before the HBO Spawn episodes took off online a few years ago. People really liked rewatching those, so what was that like to see come back and what was filming those like?

Yeah, interestingly, the guy who filmed them was a roommate of one of the HBO executives. He had done a couple commercials, and so he said, “Hey, can he come and film them?” And then next thing I know, I see his name and he’s doing huge blockbusters, and I’m like, “What Doug Lihman? He what? He was just this roommate of somebody. Now he’s doing massive blockbuster movies. Wow. I got him when he was still a nobody. Look at him, he’s a big shot.”

But he was fun to do and we came up with the hook of “turn out the lights,” because I think even video games should be sort of played the same way that the only light — which is why theaters work so well — the only light should be coming from the movie itself and from the action and what you’re focused on itself.

When I watch TV, I’m always turning off all the lights in my house. Sometimes some of the other people in the house are going, “Why do you always have the lights off?” I just don’t want to be distracted by anything. I just want to be the only motion. The only thing is that thing that’s square in the center. I think video games are valuable that way too. That’s why my son plays until the middle of the night, because I think he turns his lights off too and just gets absorbed into it.