Life In Plastic: Retro Review: Spawn Alley (Spawn: The Movie)

SpawnAlley-ProtectTodd

I admit, I have a love/hate relationship with Spawn. I’ve got all these toys, but the movie sucks, the HBO series fell apart after the first season, and I can’t read a single issue of the comic without rolling my eyes. So for the next three regular LIP installments, I’m gonna review SPAWN toys! And like them! And so will you!

Most of my “sets” for toy photography are cobbled together from bits and pieces of various dioramas, stands, backdrops, and toy terrain. one of the most common recurring ones in any of my “urban” photos is the Spawn Alley playset from Spawn: The Movie. I picked it up used years ago, complete except for two accessories… so y’know, this tiny little playset has served me so well that it deserves a Retro Review! There were three of these little mini-sets released for Spawn: The Movie, and I’m gonna review all three! This one comes first because it’s the most popular of the group (even showing up in a GI Joe eBay auction recently), and it serves as a good introduction to… the movie.

SpawnAlley-Clown

Spawn the Movie sucked for the most part. It was a post-Batman & Robin comic book movie, so what else did you expect? But it had a few bright points, and one of them was the first time Clown turned into Violator. And Violator is one of my favorite parts of the whole series – see, Spawn’s handler is a genuine agent of Hell who appears in the form of a disgusting, obscene clown. Clown isn’t funny. His jokes range between farts and dead baby humor at best, and he even admits to hating clowns.

SpawnAlley-ClownViolator

He’s annoying and unfunny, and eventually gets so much on Spawn’s nerves that Spawn just threatens to flatten him – this happens in the comic, movie, and HBO series. And then Clown decides to show Spawn “Just who you’re dealing with,” reveals himself to be an utterly terrifying demon, and kicks Spawn’s ass three ways to Sunday. The sheer personality shift between the Clown persona and Violator’s true self is terrifying, and my favorite version was the creepy rendition in the HBO series. That whispering voice is really chilling! In the movie, the scene was louder and smashier, but you got a much longer fight between the two, with Violator just playing with Spawn for several minutes, smashing him through walls, tossing homeless people around, dodging gunfire… and it actually worked. It was one of the best scenes in that movie, thanks to the special effects actually working for a few minutes. And the Spawn Alley playset commemorates that exact scene!

SpawnAlley-Unboxed

There were two versions of Spawn Alley released – mass-market and comic-shop. They are functionally identical, except for the fact that the comic-shop version comes with Todd the Bum, a homeless resident of the alley who was played by Todd McFarlane himself. He was the one who handed Spawn a gun in the Violator fight, and then ran off without helping any further. So, Stan Lee cameos as a kindly old man, and Todd McFarlane is a gun-toting homeless bum. Gotta love it! My version has Todd, so it’s the comic-shop one.

SpawnAlley

PACKAGING: ***1/2

This is a stock eBay packaged photo, because I got mine in a ziploc baggie! Spawn Alley is an old-school McFarlane toy, so it’s in a typical plastic blister on cardboard backing. It displays and protects everything in the set, and shows off the whole line in back. The huge blister doesn’t age well, though, and has a tendency to just fall off after a few years. This is not a toy for a MOC collector.

I want to call your attention to something in that photo – see those two planks of wood? I don’t have them. I never has. Other than those, my set is complete. I’ll bring them up a few times in the review, but keep in mind that you won’t be seeing them.

SpawnAlley-SpawnTodd

SCULPT: Alley: ****, Violator: ****, Spawn: ***, Todd: ***

Spawn Alley measures roughly 5″x5″ and about 3″ deep. It’s not huge, and you’ll note how most of my photos sort of bolster it with other similar walls and buildings to fill it out some. That said, it’s more comprehensive for the figures than similar dioramas for other toys, like Marvel Select. In this set, you’ve got a metal garage door, some broken stone with a drain pipe connected to a broken brick wall, a crane, a chain link fence, and some pavement. It actually comes in a lot of pieces – the broken walls swing in and out, the garage door pivots vertically, the crane swings out, and the fence can be detached and/or swung around. They are all pretty loose, but they do stay in place! The textures are great, and seem to work for a variety of figures, whether cartoony or realistic. They certainly fit the ones in this set.

SpawnAlley-Violator

Figure-wise, Violator is the star of this set. He’s about 5″ tall (6″ if you count his top horn), and detailed just like in the movie. For such a major character in Spawn, Violator has surprisingly few figures, though he got a lot of love in the Movie line. McFarlane also released a 14″ deluxe Violator figure, which was similar to this. Violator in the movie was realized with a mix between CGI and animatronics, so the toy had the big puppet to match with its sculpting. The textures are great, and manage to take a surreal, spindly demon and translate him into a “real-life” form. I’ve had this set for a long time, and I’ve always had fun playing with my 6″ Violator. That came out wrong.

SpawnAlley-Spawn

Next up is Spawn! They only released these 3″ guys with the playsets, which means that the available cast in this scale is limited. So Spawn exists, albeit without his cape (he rarely used it in the movie, anyway). Spawn is pretty basic, with the only real difference between his movie and comic costumes being the texturing. He is kind of bland, though, especially when compared to Violator – the details on his sculpt just don’t stand out quite as much, and the neck joint looks a little odd. He’s got a pair of chains sprouting from his chest, which are extremely flexible, but I wouldn’t stress them too much. Spawn is fine, just nothing terribly special.

SpawnAlley-ToddTheBum

Todd the Bum also stands at 3″, and looks like Todd McFarlane. His clothes could easily stand in for regular gear, or be a hobo outfit. They were kind of sneaky in sculpting him in that he COULD just be Normal Todd, provided Todd went a day or two without shaving. He is more pre-posed than the others, and can really only stand with his arms down, or forward, or up in a panic. The face is recognizable as Todd McFarlane, though a few details seem a little soft. It’s fine at this scale, and good enough for what it is. McFarlane Toys later scaled it up to 6″ as an exclusive, but that one looked terrible.

SpawnAlley-ViolatorAttack

PAINT: Alley: ****, Violator: ****, Spawn: ***1/2, Todd: ***1/2

A lot about this set relies on the paint, so I’m glad to say it doesn’t disappoint! The alley is fantastic – every texture looks like concrete, or metal, or brick, or ehat it needs to be. The garage door is covered in graffiti, which ranges from legible to illegible, though that “KEEP OUT!” is quite visible. I see no slop, and in fact the different surfaces all have various paint washes or similar shading just to make them look a little more real. The fence even has a tiny, nearly-invisible amount of rust!

SpawnAlley-ViolatorFace

Violator is also fantastic, and it’s not as complex as it looks. His body is gray, but with a black wash that brings out every wrinkle, right, and rib on his body. His spikes and nails are black, his teeth are yellow, the inside of his mouth is pink, his horns are brown, and his compound eyes are red and yellow. All of the detailing is crisp, clean, and matches the movie. This figure just looks great, and it’s an awesome example of how comic book movie toys don’t have to look cheap… sorry, Avengers toys.

SpawnAlley-SpawnIsDown

Spawn fares a little less well in this regard. The detailing is clean and the colors are right, but his paint is glossy, and it feels like it obscures some of the details of his sculpt. His paint job is actually pretty complex, with some nearly-invisible gray detailing over a few parts of his costume, but the glossiness hurts it.

Todd the Bum is also ALMOST perfect. His costume is great – washed-over to look grimy, but with each part of his outfit colored properly and distinct – but his face just seems flat. The flesh tone they chose looks fake, and even with minor detailing for his eyes and stubble, it still seems messy somehow.

SpawnAlley-Dangle

ARTICULATION: Alley: ***1/2, Violator: ***1/2, Spawn: ***, Todd: **1/2

The alley has all sorts of moving parts! As I said, both sections of busted wall swing out, the crane swings, the garage door pivots, and the fence is removable/can swing around. Instead of a spring-loaded action feature, they just made the whole thing modular. It’s worth four stars, except for the following minor nitpicks: The broken wall sections swing really freely, and don’t like to stay in place. The garage door is kind of warped and doesn’t like to sit totally straight. And the fence has one good peg and one tiny stub, so you have to kind of situate it carefully. Everything feels a little loose, but I’d rather have the movement than not.

SpawnAlley-ManhandlingBum

Violator is under-articulated by today’s standards, but super-articulated by 1997 standards. He has swivel shoulders, hips, and head, swivel elbows, and a hinged top horn. I’d argue that he needs knees, but they might have become loose. The hinged elbows really help the figure, and you can get him in quite a few poses without too much work. The little joint on that top horn is great, too – in the movie he used it like a stinger, and so can you!

SpawnAlley-ThroughTheWall

Spawn moves at the Big Five – swivel head, shoulders, and hips. And yeah, he needed elbows or knees or something.  His arms look somewhat unnatural in most poses, especially since you will probably have him with an arm outstretched, awkwardly holding that gun. His legs move, but they really only have one good pose – right foot in front of left.

SpawnAlley-SpawnThroughWall

And then we have Todd the Bum. He’s got a swivel head, shoulders, and waist. Leg movement? HA! Really, Todd can stand neutrally, or he can have his arms out in surprise, or he can throw them up in the air in panic. That’s it.

SpawnAlley-ViolatorGrabsSpawn

ACCESSORIES: ****

The playset comes with: Three (or two) figures, a trash can with a separate lid, a spare tire, two wooden planks, and a gun. And I’m sorry, I don’t have the planks. For what it’s worth, they look cool! The trash can is the best of the little pieces, with surprisingly nice molding and a cool lid. The tire isn’t perfect – only one side is molded – but it’s fine, and looks good resting right in front of the garage door. I miss not having those planks, but the little bits of debris are good for the setting. The tiny gun belongs to Spawn – it’s a typical ’90s overblown assault rifle, only it looks so tiny. But this works – that scene in the movie really made a point of how useless ordinary guns are against a denizen of Hell, so it makes sense for the gun to look small and useless right now. Because it is.

SpawnAlley-SneakingUp

VALUE: ****

This set used to retail for $10, and it has maintained its value. $10. Shop around, and you won’t even have to worry too much about shipping!

SpawnAlley-ViolatorAttacksTodd

THINGS TO WATCH OUT FOR:

Spawn’s chains might break with enough stress, the paint on the garage door can scuff, and Todd’s lapels might come loose, but fit back in easily. Other than that, the set is solid. Just don’t lose any parts, okay?

SpawnAlley-Ambush

WHERE TO BUY:

For a toy this old, you’ve got two choices – eBay, Amazon, or toy conventions/vintage toy sellers. I’d suggest the latter if you see them anywhere nearby, as they usually have better prices. But eBay shouldn’t sting too badly!

SpawnAlley-Chillin

OVERALL: ****

This is an awesome, awesome little piece of street. As I said, it’s one of my favorite set pieces, it’s based on one of the few good scenes in the film, and the figures that come with it are great! It includes one of the better Violator figures, and you’ve even got your very own Todd McFarlane to abuse! So yes, I love this little set. Coming Soon: The Graveyard and Final battle playsets!

SpawnAlley-MeetClown

2 responses to “Life In Plastic: Retro Review: Spawn Alley (Spawn: The Movie)

  1. Sweet review, man. I’ve been wanting to add these three sets to my collection someday as I’ve always adored McFarlane’s Monsters and these seem to be in the same vein. I just rewatched Spawn for the first time since 97 or 98 about a week ago. It’s definitely a very uneve movie, although I think Spawn himself holds up quite well.

  2. Pingback: Life In Plastic: Why Retro Reviews? | Nerditis·

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