The origin story of Todd McFarlane’s Spawn begins with the end of Al Simmons. Instead of being bitten by a radioactive spider or exposed to gamma radiation, Simmons becomes a devilish Hellspawn after being sent straight to hell in a very literal sense. After being killed in the line of duty, Simmons makes a deal with the demonic Malebolgia to come back to see his wife. Unfortunately, the catch involved serving Malebolgia as a mystical soldier of Hell.
However, the identity of the person who originally killed Simmons has evolved over the years. The live-action movie had a woman named Jessica Priest pulling the trigger, but in the comics and animated series, Al was killed by another early Image Comics hero. Now, we’re taking a look back at the changing identity of the character who sent Al Simmons down a very dark path.
Bruce Stinsons, a.k.a. Chapel, was a part of Rob Liefeld’s infamous superhero team Youngblood, and was one of the first major Image Comics heroes. Like Al Simmons, he was a mercenary who was one of the U.S.’ top black ops soldiers. Despite his unsavory past and penchant for torture and wanton violence, he is brought in as a member of America’s elite superhero team Youngblood. There, he combines his elite military training with his enhanced physiology to be a real super-soldier. However, the chemicals involved in these experiments also involved injecting him with a controlled variant of HIV, which the government used as a Damocles sword over Chapel’s head.
Before joining Youngblood, Chapel was assigned by Jason Wynn to assassinate Al Simmons. Wynn’s reasoning was that Simmons was a spy, or at the very least had become disillusioned in the wetworks operations that he had been doing for so long. Chapel had no reservations about doing it, callously killing a man who had considered him a friend. Spawn’s attraction to brooding around churches was a subconscious clue to his mysterious killer’s identity, and in Spawn #12, he finally remembers Chapel’s actions. From there, Spawn would hunt him down and grievously disfigure him. This version of the origin involving Chapel was later used in the HBO Spawn animated series, though Bruce Stinson’s name was changed to Jess Chapel and no other Youngblood elements were referenced.
Spawn made his big-screen debut in the eponymous 1997 film, a mere five years after his comic book debut. The basic premise was the same, but some elements of his origin — namely his killer — were changed. Despite Jason Wynn himself taking a more central role in Al’s death in the film, the final executioner is a woman named Jessica Priest. Priest is a heartless, taciturn assassin who harbored no remorse for killing Al Simmons.
While Image Comics initially had something of a shared superhero universe, the various characters and concepts from the Youngblood, WildC.A.T.S., Savage Dragon, and Spawn books were all owned by their respective creators, and Liefeld’s Extreme Studios had split off from Image around the time the film was being made. To eliminate the need for Chapel, McFarlane simply rewrote the character’s role in the movie with the new character of Jessica Priest.
The mainstream exposure of the Spawn movie and its changes to the established continuity made McFarlane do the same thing in the comics. In 1997, Jessica Priest was introduced in the Spawn spin-off comic book Curse of the Spawn #16, by Alan McElroy and Dwayne Turner. In the comic was revealed that Priest and Wynn’s machinations may have led to Al Simmons’ death, and not Chapel, as originally believed.
This was bolstered by Clown/Violator taunting Spawn in issues of the regular series that Chapel being his killer was a planted false memory, courtesy of Malebolgia. Chapel was never acknowledged or brought up again, and Priest would be cemented as Simmons’ killer. Recently, she even became a Hellspawn herself, a concept that resurrects an idea that was reportedly meant for the film.
Although Chapel’s initial connection to Spawn may have helped connect the early Image Universe, Priest’s status as Spawn’s killer will almost certainly remain a core tenet of the franchise forever.
The person who killed Al Simmons played a key role in the the world of Todd McFarlane's hellish hero, but that character's identity has evolved.