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Spawn is a 1997 American noir superhero action film loosely based on the comic book of the same name, by Todd McFarlane and published by Image Comics. Directed and co-written by Mark A.Z. Dippé (a former Industrial Light & Magic animator), the film stars Michael Jai White in the leading role. Spawn is an origin story of the character, and begins with Al Simmons, a soldier/assassin who is killed and resurrected as Spawn, a reluctant, demonic leader of Hell's army. Spawn eventually refuses to lead Hell's army in the war against Heaven and turns against evil forces all together. The film co-stars John Leguizamo as Clown/The Violator, Al's demonic guide and the film's antagonist; and Nicol Williamson as Al's mentor Cogliostro. Martin Sheen, Theresa Randle, D. B. Sweeney and Melinda Clarke also star. This was Nicol Williamson's final film before his death in 2011. Spawn was released in the United States on August 1, 1997. It was the first film to feature an African American portraying a major comic book superhero. Al Simmons (Michael Jai White), a military soldier/assassin, is betrayed by the head of a covert government agency, Jason Wynn (Martin Sheen).