Kiss 2016 # 1
Amy Chu and Kewber Baal
I'm going to ask you to forgive the overly personal tone to this review. Call it a quasi-review with a heavy lean on reflection. Granted, I'm far looser in structure with my posts here at Confessions of an Old School Comics Nerd. You're likely not expecting AP-style journalism here, nor are you going to get it. When I'm writing for assignment, the rules are obeyed. Here, I let my own interjections play free and when it comes to rock legends Kiss, I can't help but let them run wild. I had a Gene Simmons doll (yeah, yeah, it was a doll back then) and I got in trouble for mimicking Paul Stanley's sex wheezes on "Do You Love Me?" without knowing I was doing anything offensive at age eight. I used to think meeting you in the ladies room was two dudes taking a whiz in the wrong room, just for the sheer thrill of it. "Shock Me," a phrase I muttered all day long and then on my way to sleep, until Queen's "We Will Rock You/We Are the Champions" ruled the charts for an entire summer and then some. Alive was handed to me in the mid 1970s by my late aunt, of all people, who was mortified by them but savvy enough to know what fascinated me as a child. I made the local news wearing Peter Criss makeup at a Fourth of July event. I was a one kid charter member of my self-branded Kiss fan club, the "Firehouse Brigade." You get the picture.
I've been very fortunate in my thirteen years running as a music journalist. I've had extraordinary experiences. I've met or spoken by phone with most of the people who stared down at me from the walls of my long-ago bedroom. I would need to resemble the multi-armed, arachnid-true Peter Parker from long ago to tally the artists I am downright privileged to have interviewed: Ronnie James Dio, Alice Cooper, Nicko McBrain, three-fifths of Judas Priest, another three-fifths from Anthrax, Marky Ramone, Lee Aaron, Rob Zombie, Lita Ford, David Coverdale, even Dee Snider. Hell, I got to freaking work for Dee Snider conducting interviews for his House of Hair Online site. Can you dig it?
It was the latter hub where I fielded conversations with Kiss alumni Ace Frehley and Bruce Kulick, along with the band's esteemed manager in their glory days, Bill Aucoin. For you true believers out there, the late and genuinely kind Mr. Aucoin sounds like Stan Lee's vocal doppelganger, what a trip. The stories he shared with me (many off-the-record and remaining thus), wow. I even had a quick email round with current Kiss guitarist (formerly of Black 'n Blue) Tommy Thayer. Having time with the original Space Ace, I found myself thankfully in the pocket instead chiming like the uber dweeb I'd expected to be. I was pro, praise be to the writing gods, as I was with Bruce Kulick, though I took the time to thank Bruce for something very special to me as one of the gazillion kids of the Seventies who worshiped this band.
You see, I was given front row tickets to Kiss on the Crazy Nights tour by my cousin, who was working at Ticket Master at the time. It meant the world to me to be so close at a Kiss concert, to directly feel the heat of Gene Simmons' fireball spew, the radiating emissions caressing my face like a long overdue baptism as a diehard Kiss fan. Coming to the show at the long-dead Capital Center on the outskirts of Washington, DC, I'd spent two weeks meticulously drawing the faces of every member of Kiss who'd been in the band upon a bed sheet. I'm more a writer than an artist, but I took that task as a sacred duty and it remains the finest piece of art I've ever accomplished.
I draped that bed sheet over the steel barrier at front row (never realizing I would one day be prowling the business side with a camera) particularly for Gene to see. I know he saw it as he did what he's done in and out of makeup for decades, waggle his prolonged tongue and stare in evil character through the seeming oblivion of his rock 'n roll flock. I threw the sheet up to the stage, near the amp stacks so I wouldn't obstruct the band. Now, I know Kiss has millions of these types of fan adoration tokens, enough to fill ten warehouses, but I was still brokenhearted when Gene knocked my bed sheet to the floor with a casual nudge of his ankle. In retrospect, I'm no longer offended. I see Gene as a businessman on top of rock carnival performer. This is just who he is and without getting to know him personally, it's all I have to go on. It was Bruce Kulick who made my everything by strutting from stage left and pointing straight down at me, having seen my dismay. He flipped me a guitar pick and made me feel pretty goddamn special, even as I had to employ the rock fan's version of The Force by willing that plastic triangle into my mit with scores of hands raining down upon my head and shoulders. As I said in our interview, Bruce, thank you for that moment. I would've fought anybody to elevate from buck private to full admiral in the Kiss Army on that magical night.
Which leads us into the new millennium with Kiss, having played farewell tours (psych!) and landed in the Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame less than gracefully. At least the broken fences splintered even further among the original four during the induction process seems to be in repair mode, ever-so-slightly. Ace and Paul got together for a kickass cover of Free's "Fire and Water" on Frehley's covers album Origins Vol. 1 earlier this year. Who knows what's possible from here, if anything?
For getting away with bloody murder selling sex jams by the hundreds over the heads of naive children, there should've been some sort of special award of merit by the Hall, if that's what you'd call merit. At the end of the day, controversies aside, a Kiss concert will always be one to beat, no matter when you saw them play--in makeup or not, whether you had former comrades Ace Frehley and Peter Criss in front of you or the current Space Man and Cat personae played by Tommy Thayer and Eric Singer. For that matter, you might've had Eric Carr on the kit, or Vinnie Vincent slinging axe--or Mark St. John, for that matter. No matter the lineup or era, a Kiss show is the Ringling Brothers of rock.
I recently reviewed Kiss' Rocks Vegas DVD/CD set for Blabbermouth.net, which should be going live anytime now. As a longtime Kiss fan, I've had my issues over the maneuvers Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons have employed to keep this band rolling through four decades-plus. Frankly, I'd walked away from the band after the Psycho Circus album, because I'd seen the writing on the wall. The original foursome seems unable to professionally inhabit the same working space again. The conflicts arisen among Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley, Ace Frehley and Peter Criss have been publicly documented. For us old school Kiss hounds, the invitation in latter years has been to accept or reject the new order manned by Simmons and Stanley with Tommy Thayer and Eric Singer playing parts that sting to see filled by relatively newer shoes. This, despite Singer holding the longest tenure as Kiss' drummer. Sidebar, Revenge (Singer's first album with the band) remains the best Kiss album in forever, albeit Sonic Boom was a pleasant surprise.
Being a journalist, objectivity rules, thus I found myself pushing away echoes of the words "profiteering" and "facades" when I sat down with Kiss Rocks Vegas. You can read my review where I was very flattering toward the band. The praise was justified. This is still the show to beat, though I also reviewed Motley Crue's The End concert film last week and wish I'd been there for that spectacle. You can see the influence one had upon the other, at least in the terms of giving fans the rock rush of a lifetime.
Which is why I welcomed Dynamite Entertainment's new Kiss comic that began a couple weeks ago. However long you've been a Kiss fan, you're more than aware how many times these guys have broken into the medium. The most famous is, of course, Marvel's 1977 super special, for which the band historically dropped their mingled blood into the printing ink. Original copies of this book fetch as many duckets as DC's Superman vs. Muhammad Ali, which likewise blew up the comics world in the same bronze age era. Gene Simmons launching one against Doctor Doom? Worth every bit of the buck fifty cover price, a steeper figure back then, I assure you, since we kids were paying an average thirty cents per regular issue. Nyeh!!!
Marvel, Dark Horse, IDW, Rock n' Roll Comics, Crazy magazine, Psycho Circus, Archie Meets Kiss and now Dynamite's turn at stoking Kiss' flaming youth comics pyre higher and higher and higher.... It seems nobody can get enough Kiss comics, the same as we couldn't get enough of the Kiss trading cards which were nearly the hot sellers Star Wars (A New Hope) cards were.
Back in the day, it a was huge deal when Kiss performed on the late night music variety show, The Midnight Special. My mom actually got me out of bed so I could see it, being the cool woman she's always been. Then there was the t.v. movie, Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park, aka Kiss: Attack of the Phantoms. Looking at it now (which you can peruse on Volume 2 of the Kissology video set), gawd, what a train wreck, but in 1979, it served to show how larger-than-life (pun intended) Kiss had become. Nearly to the same effect as The Beatles with far less conscience, Kiss took over the whole damned world, point proven with the band blown-up in old-time layering effects like herculean titans over a rollercoaster while slinging out "Rock & Roll All Nite."
This booming Kiss idolatry of the 1970s is the central point behind Amy Chu's Kiss 2016. While coming off initially like a rip of Terminator 2: Judgment Day straight down to similar playground images prior to global annihilation, Chu's book becomes more of a realization of what Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons had sought from Kiss' would-be film score, Music from The Elder.
While longtime Kiss fans are likely to cringe at anything bringing up The Elder or even Unmasked, two albums considered the band's most daring (translation, softest), there's a curious sense of fun in what Chu is unraveling here. It's cool spotting Kiss album cover drops like the sunglasses-toting sphinx from Hot in the Shade to the four solo albums to a nifty morphing of The Elder's door knocking artwork into the actual story.
The basic plot so far is thus: an alarming handful of humans have survived a worldwide holocaust and exist deep beneath the surface in a city called Blackwell--you know, as in "Mr. Blackwell" from The Elder. A group of futuristic teenagers want more than what's handed them in this subterranean society, thus they do what every juvenile in their position would...sneak off and investigate what lies beyond. The proverbial escape from the island, staying in theme with The Elder. This, despite the omnipresent threat of Protectors, who are perceived by the characters as brutish enforcers. We might also assume it's Kiss, who are inferred in this book as "elders."
What our teen sect finds is a stowed-away greenhouse and a preserved monastery, offering clues to something bigger than their forced microcosm. On their stolen journey, they spot multiple brands in their surroundings resembling Kiss' kabuki exteriors, even a classy nod to Eric Carr's hawk eyes on Page 5. Hopefully there's room for Vinnie Vincent's Ankh along the way. Read into it as you will, these marks are primarily Paul Stanley's Love Child star and Gene Simmons' Demon slashes. The quartet stumbles through an old sewer tunnel where the faces of Kiss loom like religious artifacts. Graffiti bearing the message "Only you have the answers" (hoisted from "Only You" on The Elder) indicates a figurative mantra for this series. The teens inadvertently trip off a Kiss hologram via an antique supercomputer called Morpheus (in relation to the album, the caretaker by the same name) at the end of Issue # 1, and away we go...
These manifest images of Kiss are the representative elders setting our cast into motion. Instead of The Elder's lone boy setting off on his dangerous journey, we get a small youth group. One carries a knapsack with Paul Stanley's star brand, while another has a rose upon the back of her leather jacket, acknowledging "Under the Rose" from the album. No coincidence our protagonists are to the power of four, about to undertake The Elder's embodied odyssey.
Dynamite did a tremendous job reviving Alice Cooper in comic form in his short-lived recurring series from a couple years ago, along with The Last Temptation reprint. Remember, Alice also haunted Marvel at the same time Kiss did, thus Dynamite following suit in the 2000's is a groovy kind of kismet. If nothing else gets accomplished by this new Kiss series, Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons will at least have had a small last laugh that The Elder finally stands for something all these years later. Just so long as this world without heroes doesn't have weeping demons.
Sidebar # 2, I can't wait to see what Amy Chu does to Red Sonja next month, much less how much of Stanley and Simmons' then-controversial vision she and artist Kewber Baal flesh out here.