Marvel Comics Super Special 1 starring KISS was unleashed in 1977, and though it doesn't quite beat Marvel Premiere 50 starring Alice Cooper for Greatest Rock Comic Of The Bronze Age, it does come a really, really close second.
Hands up, I'm not a card-carrying member of the KISS Army. We never really heard their music in this country on the radio until Crazy Crazy Nights, and by that point they were just another hair metal band. I do remember being fascinated by the occasional photo of the group that made it over here in the '70's. At that point, and particularly to a little kid, they looked like the greatest thing ever, like Marc Bolan and Howie Chaykin had had kids. Trouble was, I really expected them to sound like the greatest thing ever too, like the most insane, most intense, loudest, rockin'est band in the universe. So years later, when I finally got to hear them and they were, well, just another rock band, it was a bit of a disappointment. Quite like I Was Made For Loving You tho'. ( This is the point where you go: Pete! That's their worst track!! )
Anyway, the KISS Super Special was the brainchild of Steve Gerber, and he was on a real mission to raise the game in terms of dragging Marvel into the colour magazine market. Here's Steve a year after the book came out discussing it: I'm not going to try and defend the content of the book in terms of the art or this particular story that was written for it. There were good things about it, there were bad things about it. In a strange way, given the nature of the project, it's probably some of the straightest superhero material I've written for Marvel in the past three years. What was important, paramount, to me about the KISS book was the concept of doing a book in that format with that marketing strategy. If it could be duplicated with other publications, not necessarily movie adaptations or presentations of rock n' roll groups, I think Marvel - or whichever publisher is smart enough - might eventually be able to abandon the 35-cent books almost entirely in favour of a small line of magazines - say six different magazines - that would make more money for them while producing better quality material.
Which happened a couple of years later with Epic of course, but Steve got in there first, and everybody thought he was nuts for doing it. The book went on to sell nearly half a million copies, and was a virtual sell-out. According to Gerber, for a while there was a draw at Marvel's offices for fan mail for the KISS book, and another for the fan mail on all the other Marvel books. Obviously, it sold mostly on the band's name, but as Steve went on to say: But a crappy looking book might not have sold as well. The fact that it was a classier publication in terms of paper stock and printing and so on certainly helped it. People could look at it and say, " This is worth $1.50. I'm going to plink down that much and take it home with me. "
But is it any good? Hell, yeah. As Gerber says, it's mostly a straight super team origin story, even if the superhero's do look more than a little bit pervy. Steve has fun with each of the band's stage persona's, Gene Simmons coming off best as a demon in waiting, eager to go over to the Dark Side. Though Ace Frehley is fun too, as a philosophy spouting space cadet. The wizard who gives the group their powers and new identities is a typical Gerber creation, all downbeat realism and parody, and is the only real sore point for me, as he seems to have wandered in from Howard The Duck and, as the rest of the story is played relatively straight, sticks out like the proverbial sore thumb. There's some nice linking scenes with the rest of the Marvel Universe, particularly the grouping of The Defenders Steve was scripting at the time, and his version of Doc Doom is a revelation, acting exactly as you expect him to right up until the end, where he does an absolute about turn and makes you look at him in an entirely new light. No mean feat for such a familiar character, and yet more proof of Gerber's genius. The art is solid, although in places it does look like any other Marvel book of the period. Maybe suffering from too many cooks, with contributions from Alan Weiss, John & Sal Buscema, Al Milgrom & Rich Buckler, most of whom were clearly chosen for their classic Marvel style. I've never liked Milgrom's finish, and I think if Weiss had done the whole thing, or even if they'd got Tom Palmer to ink it, it would've been monumental. But that's nitpicking. Even if you hate KISS, it's a classic just because it exists. That fact it's as much fun as it is, is a bonus. And don't forget it is printed in REAL KISS BLOOD!!!!
I'm a writer and cartoonist, responsible for ' The Infernal Gods Of Electric Disaster' & ' Essential Showcase Presents: Stan & Jack ' ( both available on Lulu ), along with the odd thing I've done with old pal Sean Phillips.
I think the 1970's was the best era in comics' history. And I can prove it...
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