POP CULTURE SCHLOCK at RPM: Exhibit A – Alice Cooper’s 1st comic-book appearance
Step inside; walk this way; you and me, babe; hey, hey! Welcome, RPM-People, to the first irregular column dedicated to music-related items from the Pop Culture Schlock archive. Some will be cool, some will be curious, but all will be from a simpler time when music wasn’t just binary code on a smartphone stolen by some scally on a moped. So, pour yourself a Skol, slip into your Starsky cardigan, and wrap yourself in the warm embrace of nostalgia via a New York sanitarium by way of a Seventies newsagent.
Marvel Comics, before becoming responsible for almost every three hours you spend in the cinema, saw the late 1970s ripe for its own slice of the mass market appeal afforded to the rock stars of the day. Rather than living fast and dying young, your common or garden rock ‘n’ roll visage was more likely to be on the cover of a teen magazine or the panel of a game show than the front of a memorial service brochure.
After giving KISS its first appearances in issues 12 and 13 of its monthly Howard The Duck comic-book, Marvel rocked out no fewer than three times within the first five issues of its then-new title, Marvel Super Special, a 41-issue series of one-shots published between 1977 and 1986. KISS featured in the first (famously/supposedly donating blood to be used in the red ink) and fifth issues, The Beatles Story making up number 4. Now, any UK rock ‘n’ roll archivist with a shred of honesty who was in single figures age-wise when that first Holy Grail of a KISS comic came out will admit that it took until they were well versed in the art of mail order before they could add that piece of exquisite ephemera to their collection. Not so issue 50 of Marvel Premiere which hit spinner racks in the UK prior to its October 1979 cover-date…
Marvel Premiere was essentially a “try-out” comic; publishing a one-shot tale of a character to determine whether or not he/she/it could attract enough attention and/or revenue to launch their own regular title. After throwing around the idea of an Alice Cooper comic for a few years, Marvel finally took the plunge in 1979 with the special 50th issue of Marvel Premiere. That the legendary comic company did so with a storyline based around the Coop’s album from the previous year, ‘From The Inside’ (a concept record based on the then-troubled shock rocker’s time in a NY sanitarium where he was treated for alcoholism, with songs based around patients he met inside), remains bizarre to this day.
To be fair, the album – housed in luxurious fold-out sleeve and playing as I type – was pretty upbeat, musically if not lyrically, no doubt courtesy of Cooper’s collaboration with Bernie Taupin. It was with that in mind, I guess, that Marvel deemed the content suitable for adaptation in comic-book form. Of course, as an eight-year-old kid I read it all in a blur, oblivious to its roots, simply joyous that I could actually find a comic that featured one of the coolest rockers to grace my turntable in a British newsagents. Reading through it now, four decades later, that sense of wonder remains, even though I now understand the serious ramifications of the original subject matter. That Marvel decided to go for a lighter-hearted tone (albeit with a wicked bite) more in keeping with the commercially-accepted theatrics of the album now means that critical re-evaluation doesn’t come with the wince that oft-accompanies the remembering of once-troubled celebrities.
With artwork by Tom Sutton and Terry Austin, who also provided the stunning cover art, and a script by Ed Hannigan (based on a plot by Alice, Jim Salicrup, and Roger Stern) the comic version of ‘From The Inside’ opens with Alice trying to escape from his sanitarium cell via the time-honoured tying together of bedsheets. Caught by Nurse Rozetta (yes, she of the album track – also joined in ink form by Jackknife Johnny and Millie and Billie from the record) Alice is thrown into The Quiet Room by Dr. Fingeroth. Here, the Coop recalls the unfortunate series of events that saw him stuck there on the inside looking out.
Y’see, Alice, his mind undergoing a meltdown whilst trying to survive the “high-powered lunacy of the showbiz world,” had checked into a clinic in an attempt to dry up and calm his nerves. As (bad) luck would have it, Alice was confused with an Alex Cooper – a “certified paranoid schizo with a radical tyre fetish!” – and locked away by mistake. As our hero is treated to electro-shock therapy, ice water baths, and a crude haircut, Alex Cooper is about to be elected governor!
With Veronica (his trusty snake here, yet a dog on the album track, ‘For Veronica’s Sake’) stripped from him and locked away herself, Alice has to negotiate bed straps, sedatives, muscle-bound orderlies, and a doctor seemingly more crazed than the inmates of his facility, in order to get his story believed. Spoiler alert: doesn’t happen!
With a legion of background cameos and in-jokes for lynx-eyed readers (featuring the likes of Popeye, the Incredible Hulk, and Donald Sutherland’s character from 1978’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers remake), the comic is wildly entertaining, possibly more so than the album it is based on (‘From The Inside’ attracting much cooler critical acclaim than many of its long-playing predecessors), though that claim could well be down to my original childhood love for what was then the pinnacle of my fledgling comic buying.
“But what of the future?” asked the powers that be at Marvel Comics in 1979. “Should Alice be awarded his own regular Marvel title? Should we break him out of that Asylum and send him blasting through the Marvel Universe?” Well, it would be 1994 before Marvel featured Cooper again via a three-part, Neil Gaiman-penned comic series that tied-in with Alice’s 1994 album, ‘The Last Temptation’.
Dark Horse Comics would later reprint ‘The Last Temptation’ as a trade paperback, but Cooper’s comic book history doesn’t end there. 1990 saw Revolutionary Comics’ dubious Rock ‘n’ Roll Comics title (more on these chancers in a future article) feature an unofficial Alice Cooper history, with Bluewater Comics later picking up that company’s past monstrosities and lowbrow ethics. Much better was to follow in 2014 with an ongoing Alice Cooper comic book title from Dynamite Entertainment which lasted for six issues and was followed by ‘Alice Cooper vs. Chaos!’, another six-parter that saw the veteran shock rocker up against the denizens of Dynamite’s horror universe; including Evil Ernie, Chastity, and Purgatori. Oh yeah, also look out for the Coop in a Treehouse of Horror special Simpsons comic along with Rob Zombie, Gene Simmons… and Pat Boone.
It is Marvel Premiere issue 50 that will forever be the peak of comic-book Alice Cooper, however. With the guillotine of nostalgia cutting deep, that forty-year-old mass of paper, ink, and staples is a thing of beauty in a world turned ugly. As Millenials and Post-Millenials reminisce about their friggin’ iTunes playlists, us forever-cool-kids will always have stuff like Alice Cooper comics to read via torchlight under our covers at night, knotted bedsheets at the ready…
Author: Gaz Tidey