February 28, 2011
I want to rock and roll all night... not read this crap.
Linkara: Hello, and welcome to Atop the Fourth Wall, where bad comics burn. About a year or so ago, I was approached to offer something for a charity production of The Vagina Monologues. Since I don't have to offer in the way of product to offer, I instead offered the chance for someone to request a review of anything they wanted, even if I said that I would not review it, or even something outside of comics.
(Cut to a montage of shots of comics featuring the band KISS)
Linkara (v/o): It took the winners a while to pick it out, but they eventually made their decision. They're big fans of KISS, so they want me to take a look at any of the comics that KISS is involved in. There have been several comics about KISS from various companies. The most notorious ones were the Marvel ones from the late '70s. Each member of the band drew blood, which was then mixed in the vats used for red ink for printing the comic. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to procure any of the Marvel issues in time for this review. However, my local comic book shop did have a few copies of "KISS: Psycho Circus" and "KISS 4K". As it happens, the review schedule has this as an indie week anyway, so we're gonna take a look at the first issues of both.
Linkara: However, before we get to the comics themselves, I should probably point out that I know nothing about KISS.
(Cut to footage of a KISS concert)
Linkara (v/o): The thing is that I don't tend to follow bands or singers; I follow songs. If I hear a song that I like, I just listen to the song itself. I don't really care much about the people behind or any albums or concerts they're doing. There are exceptions to that of course, but for the most part, I just listen to individual songs. So, yeah, I have listened to several of KISS' songs, one of which is on my top 10 list of favorite songs of all time...
(The video shows KISS playing said song: "God Gave Rock and Roll to You")
Linkara: Indeed, he did. However, that means that I am not really up to date on the history of KISS. To that, I leave it in the capable hands of everyone's favorite silhouette, ToddInTheShadows.
(Cut to ToddInTheShadows in his room)
Todd: History of KISS, huh? I think I can do that. (clears throat) YOU WANTED THE BEST? YOU GOT THE BEST! THE HOTTEST BAND IN THE WORLD! KISS!!!
(A montage of clips of KISS' music videos and concert films are shown)
Todd (v/o): In 1973, four New York musicians came together and started a band they called KISS. Other bands like Alice Cooper had been theatrical before, but KISS up'd the ante by basically turning themselves in superheroes, with outlandish costumes, names, and make-up. Now, though the line-up has changed many times, the original line-up is the definitive one: bassist Gene Simmons, the Demon; lead guitarist Ace Frehley, the Spaceman; rhythm guitarist Paul Stanley, the Starchild; drummer Peter Kriss, the Catman. By the end of the '70s, they were one of the biggest hard-rock bands in the world and became known for two major things: putting on outrageously spectacular live shows and merchandising themselves so aggressively, they made the Hannah Montana franchise look like Calvin and Hobbes: KISS costumes, KISS card games, KISS coffee, KISS condoms, KISS coffins. If you could make money off it and put a KISS logo on it, KISS would sell it. Throughout their years though, they've gone through several changes, including line-up and style. In the late '70s, the made a disco album. In 1983, the band started to play without makeup because they had to keep up with the times, and no one could take a band seriously if they were wearing make-up and silly outfits in the '80s. Now, they started waning by the end of that decade, but by the mid-'90s, the original band reunited to great fanfare with makeup intact. In 1998, the band released their first album in twenty years, "Psycho Circus", and in true KISS fashion, they had several tie-ins including a video game, a 3D music video on VHS, and a few comic books.
Linkara: Thanks Todd. As it happens, the request for this actually said they wanted you to review this alongside me. So, up for a look at some KISS comics?
Todd: (laughs) I'm sorry, I forget what a nerdy site this is sometimes. Just me, review comic books? (chuckles a little, then laughs hysterically)
Linkara: (perplexed) ...Okey-dokey, scratch that. (holds up a KISS comic) Let's just first dig into "KISS: Psycho Circus #1".
Todd: (still laughing) Yeah, you do that. You do that, Linkara. You just keep digging into your comic books.
(AT4W title sequence plays; title card is set to KISS' "I Was Made For Loving You"; cut to a closeup of the cover for "KISS: Psycho Circus")
Linkara (v/o): We're looking at "Psycho Circus" first since that one is from our old pals at Image. Now, let me clarify something real quick, since this is a common misconception. When I talk about crappy Image comics, 90% of the time, I'm talking about the mid-'90s. There are plenty of comics out there that people love that are produced by Image...
(Cut to a shot of the comic series "Invincible")
Linkara (v/o): ...including the critically-acclaimed ongoing series, "Invincible", which I admit I haven't read yet; it's on my list.
(Back to the "Psycho Circus" cover)
Linkara (v/o): So when I bash the books they produce, I mean the early stuff, which is something I always try to say. This one, however, came in 1997, which is still close enough in my mind for the period of suck. This cover crams far too much into it. I'm not even sure where to start talking about this: some guy in a purple suit, the faces of the four members of KISS, the sad clown, the insane ringleader here or... (looks at one guy with a thick mustache and eyebrows and his eyes closed) this guy here. He just looks bored by the whole thing. (the comic opens to the first page) We open somewhere IN SPAAAAAAAACE!
Narrator: If you listen very closely, you can hear it. The music of the night.
(Cut to a clip of the Mystery Science Theater 3000 gang watching Manos: Hands of Fate)
Joel: But what's Manos: Hands of Fate? A music through the night.
(Cut back to the comic again)
Narrator: Sometimes it roars like thunder, rumbling like a thousand drums. Sometimes it comes on the soft glissando wings of moonlight.
Linkara: (as narrator) And no matter how it comes, it never phones ahead to tell me that it's coming.
Narrator: And sometimes it calls out a name.
(Linkara briefly lip-synchs to Weird Al Yankovic's "Melanie")
Narrator: They say if you gaze into the abyss long enough, the abyss gazes back into you.
Linkara: Ooh, staring contest! (leans forward, eyes wide open)
Narrator: There, tumbling in the inky void of chaos, fact and fiction melt away... and only one truth remains... everything changes.
Linkara: I hope you caught all of that, because as far as I can tell, it has nothing to do with anything; it's just pretentious twaddle.
Linkara (v/o): We cut to a circus packing up everything it has, and the comic gleefully telling us every single step for two pages as the circus with far too many detailing lines on it moves on to its next location.
Narrator: Vanished into the night, no earthly remnant of their presence remaining.
Linkara: (as narrator) Except for the millions of food wrappers left on the ground, because (points to camera) people couldn't be bothered to go to the garbage can. Give a hoot, damn you!
Linkara (v/o): We cut to West Virginia, where the circus has set up once again. Now, let me ask you a question: if you saw a ringleader that looked like this, (...like the crooked man with crooked attire) with especially with his clothes fraying, would you trust him to go into his circus? Or maybe people are just impressed by his ability to talk in at least eight different fonts and colors. We meet a group of teenagers that decide to check out the circus. One particular teen [Adam Moon] spots a girl, Amanda, that another of the group says he's sweet on.
Adam: Wha--? Not even. She's not my type. I mean, look at her folks, they're all so straight.
Linkara: (as Adam) I prefer the parents of the girl I'm dating to be flaming homosexuals.
Linkara (v/o): Or maybe it's just that he'd prefer to date a girl who knows that the ice cream goes in her mouth and not her nose. Before they can discuss anymore, a very creepy-looking clown shows up and offers some surprisingly poetic advice.
Clown: Faint heart never won fair maiden. The heart is a mighty ally, young squire, for those who know how to listen.
Linkara: See? I bet if this hadn't been drawn so bizarrely, this guy would be a perfect example of a clown who offers helpful advice. Clowns deserve more respect, dammit!
Linkara (v/o): Before the clown can say anymore, the kid is dragged back to the other teenagers, who are engaged in the oh-so-wise activity of poking a lion with a stick. The teens make a run for it when the steroid-abusing lion tamer arrives, but our main teenage protagonist is stopped by a guy on stilts and then dragged into the main circus. And it's here where we finally see our title characters: KISS themselves and... uh... what the hell? They're actually images at the top of the tent, like it was one big IMAX show. Still, their hands are glowing and all of that, so hey, a KISS performance has got to be more entertaining than– Oh, it was just in the kid's head. Yippee, back to the crappy artwork and moron children. Oh, and we finally learn that his name is Adam. He runs off from what he saw and heads into a fortune teller's booth.
Madam Raven: I have been expecting you, Adam Moon.
Adam: Huh? How did you know my name?
Madam Raven: "Fortunes told, secrets revealed." It is what I do. It is what I am here for.
Linkara: (as Madam Raven) But first, fifty cents in the jar, or you can kiss my ass.
Linkara (v/o): The kid sits down, and behind the fortune teller are four mirrors, each containing an image of one of the KISS performers.
Madam Raven: Each of us has many faces, Adam Moon.
Linkara: Then can you put on a different one? That one is past its expiration date.
Madam Raven: Like a fractured mirror casting many reflections, each a piece of the greater whole. What is it you seek, child?
Linkara: Hey, you're the fortune teller, shouldn't you know that?
Adam: Uh... a hot chick and a cool buzz?
Linkara: (listlessly holding up his fist) Aim high, kid.
Adam: A family life that doesn't completely suck. A Nirvana reunion?
Linkara: Oh, God, now you've done it! (facepalms himself)
(90s Kid appears)
90s Kid: Duuuuude, a Nirvana reunion would be awesome! We could dig up, like, Kurt Cobain's body and then, like, prop up his corpse, and then, like, zombie chicks could play him like a puppet!
Linkara: (looking at 90s Kid, totally disturbed) There is something seriously wrong with you!
Madam Raven: You are making this very difficult. Very well. (looks at crystal ball) LOOK HERE!
(Cut to the MST3K gang watching The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies)
Mike: You've got mail.
(Back to the comic)
Linkara (v/o): Thus begins a page of his nightmares... which consists of him standing in the middle of a bunch of candles. In fact, the more nightmarish aspect of his life is told in the text boxes that say he has a drunken, abusive father and a dead sister. Well, how nice that this has to be told to us and that the images couldn't convey that for us! The height of sequential storytelling, people! Adam decides to leave, despite the fortune teller saying he can't escape from what has begun. And then she reveals a tarot card! She draws... uh, the Brutal Legend card? When he leaves, it's nighttime and everyone is gone, and he makes his way home. Nearby, the circus ringleader suddenly transforms into some kind of flaming demon. On the next page, we see part of one KISS member for one panel that's not referenced for the rest of the page.
Linkara: (wiping his forehead, relieved) Whew, glad they included that. It answered so many questions.
Linkara (v/o): Adam tries to sneak back into his house, but is caught by his father. Thankfully, this is a bit we didn't actually get to see, or need to, as his father hits him for coming in so late. Kudos there. Also, for some reason, that hit makes the panel shatter. I'm sure this is meant to be artsy, but what it's conveying, I really don't know. Adam sneaks out of his house to go hang out with his friend, a wise thing to do when your father is abusive, and all that happens is that the two talk about how much their lives suck. And so, our comic ends with... uh, this guy. (the panel shows a demonic figure of some sort who looks a lot like KISS member Gene Simmons, with his tongue hanging out) Your guess is as good as mine, people, and I can assure you that it isn't very good at all.
Linkara: (holding up "Psycho Circus" comic) That was just awful! It was boring, badly drawn, and KISS barely factored into it. (tosses comic aside) There was a bunch of pseudo-philosophical garbage. I dunno, maybe it's the lyrics from some of the songs, but somehow I doubt it. Hey, why don't we check in on Todd real quick?
(Cut again to ToddInTheShadows, who is still laughing his head off and pounding his fist on his piano)
Todd: Look at me, everybody, I review comic books!
Linkara: Lovely. Next up is (holds up the second KISS comic book) "KISS 4K: Legends Never Die #1". This one was published through Platinum Studios, which means it's got a much more interesting history associated with it.
(Cut to shots of Platinum Studios and one comic they produced, "Cowboys vs. Aliens")
Linkara (v/o): Platinum Studios was founded by Scott Mitchell Rosenberg, also the previous creator of Malibu Comics, which we'll probably get to in another video when we get to "Mantra" and the disasters in that book. Most of their work involves attempting to get intellectual properties that can be licensed for film and TV.
(Cut to a shot of the website Drunk Duck)
Linkara (v/o): They bought up the web comic hosting site Drunk Duck back in 2006...
(Cut to a shot of the comic "Hero By Night")
Linkara (v/o): ...and was also the publisher of the critically-acclaimed "Hero By Night" series, which was cancelled after allegations arose about them not paying the creator.
(Cut to a shot of the website Wowio)
Linkara (v/o): Apparently, they also had some issues paying out money after they bought the digital comics distributor Wowio for a quarter's worth of royalties before they then sold the company again. Platinum apparently had a history of screwing over creators in one way or another. I wonder if they tried to do that to KISS with this thing?
(Cut to a closeup of the comic "KISS 4K")
Linkara (v/o): But enough of that, we're talking about "KISS 4000"! Or "KISS 4K", as it says, but I think "KISS 4000" just makes it sound like some sort of awesome miracle product.
Linkara: (holding up a handheld Sega console) The new "KISS 4000"! Buffs, scrubs, slices, dices, cubes, transmogrifies, shreds, prints, pulls, partitions, soaks, coats, struts, (puts in Sonic the Hedgehog 3) and it even plays Sega Genesis! Only $79.95, plus shipping and handling.
(Cut to the "KISS 4K" cover again)
Linkara (v/o): Now, my copy is the black-and-white second print, but let's take a look at the color version. We have this guy up top [Celestial] who's under the impression that he's an angel – not a bad image; very well drawn and colored – this guy over here [Demon], who's posing for a bodybuilder magazine, and this guy [Starchild] who's practicing his kung fu. And then finally this guy down here [Chikara] who has hit his knee against the doorframe. Overall, not bad, just a little crammed in. (the comic opens to the first page) We open to a prologue. Never get enough of those, can we?
Narrator: Out of the popping muck and boiling ooze of the nightmare side, a creature was born of everything vile, despicable, and venal. His purpose was clear, from the moment of his unnatural conception–to guide the darkest fear projections of our minds.
Linkara: (as narrator) And thus, Steven Seagal's Lightning Bolt was born.
Linkara (v/o): Anyway, yeah, blah, blah, blah, Cthulu fhtagn, evil entity that calls itself unholy. It's got some nicely-written bits, and there's apparently a sequence involving a Succubus, but I have no idea what the hell it's talking about, so let's just move on. We truly begin outside a mansion in Los Angeles.
Narrator: Now, every Halloween, the owner turns it into "The Firehouse", the most exclusive party in Los Angeles. Only a select group are invited to participate in a celebration of excitement, pleasure, and dirty living.
Linkara: Sometimes, we even play strip crazy eights.
Linkara (v/o): Four silhouetted figures approach the door.
(Cut to a clip of an episode of The Simpsons)
Grandpa Simpson: (at a door) Let me in, you idiot!
(Back to the comic)
Linkara (v/o): However, the four, actually members of KISS, are recognized and let in. And of course, the party consists of half-naked women in, quote-unquote, "sexy Halloween costumes", people having sex, or dancing around like morons.
Chikara: Looks like a fun party.
Linkara: (as Chikara) I mean, just look at how many people are throwing up or getting high. Clearly, this is the height of fun.
Narrator: If they appear indifferent, it's because it's difficult to impress these four.
Linkara: Then why did they even bother going to the party?
Starchild: Excuse me, gentlemen. This party just got more interesting.
Linkara (v/o): And the thing that's more interesting is a woman wearing a thong.
Linkara: Yeah, they'd never see any half-naked women, what with them being rock stars and all.
Linkara (v/o): The woman leads this member, Starchild, into another room.
Woman: I remember a fascinating man, a famous lover... You're so much like that man.
Linkara: (as the woman) Filled to the gills with STDs.
Linkara (v/o): We have a flashback to this person she's talking about.
Woman: Glacomo*, put out the candles...
- NOTE: It's actually "Giacomo"; Linkara pronounced it wrong.
Linkara: "Glacomo"? Seriously? Does anyone really want to name their kid as something that can be mistaken for an eye condition?
Linkara (v/o): She asks for a bit how the guy had some dark secret about himself, and the secret was... he was a member of KISS? I don't know, he looks in a mirror and sees the KISS makeup on himself, which gives him superpowers apparently.
Narrator: To read more of Starchild's adventures as Casanova, see this web comic link*.
- ANOTHER NOTE: The link is: "www.drunkduck.com/KISS_4K_the_webcomic".
Linkara (v/o): Great, supplementary reading, that goes over well. What's more, this is basically saying, "Yeah, why bother reading this comic that cost you four bucks and so far isn't interesting, when you could be reading this free web comic that has adventures?" The tiger guy in the meanwhile – no, I don't know his name, nor do I really care all that much – is talking to two women about how they got strange invitations before a kitty comes up to him.
Woman with cat: I think my cat likes you. She doesn't usually like strangers.
Linkara: (as this woman) Which is why I brought her to a drunken sex party! (beat) Wait...
Linkara (v/o): To make a long story short, it seems each member of KISS is actually a reincarnation of some figure in history. The tiger guy is a Japanese warrior with the ability to talk to animals, the angel guy from the cover is actually Constantine, and the bodybuilder is actually Shaka Zulu. The last guy calls bullcrap on all this, and here's where the comic gets reeeeeally confusing. We cut back to the ancient evil thing who's talking to what I think is a Succubus, and he's planning on taking over the world because... evil? Now the woman has brought them all to the 1920s, where someone cheats at a card game... I think? The woman says that the four keep getting brought together as they get reincarnated, though this is starting to really get headscratching since all the historical figures they apparently started as weren't even in the same time periods together.
Linkara: (putting down comic) Maybe this would make more sense if I listened to more of KISS' music.
(Linkara raises his finger in the air; KISS' "God of Thunder" plays briefly)
Linkara: Yeah, it's all coming together now.
Linkara (v/o): Basically, she says they're always resurrected as heroes, and sometimes they're brought together to fight a common enemy. In this case, it's... Satan from Doctor Who?
Woman: Think about it–you four, here, right now. Why? Why did you all come to this place now?
Linkara (v/o): Didn't they already say they were invited? Anyway, the woman vanishes off-panel, and they all decide to go. Go where? Good question, I'll answer you as soon as I know. And then suddenly they are... there, wherever "there" is.
Starchild: Something here ain't quite right.
Linkara: You're quite right. WHAT IS GOING ON?? Transitions, comic! Every time I read something, I feel like I just skipped three pages!
Linkara (v/o): They come across some demons... so I think this is supposed to be Hell or some kind of other dimension.
Demon: Wait! Those things, they're-- HUMAN!
Linkara: One, no, they're aren't. Two, how do you know that?
Linkara (v/o): Then this guy [the Unholy] shows up...
Unholy: What have you brought here?
Demon: What you brought here?
Linkara: (nonplussed) Just... Just go on, comic. You have left me far behind and you're not coming back for me.
Linkara (v/o): Mephisto-like guy says the people came to him for protection, and he tried to help. The other unholy beasts start smothering everyone except Starchild, who suddenly turns into some weird, featureless mannequin of himself.
Narrator: In Starchild, the Unholy has found the perfect mind. With this man, he has a clear path to the others, and from them, this world–will be his.
Linkara (v/o): How has it done this?! What is going on?!? What does this have to do with KISS being reincarnated versions of historical figures?!?
Narrator: And there's a moment where it actually looks like... the Unholy... has won...
Linkara (v/o): And then he yells, "NOOOOOOO!!!", and Starchild is knocked out, and the others are just floating and a bunch of creatures?
Unholy: I'm all you've got!
Linkara: Comic, trust me, at this point, you've got nothin'!
Linkara (v/o): Two of them get teleported by one of the band members, named Celestial, the angel guy, because apparently, he can do that.
Unholy: I am the lord of the wastelands... And I command you to kneel!
(Cut to a clip of Superman II)
General Zod: KNEEL BEFORE ZOD!
(Cut back to the KISS comic)
Narrator: Finally, Starchild realized the only way to defeat the Unholy was to attack his most vulnerable spot...
Linkara: Somebody wrote that. Somebody was paid to write that. Somebody thought that that line shouldn't be cut. I don't know why I keep getting shocked by how many stupid people there are in this industry.
Linkara (v/o): Apparently, the Unholy's most vulnerable spot is his followers, represented by a bunch of floating, featureless heads. Starchild tries to appeal to them that they've been corrupted and apparently, it succeeds, or so we're told, because the other members of KISS launch their attack.
Narrator: Without his followers, the one who'd been known as Unholy lost most of his power, and the four we're able to finally beat him back. The beating he received was horrific; as bad, perhaps, as a nightmare. Unbearable for him. And finally... Unholy was gone.
Linkara: (reading from a book) "The path you should never have crossed, / The Beast exacts a heavy cost, The number of the Beast is lost, / You will know it by its hissing." (looks up, irritably tossing book aside) I just read some random bullcrap, and yet it still makes more sense than (holds up KISS comic) this stupid-ass comic!
Linkara (v/o): Now the four are back with the woman and she says they've been brought together again.
Chikara: Is Unholy back? Didn't we take care of him last time?
Linkara (v/o): Wait, what, that entire sequence was a flashback?! Way to friggin' establish, comic! She says that whatever it is, it isn't Unholy, and they have to prepare themselves. She says her name is basically Wycht Lystre (pronounces it "Wicked Lester") and our comic ends with her leading them away.
Linkara: Oh, dear Lord, (holds up comic) this comic sucks! It's confusing, boring, and several other words that basically mean "What the hell?!"
(Cut to shots of another KISS comic, "Marvel Super Special #1 Featuring KISS")
Linkara (v/o): If you're really looking for a KISS comic, I recommend hunting down "Marvel Super Special #1 Featuring KISS". I might give it a full review later down the line, but from what I've read, it's leagues above these two pieces of junk. The artwork is decent, and it actually has KISS fighting Doctor Doom and Mephisto. That, my friends, is awesome!
Linkara: Todd, any final thoughts?
(Cut back to ToddInTheShadows, still laughing his head off as he has his head face down on his keyboard; he then lifts his head, catching his breath)
Todd: Oh... Oh, man... Okay, yeah, sure, I'll review those for you.
(Linkara glares silently)
(Linkara throws down the comic, gets up and leaves)
(End credits roll)
Yeah, sorry that I rarely spoke any of the KISS members by name. Most websites I visited for research, surprisingly, never referred to them by their stage names, and those were the only ones used in the comics.
The device I used for the "KISS 4000" device is actually a thing called Retrogen. It's basically a portable SEGA Genesis and so far it's working pretty well. Haven't been able to determine exact battery life, but I'd say it lasts around six hours.