Outside of my obsessions for heavy metal, sci-fi, and horror, I habitually find myself gravitating towards two distinct styles of media in entertainment: the dark, disgusting, and macabre; or the stupidity of plain ridiculousness and irreverent humor. So when fellow GoD of Thunder, Dave3, hurled out his list of comics available to review recently, it should be no surprise that my eyeballs became magnetized to a title that read Mars Attacks KISS.
I have been a KISS fan for 26 years, which is way more than half of my current lifespan, and so naturally my first two thoughts were, “Wait! Is this about the band KISS?” and “That is the most ridiculous comic title ever conceived – I love it”.
And it is indeed about the hard rock/heavy metal band I’ve obsessed over for nearly three decades – being faced with the skull-faced, brain-headed, ack-ack-speaking monstrosities from the film of the same name.
To put it guilelessly, when I scored this review for Geeks of Doom, it was like giving a jigsaw puzzle with alphabetized pieces to someone with OCD.
Before we do carry on, I must put my heavy metal historian hat on for a moment, because it does figure into the context of the review. In 1977, KISS was pretty much the biggest band in the world at that point. Like, bigger than Beatles big… As in Godzilla-sized stomping the Beatles flat. You get my drift.
The band was a phenomenon in the United States, appealing to a multigenerational audience. They were a world-shattering change in the music scene in Japan. Europe was blown away by them, and they were so big in Australia that 1 in 14 people had a KISS album. Combining this success with the band’s make-up/costume image with extravagant stage show, evolved into something that, now when looking back, seemed pretty inevitable.
Let’s transform them into superheroes. It was the perfect idea for the perfect time, and Stan “The Man” Lee with Marvel comics jumped at the chance. The very first issue of KISS #1 also contained the band’s blood in the red ink. Yes, truly: it smacked of publicity stunt material; but it was most certainly rock and roll through and through.
The essential premise of the first KISS comic was that four New York youths would be bestowed each a mystical talisman, which would grant them great powers. Gene Simmons becomes the Demon, Paul Stanley the Starchild, Ace Frehley the Space-Ace, and Peter Criss is the Catman. The newborn heroes eventually move on to face off with the eternally formidable Doctor Doom. Quite simply, it’s brilliant, memorable, and a classic.
Fast forward 36 years later, and while KISS the band has had numerous manifestations in comic book form, Mars Attacks KISS returns to this very original story first published by Marvel Comics in some sort of alternate earth and as a bit of a “What If” story.
And what a hell of a “What if”: What if the Mars Attacks aliens get their slimy mitts on the Khyscz talismans before Gene, Paul, Ace, and Peter do. Quite simply, this happens:
Underneath KISS make-up and with the powers of the talismans, the Martians use their new superpowered advantage to begin the destruction of the human race, as the forward scout party of an impending invasion fleet. And that leaves the dreadfully human, and powerless, and sans-make-up members of the young rock band KISS to save the day.
It is mad, I tell you: MAD!
But mad in a MAGNIFICENT way. You see, while it takes a twist on the original concept of the first KISS comic, Mars Attacks KISS takes the slapstick schlock of the original Martian invasion story, and amplifies it immensely. The story also incorporates many “in” jokes specifically about the band in real life (such as the old Gene and Paul vs. Ace and Peter chestnut) that many hardcore KISS fans will pretty much piss their pants in laughter over. It’s very well structured, firmly approached, with some new elements previously unseen in both Mars Attacks and KISS universes respectively. Kudos to Chris Ryall for a story that was not only entertaining, but resulting in a rock and roll tale that melted my brain and imploded my eyeballs.
The artwork in Mars Attacks KISS is also of an excellent standard. Alan Robinson and Jay Fotos toe a very fine line of trying to emulate the KISS Marvel look, without looking TOO much like it; and balancing the look and ambiance of the Mars Attacks greatness, also without straying too far from the KISS thing. It’s a delicate balancing act that many artists face with great crossovers, but I think they handled this tremendously. There are some frames which (very much like the original KISS comic(s) and Mars Attacks material) will become immediately iconic to many readers – some of which I would probably pay a metric shit ton of money for to have enlarged and pinned on my walls. No, really, shut up and take my money.
The sole criticism I had was that there are a couple of pages in the comic that are specifically designed for the traditional print media, where the action takes place across two pages, laid out so you focus on and read from left to right across the gatefold of the pages. In the digital format, this does not work so well; as you read one page, then scroll to the next. It’s a little confusing at first, and then disappointing when you can’t align the two pages to view (although I’m sure some media formats allow for this). I think comic creators are wrestling with this issue in new media.
Mars Attacks KISS is preposterous, fun, brilliant, horrifying, hilarious, and totally metal as fuck. This is most definitely going out as one of my comic book highlights of 2013. And the best part about it is that it’s not just for the overly obsessed KISS fan or the Mars Attacks/Sci-Fi enthusiast. This comic is so meticulously written and presented, I truly believe that all comic book fans will get a kick out of it.
And if you do not, then at the very least I think you will get a kick out Martians trying to say “Rock and Roll All Night, and party every day…”
A final thought: Chris Ryall, Alan Robinson, Jay Fotos – we demand a Mars Attacks KISS Part II. Make it happen!