RETRO REVIEW: Marvel Super Special #1 – KISS (1977)

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Or – “DETROIT ROCK CITAAAY!”

For those of you who don’t remember the far-flung 1970′s, I’ll give you a rundown of how it went:  Chevy Chase was funny then.  Big lapels were in.  Nobody knew what the hell a cellular phone was.  Elvis was alive, part of the time anyway.  There was a gas crisis and people freaked out at paying more than a dollar for petroleum.  Steve was not yet bald, and George Lucas still knew what he was doing.  There’s pretty much all ya need to know for free…  Also big during the late 70′s was a band called KISS, whose larger than life personas and antics made them ripe for transition into comics form, and thus the oversized Treasury Edition format was dusted off and a comic book was commissioned.  The sad/awesome part is that it’s actually pretty good…

Marvel Comics Super-Special #1
Written by Steve Gerber
Penciils by Alan Weiss/John Buscema/Rich Buckler/Sal Buscema
Inks by Al Milgrom
Colors by Marie Severin
Letters by Irv Watanabe/John Costanza
Published by Marvel Comics
Cover Price: $1.50
Current Near-Mint Pricing: $150

Previous, on Marvel Comics Super-Special:  There once was a nice young boy named Chaim, who came to the shores of the United States with his mother, in search of fame and fortune.  With his young friend Stanley, Chaim formed a band called Wicked Lester but never quite found the winning combination within their ranks.  Seeking out a drummer named Peter and a guitarist named Paul, the boys finally figured out their key to fame:  kabuki makeup, fire, blood, smoke and fifty-seven pounds of steel chains.  Thus was born the band called KISS.  Totie Fields had it figured out, but the rest of the world slowly caught on to the madness, and their shows became legend.  In the Marvel Universe, though, the long-ago intervention of the Celestials, the Eternals, the Deviants, the Kree, the Skrulls, the Methodists and the Shriners have led to a slightly different incarnation of Chaim and his pals, but one for which I have to say I have a certain fondness…

We open on the streets of New York City (after all, it is a Marvel comic) as young Gene Simmons rants to his friend Paul Stanley about his father’s latest attempt to put Gene on the straight and narrow.  “He actually ordered me to ditch my whole comic collection and then launched into his “Become A CPA And See The World” routine!”  Paul is sure that superstardom is around the corner, but Gene isn’t convinced.  Chucking his Conan comic in the garbage, he sneers that you just don’t see barbarians on the streets of New York.  Cue poetic justice:

The mysterious barbarian’s package in hand, Gene and Paul take off at a dead run to escape the hooligans and/or theives who had besieged the treasure’s previous holder.  As they take it on the run, two of their friends kill time in the local arcade.  (For you kids out there, this is just before the advent of video games, when pinball and various other mechanical devices would suck up your quarters one at a time, rather than the 5000 or so that you sprang on your PSX-Box.  This has been a friendly message from your local codger…  NOW GET OFFA MY LAWN!)  Peter and Ace are likewise feeling the general malaise of the 70′s in their souls, though Ace is a bit more metaphysical about it…

Suddenly taken by the mysterious box, Ace is unable to contain himself, and his loud musings on how compelling the mysterious cube is draw the attention of the Paul and Gene’s pursuers, causing all four lads to take refuge in the photo booth in fear of their lives.  Ace’s fascination causes him to crack open the box, where they foursome find strange talismans, pulsing with some sort of arcane power.  The thugs figure out where their quarry have ended up, and prepare to bust in and (presumably) mug and kill ‘em, but they’ve got a surprise coming…

The street toughs pause for a moment before returning to their efforts to shiv the quartet with a shank (or is that shank ‘em with a shiv?) only to find that the armor and facepaint come with full fledged super-powers!  The Demon melts stiletto knives with his magical fire breath, while Cat-Man leaps into action with a more hands-on approach…

Super-agility?  Fire breath?  Telekinesis?  Teleportation?  The four youths are incredibly excited to find that they’ve escaped the mundane, and Paul wonders if they’re even human anymore.  Ace, for his part, is transfixed again by the sight of the moon, while The Demon and the Starchild try to work it all out.  When Ace again mentions the moon, Demon snaps at him before realizing that it really IS unusual, as the moon LANDS in the bay before them and disgorges a familiar (to you and I, anyway) passenger…

The King of Latveria, Reed Richards’ arch-frenemy, the man with the plan and a rocket in his pants, the Sultan of Snark, Victor Von DOOOOOM!  It turns out that the thugs weren’t after their wallets at all, but were working in the employ of Doom himself to recapture the box, the legendary “Box of Khyscz!”

Dooms handmaidens suddenly attack, and are revealed to be automatons themselves, quickly melted and smashed by the group’s various powers.  Doom escapes, preoccupied with finding the box, while Ace takes it upon himself to get his partners out of harm’s way.  His teleportation powers are still new to them, so the foursome find themselves deposited in the depths of airless space.  Sooo, that was a bad idea…  Dizzy seeks out an old friend, Doctor Stephen Strange, to find his charges, and we get quick cameos from the Avengers, Defenders and Fantastic Four before Demon, Cat-Man, Starchild and Space Ace find themselves in a fluffy cloud, surrounded by angels, while a bearded man in a robe tells them that they can now have their greatest desires.  Have they ended up in heaven?  The Demon’s not so sure…

The artist formerly known as Chaim Witz turns his flame on the master of the realm, and as the diaphonous robes are consumed by the fires, he is revealed as… MEPHISTO!  That’s TWO heavy-hitter Marvel villains in less than a two dozen pages, in case you’re keeping score.  All we need is Magneto for the elusive villain Hat Trick..   The Demon takes to the air, while the Starchild fights off half a dozen succubi, and Mephisto laughs off their attacks.

Realizing that the Demon’s mind cannot be so easily subjugated, Mephisto decides that their not worth the effort, and teleports the twosome away.  But what about Ace and Peter?  They’ve been transported to (remember, it’s 1977, folks) to a mysterious Space Disco, where Pete makes friends with a catgirl whose jealous boyfriend doesn’t find an upstart making time with his lady to be funny at all.

With the immediate threat abated, Ace is finally able to catch the location of Gene and Paul, and teleports Cat-Man and himself off to find them.  Their arrival back on Earth is comforting, until they realize where they’ve landed…

Dizzy the Hun imparts the knowledge that their travels have taught them the scope of their powers, but have also allowed Doom to realize that their life forces are now inextricably tied to the Box of Khyscz, and that to possess it’s energies, Doom will have to kill them all…  or something.  The foursome quickly take out a cadre of Doom’s finest bots, the foursome is teleported into a strange nether realm where Doom attacks!  As Victor rages that the power that should be his has been squandered on children, Space Ace gives Starchild the cue he needs to read the emotions of Von Doom, forcing him to relive his childhood horrors, including his sorcerous training at Dizzy’s hand (!)  Dizzy forces him to admit that he admires the four young men, and as the battle rages, Dizzy confronts his student…

Ace thumbs a ride home, and the four young men end up in the streets of Manhattan again, disappointed to see their newfound personas fading in the harsh light of day…  Gene bitterly remarks that he knew it was too good to last, but Dizzy begs to differ.

It’s that say-the-title-in-the-story moment Rodrigo loves (“They represent a Clear And Present Danger!”) as we fade to black.  The oversized treasury edition contains many extras, including a complete (circa 1977) discography, concert footage and more, but the greatest bonus of all comes in the form of an oh-so-KISS feature:  The printers ink for the issue contains the blood of the four members of KISS!  There’s even a series of photos that document the bloodletting, proving the band’s dedication to us, the loyal fans.

I really enjoy the thought of these guys walking around in full costume in some clinic in midtown, as confused commuters watch in awe…  The onstage personas of KISS were, according to Gene, inspired by comic book heroes of his youth, making this book a fascinating study, but it’s the writing of Steve Gerber, at the top of his lunatic game that sells the whole affair.  Quite a few artists handle the chores, but Alan Weiss turns in a particularly entertaining sequence in the space disco, and you can’t help but love the whole issue.  For those who have scene “KISS Meets The Phantom,” it’s even possible to hear the (mechanically altered) voices of the characters as they leap into battle, and it’s interesting to see the Demon admiring Doom and Mephisto’s work before deciding to fight them anyway.  It’s rare for an adaptation comic to truly capture real people, but the over-the-top nature of KISS makes this book a wonderful read, especially if you love the jewels of trash culture the way I do.  It may not be ‘The Dark Knight Returns,’ but for me this book is even better, as it gives you a rockin’ adventure tale without taking itself or the form too seriously.  Marvel Super Special #1 earns the full-bore, heavy metal, 5 out of 5 stars overall, encouraging one to spend all the hours of darkness in the manner of their music and enjoy various forms of celebration during all hours of the day.

Rating: ★★★★★

Faithful Spoilerite Question Of The Day:  What other entertainers have ready-made comic personas?  Could Snoop Dogg fight the Joker?  Could Gwar overcome the Defenders?  Would Katy Perry make a good X-Man?