In 1977, the most powerful band on earth was KISS with their pyrotechnics, monster boots and the largest army a band had ever fielded, the KISS Army, fully prepared to rock and roll all nite, party every day and read comics in between. Marvel had their ever-lovin’ fingers on the pulse of the youth and put out two KISS comics, 1977’s A Marvel Comics Super Special: KISS and its 1979 sequel, A Marvel Super Special: KISS
Steve Gerber had already written KISS into Howard the Duck (12 and 13), entering the band into the Marvel Universe forever. And, in the 1977 book, his absurdist sensibility shines through: Gypsy fembots, a moon-shaped spaceship, sphincter-like stone kissy lips and space bar catering to theriomorphic people. Gerber worked with artists Alan Weiss, Al Milgrom, Rick Buckler, and Sal and John Buscema. The art’s rock steady but it’s strange to see KISS crotch and butt shots that I associate with contemporary female heroes. Best yet, the band’s blood was mixed into the printer’s vats of red ink used for the comic. (Yes, it’s true).
The comic opens with Gene Simmons complaining to Paul Stanley that his dad has ordered him to drop his Conan comics and become a CPA. Luckily, Dizzy the Hun, a blind man in a fur Speedo, knows the men have a destiny. Dizzy’s more than just local color; he’s the keeper of the Box of Khyscz. The totems inside transform Paul into the Star Child, Gene into the Demon, Ace Frehley into the Space Ace and Peter Criss into the Cat. He’s as agile as a cat and mrowrs. The Space Ace has vibratory waves, can create a cone of force, teleport and calls everyone, “Curly.” The Star Child controls and creates emotions. The Demon breathes fire, flies, is super strong and has boots that bite. I suspect that Simmons had some input.
They’ll need those bitey boots because KISS has a serious problem. The Box of Khyscz belonged to Dr. Victor von Doom’s mother and Doom wants it no matter how many Gypsy fembots Gene destroys. The Avengers, The Defenders, Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four consider helping KISS, then decide KISS must face whatever comes alone. Meanwhile, Ace teleports his friends to heaven, hell and to that alien bar where a cat-lady falls for Peter. Finally, they travel to Latveria where there’s plenty of fighting before (spoiler alert!) Paul helps Doom get in touch with his feelings:
“What is it, Doom? What nerve
did Ace touch? Talk to me, man!”
“You can’t suppress the pain forever, Doc!”
KISS don’t fight another being bent on world domination until 1979. Ralph Macchio wrote A Marvel Super Special: KISS with scenario help by Alan Weiss and art by John Romita, jr. and Tony De Zuniga. I’m awful fond of Tony De Zuniga’s art, especially his Jonah Hex. But art aside, somehow the 1979 Super Special seems a little bloodless compared to the 1977 one. And not just because there’s no blood in the ink.
Macchio elaborates on KISS powers and on Khyscz. Ace has heightened perception as well as a little more Kirby crackle to his vibratory powers. The Demon is even more brutal. The Star Child has blast and stun beams. Plus, the Cat now has cat-based patter. And we discover that Khyscz is a country in the Himalayas. Because everyone’s happy, harmonious and filled with love, there is, of course, an alienated sorcerer on the outskirts of town, who’s busy stealing Ming the Merciless’ look and planning to subjugate the earth (4) by “absorbing energy at history’s most famous rock concerts” (7) because only rock concerts are “filled with the proper intensity of crowd-sustained emotional activity” (5). Then Khalis Wu will show us all.
So Khalis Wu travels through time to a 1950s rock’n’roll concert. Which one? Elvis Presley? Bill Haley? We don’t have time for that because KISS teleports into the middle of the action. The sorceror escapes after unleashing a bunch of possessed bikers who look like Ghost Riders if Ghost Rider were Gary Trudeau’s Duke with the top of his head on fire. KISS track Khalis Wu to “The Land of Leftovers,” a dimension “where the symbolic figures of the 60s live out that decade again and again, eternally” (35). Trippy doesn’t even begin to describe their adventures with Saurian Holmes and Saurian Holmes’ Moriarty, the Maharishi. But I was let down by a final battle at a disco marathon. I mean, I expected a KISS concert. Still, it’s pretty selfless of KISS to save a disco when the KISS Army says, “Disco Sucks.”
I always like comics that are tangential to big event storylines. I like the idea that Gene, Paul, Ace and Peter are still there, in the Marvel Universe, waiting to transform again to fight multidimensional evils and maybe even save disco. I don’t know if they’ve appeared again, but I do know which side I think they’d be on in Marvel’s Civil War.
Carol Borden was a child soldier in the KISS Army.
(Thanks to www.jagerd.com/kiss for the scans)