Throughout the years, iconic rock band KISS have made a number of appearances in comic books. Originally brought to life by Marvel Comics, the look and personality of the band’s characters lent themselves perfectly to the pages of comics. Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley, Ace Frehley and Peter Criss created the perfect alter-egos and brought them to life in their energetic concerts and lively music. While some of the band’s comic book outings were rather quite successful, such as Image Comics’ Psycho Circus series which began in 1998 to coincide with the release of the album of the same name, others just didn’t capture the magic of the group. Well, IDW Publishing is taking another crack at the hottest band in the land in a brand new series that began this past Wednesday.
Written by Chris Ryall, the simply titled KISS reimagines the characters in Chicago in 1929. The streets are littered with crime, all controlled by one man. On the outside, Lester McGhee runs a respectable business, but “Wicked” Lester, the first of many references to KISS’ music, is also in charge of the seedier business practices of the city. When he orders the death of a stool pigeon, the mysterious She awakens within the informant the power of The Celestial, a soldier for the cosmic entity of the Elder, who is locked in an eternal battle against the Destroyer. While true KISS fans will get the beauty of the character names, Ryall works the references into the story in an organic way, proving himself a talented writer and a member of the KISS Army.
The story slowly introduces the rest of the Four-Who-Are-One, The Celestial bringing them together to unlock their powers. The Demon, the Starchild, the Catman and The Celestial finally assembled, they confront Wicked Lester to free She from his grip.
The use of supernatural elements in KISS stories is overused, but it makes total sense considering the personalities of the band members. However, I do like the way Ryall introduces his characters here. Some of the “backstory” did turn into little more than info-dumps, but overall, it didn’t feel as forced as it could have. Though there are a few glimpses of action, the majority of the issue is talking heads, with The Celestial explaining the origin of the Four-Who-Are-One to the readers and other characters. Again, the way this is handled makes sense considering that this character has experienced things the others haven’t, but it does slow the issue down a little.
While I do enjoy the setting, I have to question why Ryall set the story in gangland Chicago in the 20s. I imagine the purpose behind it was to provide himself with a font of crime to deal with, creating the perfect antagonist in the city’s crime boss. Bootlegging, gambling, prostitution; the time period does afford a wide variety of crimes. Maybe Ryall is illustrating the look behind the 1975 album Dressed To Kill, which provides the title of the first storyarc. Or maybe he just wanted the chance to write dialogue that would fit in a James Cagney movie. Either way, the setting doesn’t lend much to the story just yet, but maybe that could change some time in the future. Actually, I wouldn’t be surprised if, later on down the line, the characters appeared in a different time period. Given the “avatars of the Four-Who-Are-One” hook, they have the possibility of reappearing elsewhere, which could be interesting.
Jamal Igle really does fantastic with the art. Igle has a true understanding of storytelling, often varying his “camera angle” perfectly to keep the issue from becoming too static. His establishing shots are highly detailed, which helps to engross the reader in a sense of being in the scene. There are only a few panels in the issue where Igle skips on providing fully rendered background, and each one is in the midst of an action scene, so the lack of detail is easily overlooked. Igle also manages to maintain consistency in the look of the KISS members, a quality that not all artists have.
While the world didn’t need a new KISS comic series, Ryall and Igle proved that something like this was definitely missed. The pair have created a clever comic book that appeals to fans of KISS music but can also attract non-fans. I especially love all of the musical Easter eggs Ryall sprinkled throughout the issue; they make the story that much more fun for current fans without being obnoxious or condescendingly obvious. (I really hope Ryall chooses to avoid any sort of “Rock and roll all night” reference.) The release of this series flew well under my radar, which sadly means that any lack of promotion will prove to be the series’ undoing. Hopefully IDW steps up their game and begin to push this because they really do have magic on their hands.
Be sure to do yourself a favor and head over to the digital store to grab yourself a copy.