Wednesday, October 1, 2014


Comics and rock stars make for a natural intersection, owing to the shared sense of theatricality of the mediums and the typical age of the aficionado. This is how you get something like New Kids on the Block meet Wendy the Good Little Witch, a title it certainly sounds like I am making up but man I am not. They met Richie Rich too, or he bought them and had them installed in one of his mansions, possibly in his room of cryogenically frozen rock stars. “Here, on the left, you see Elvis – Professor Keenbean, press the button that makes him swivel,” and the cavernous room is filled with the gentle squeak of cybernetic joints swinging ancient hips and a tortured voice quietly pleading “uh huh a-huh, kill me.”

A scene from Alice Cooper's Funtime Ice Cream Adventures
Marvel Comics in the 1970s, its rafters packed with superheroes not lightly inspired by horror movies and general supernatural tropes (Why not a werewolf? Why not a … space werewolf?) made for an even more obvious intersection with comics and a particular kind of rock star – the glam metal shock rocker. It was in this way that we received a pair of Marvel Super Specials dedicated to face-painted pop culture darlings KISS, and even more importantly, an issue of a Marvel anthology title comically adapting the autobiographical institutionalization-themed concept album of Alice Cooper. (Not mentioned here: Marvel’s The Mighty AvenGWARs and Gary Glitter Meets Power Pack).

Marvel Premiere No.50 (appropriately released in October 1979) was the landmark issue of the House of Ideas’ equivalent to DC’s Showcase. The book had been the home to Doctor Strange and Iron Fist before turning itself over to one- and two-issue tryouts for unlikely eponymous titles starring weirdos like Satana, Woodgod and Monark Starstalker. After having given Weirdworld, Man-Wolf and the Liberty Legion a fair shot at success, it was nonetheless an unusual step to give Alice Cooper his first shot at comic book stardom with a story extrapolating the inspiration behind his 11th studio album, From the Inside. Fun fact I only learned from Wikipedia – he stole half of Elton John’s band for that album, including Bernie Taupin. OH the 70s, you wonderful weird creature.

The comic, riddled with grim humor and absurd characters drawn from the album – and, to be frank, its insensitive depictions of mental illness, to be sure – put Cooper in a bizarre, theatrical sanitarium for the criminally insane. While resembling something like One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest combined with the Rocky Horror Picture Show, the album which inspired it was itself an exaggerated, grimly humorous account of Cooper’s self-proscribed institutionalization for alcoholism – to which the comic makes a few nods. While the book, arguably still aimed at kiddies and sold on the drugstore comic rack, never overtly mentions the hero’s alcoholism, it does reference the strains and stresses that led the fictional stand-in to seek therapy (parties, drinking and “golfing with celebrities”) and has him crack a joke about coming to a sanitarium to “dry out” while ironically receiving a cold water bath.

A sensitive portrayal of mental illness.

Not that it was expressly aimed at kiddies – the book opens with a joke about Dachau, because the 70s were like that, we were not cool about concentration camps, man. Targeted at Marvel’s legendary “college-age audience” (which I always thought was over-hyped, to be honest, in terms of the size of its slice on the pie chart of Marvel’s total sales), the book walks a fine line between slightly sanitizing its content – I mean, we don’t go looking down Nurse Rozetta’s cleavage and Coop never busts in his pants, thanks RapGenius - and depicting the excesses of controversial mental health practices as Looney Toons escapades. Also there was a Car 54, Where Are You reference, and I don’t know who that was for.

Most unusually, considering that Alice Cooper is so famously opposed to discussing politics in any fashion, there’s a sly little stab at politics in the finale of the book, when Alice discovers that the sound-alike criminal maniac, Alex Cooper, for whom the institutionalized rocker was mistaken, has moved on to a successful political campaign.

An editorial in the middle of the book fills in the story of how the book was put together, although it’s a tetch more like Jim Salicrup and Roger Stern humblebragging that they got to go hang out with Cooper in Detroit on the company dime. The editorial goes on to ask fans if they’d be interested in an ongoing Alice Cooper book, which I probably would have been at the time except for one small problem; this is one of only a handful of comics I remember my parents absolutely prohibiting me from buying when it first came out. I clearly remember only lifting it about halfway out of the spinner rack before my pop grabbed it out of my hand and stuffed it back in its place. My apologies if you bought the crumpled copy of Marvel Premiere No.50 at the Putnam County, NY, Wal-Drug, my bad, I owe you forty cents.

What Alice Cooper's ophthalmologist sees.

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