Writer: Amy Chu
Art: Eman Casallos
The Elder is one of those KISS albums that was widely panned by fans and critics because it did not fit their ‘brand’. KISS, like AC/DC is band known for its signatures: loud guitars, fire, spectacle and girls. They were not ‘allowed’ to experiment. To me, as much as I love KISS, they were never the Beatles in that they were never really creatively experimental. The Beatles did that with every album. Each one was a new concept but it still had that Beatles sound. KISS did not have that advantage. They were young, hungry and struck gold with ‘Alive!’ They were not going to lose that. They did not do that and because of that, they were ‘stuck’ with that image. Being an experimental band was not within their cards. That is why their first five albums are often critically acclaimed by fans, critics, and hipsters. In my opinion, you cannot go wrong with the first album, Hotter Than Hell, Alive!, Rock and Roller Over, and Destroyer. That is quintessential KISS.
Their image changed slowly from a dark and gritty band to a more kid friendly one. That is what led to ‘Phantom of the Park’ and disco KISS. They had an identity crisis which led to ‘Music From the Elder’. If Bob Ezrin could make magic with ‘Destroyer’ (He made ‘The Wall’ from Pink Floyd), then nothing could go wrong, right?
What works for one band, may not work for someone else and that is the mysterious tale of Music from the Elder. ‘The Elder’ was considered to be the red headed step child in the KISS Catalog. It became appreciated as time went on. I think the fantasy aspect works perfectly with KISS. The problem was that they had nothing to back up for it. There was no ‘Elder’ movie being made and it was clear to anyone who was around that they were following the trend (COUGH, Star Wars, COUGH). Personally, I love that it’s getting appreciated. It’s one of my top three KISS albums, the other two being ‘Unmasked’ and ‘Dynasty’.
Amy Chu reinterprets ‘The Elder’ in her second KISS comic for Dynamite. While her main KISS title focuses on four teens in a very distant future, The Demon #1 focuses on the present. It is an origin story about Mr. Blackwell.
For those who are not part of the Army, the ‘Elder’ is a KISS concept album about a boy who undergoes a journey. If you are familiar with fantasy, you should expect the usual motifs: the discovery of a power, the journey, the conflict, the villain, the final battle, and the escape. In the ‘Elder’, Mr. Blackwell is our villain. Because we never got movie, Chu takes this and gives us her version of Who is Mr. Blackwell.
It starts out in a business building. An aide asks her boss if he wanted to see his guests. “Mr. Blackwell, I need to know, do you have any family or friends I should be informing.” He shuts her out. This guy is sort of like Ebeneezer Scrooge, coldness and all. Then we see him smiling as he reminisces far more innocent times.
We find out that Sam Blackwell was an ordinary teenager who was a member of the KISS Army. Sam’s father is a business owner of Blackwell Enterprises. He was born with a silver spoon (See, what I did there) but he has other ambitions in life. He is also friends with Milo and Kimi. Milo’s dad works for Sam’s dad. Sam is a fish out of water. Now that I think about it, I wonder if Amy Chu chose this name specifically. You see, ‘Sam’ is the name of the pseudoprotagonist in ‘Phantom of the Park’. Actually, Sam is the name of boyfriend of Melissa, the main protagonist who asks KISS for help to finding Sam. ‘Sam’ is a puppet of Abner Deveraux who is main villain and Sam’s puppet master. Devereaux uses Sam as a vehicle to do his dirty work since he was fired from the theme park. Sam in this comic is businessman’s son. I could be looking too much into it but that stood out to me.
The KISS members make a very small cameo backstage when two of our protagonists sneak in at the beginning. I thought that was cool.
So, Sam is a lonely kid who wants to break free from his guilded cage and out of his father’s oppressive rule. He also has a crush on the drummer Kimi who doesn’t have mutual feelings. Sam’s world changes after his father dies in a car accident and then becomes the head of the company. We see that Sam has made some personal touches to his work space. This includes adding a portrait his hero and pseudo father figure, ‘The Demon’.
I like this series more than Amy Chu’s main KISS title mainly because I prefer realism. This first issue is a promising set up. It’s nice to see an often ignored KISS track get life under Chu’s writing. I am iffy about most origin stories largely because I am getting tired of ‘feeling sorry’ for the bad guy. Chu carefully avoids this cliche’ by letting Blackwell’s dark side ‘come out’ after the tragedy but not before giving us a taste of it prior to Blackwell Sr’s death. Like a butterfly coming out of the cocoon, we see Sam become Mr. Blackwell.
I am a big fan of “I” and “The oath”. I hope she does amazing things with those. I know she can.