Kiss has been an institution in the music industry since the 1970s, and the band’s influence branches across the pop-culture landscape. In comics, the rockers made their debut in Marvel’s Howard the Duck #12 to much acclaim in 1977, and they’ve since gone on to partner with other comic studios, including Image and IDW Publishing. Now, Dynamite Entertainment has gotten its turn to show the Kiss Army what it has to offer with the first five issues of the band’s ongoing series, collected in trade paperback as Kiss: The Elder Vol. 1: A World without Sun.
While Kiss’s appearance in Howard the Duck four decades ago actually kind of made sense and made a splash, Dynamite’s comic—which was influenced by the band’s 1981 concept album, Music From “The Elder”—falls flat in more areas than not. Kiss is known for its mixture of flash and substance, and while this five-issue collection features some substance and thoughtful world building, there’s very little flash or even much of a hook to suggest why Kiss and the book’s creative team should have entered the crowded market of dystopian comics.
Written by Amy Chu (Poison Ivy, Red Sonja), Kiss: The Elder features art by Kewber Baal (Jennifer Blood, Army of Darkness: Furious Road), letters by Troy Peteri (Witchblade), colors by Schimerys Baal (Army of Darkness: Furious Road), and a collection cover by Nick Bradshaw (Wolverine and the X-Men). Kewber Baal’s illustrations pair well with the comic’s need to build around the teenage angst it profiles with its young cast and the dystopian setting that comes from the album that inspired the comic, but there’s too much restraint that doesn’t fit or push its source material in meaningful ways. His best work on the book is drawing the protectors, which are robot versions of the band members that serve as a kind of police force—they’re powerful, distinctive, and fit the vibe of Blackwell, a city in the distant future with a population of over 2.2 million.
The setup in the first issue is handled well. Chu engages readers quickly by presenting the status quo, and then immediately begins to poke at and challenge it with her young cast of characters, led by Eran—who conveniently shares a map he recently found in the book’s opening pages that leads the group to discovering all sorts of secrets—and his twin sister, Noa. As the arc continues to unravel, its plot can more or less be boiled down to The Legend of Billie Jean (1985) meets Kiss robots in the distant future.
Chu does a solid job of turning a widely disliked and disregarded album into a serviceable comic, but what’s being adapted may be the book’s biggest flaw: it’s hard to imagine anyone lining up for a story inspired by what’s arguably Kiss’s most poorly received album. In a crowded marketplace that already includes a massive selection of similar titles, there’s little reason to pick up an average book that doesn’t take risks or push the medium in new or interesting ways unless you’re a megafan of the genre or a Kiss enthusiast. If there’s a silver lining it’s that anyone who’s been waiting for the trade should have no problem finding it in a discount bin at conventions this summer if they’re willing to wait a little longer.
Another perk for trade waiters is that, to accompany the interior artwork, Dynamite deployed its usual strategy of creating an abundance of variant covers available with the series’ first arc. For those who may have struggled with cover selection as the issues came out, the decision of which variant to pick has become nonexistent given that the book collects all sorts of back matter, including a cover gallery and design sketches.