Yes you read the title right, and no, this isn't an album review. Although both entities exist. Confused?
Back in 1994, Marvel Comics, Alice Cooper, and the legendary creative team from DC's Sandman, Neil Gaiman, Michael Zulli, and Dave McKean all teamed up for a once in a lifetime comic event based off of, and in supportive conjunction, with Alice Cooper's 1994 album, Alice Cooper: The Last Temptation.
Apparently Alice, a life-long Marvel Zombie, happened upon Gaiman's run on Sandman and became such a fan of the writing and story, that he instantly knew he wanted to work with him. So phone calls were made(this is before e-mailing became a regular thing people) and deals were struck. And out came this beautifully illustrated and written three issue mini-series.
The mini-series, like the album of the same name, all centers around a young boy named Steven. I you're familiar with Alice Cooper, then you'll know the concept and character of Steven is often used in his albums, most notably in the 1975 album, Welcome To My Nightmare. Well this is sort of a different Steven than the one mentioned in the albums, but he still see's weird and fucked up shit that may or may night be there, and of course......Alice Cooper.
Steven's a typical ,teenage boy, hanging out with his friends, when he happens upon a mysterious theater, called the Theatre of the Real, The Grandest Guignol!
The kids are naturally curious, as most kids that age are, and they go inside to see what the deal is.
Inside they meet the Showman, who looks a hell of a lot like Alice Cooper. Hmm.
It seems the show's free, no ticket necessary, except for one thing; only one can be admitted. young Steven agrees to go inside and see what the big deal is, and damn does he get more than he ever bargained for!
All sorts of horrors and fucked up shit are shown to Steven, but thanks to the stunningly beautiful and detailed art by Zulli, they look very authentic and real.
Throughout the whole show, the Showman's trying to get Steven to join his Theatre, trying his best to convince him that life is too harsh and not worth going through. But if he joins his cast, he'll never have to worry about things like that ever again. Not even growing old and dying. Still Steven isn't totally convinced yet until he meets a character named Mercy, as sweet and young red-headed girl who catches his eye....and later his heart.
Even with all the Showman promises Steven, Steven still declines. The Showman lets young Steven think about his offer, and lets him go so that he can come back and watch his grand finale.
Did I mention all this happens under the backdrop of Halloween? Yep, which really goes a long way of both setting the mood for the story and perhaps explaining why and how this whole Theatre of the Real can exist.
In a creepy display of the Showman's powers, he constantly taunts and teases Steven to join his Theatre as he spontaneously appears and inhabits the bodies of his fellow classmates, teachers, and parents. This is done to ghoulish effect by the sudden appearance of Alice Cooper's trademark make-up suddenly showing up on the faces of the "possessed."
I like how Steven isn't your typical teen, as he goes out and tries to find out all he can about the mysterious Theatre and why he suddenly popped up. He goes to the town library on the day of Halloween to look up any information he can find, finally looking up old newspaper articles. As he goes through the years, he notices a sinister pattern; child abductions that have mysteriously occurred almost every 5 years, dating all the back to the late 1880's. Then Steven learns that the Theatre was once a real theater that burned down under mysterious circumstances, and that when the cops or firefighters were searching through the place, there was nothing but skeletons of young children inside. Trust me, the fire part comes into play later on.
Earlier in the story, Steven asks the Showman if he wants his soul, but the Showman says no, and that he's not interested in souls. Well we'll later see he was lying about that part.
So it's time to finally go to the grand finale, and Steven decides to sorta' fuck with the Showman and wear the Alice Cooper make-up too, which actually seems to excite the Showman.
The Showman continues on with the hard sell, trying to entice Steven to join his Theatre so he can be sparred from a horrible life, and death. But Steven remains resolute, and doesn't cave in. In fact he then starts to bring up the child abductions, the mysterious fire, and why the Showman wants him to join his Theatre so much. He even asks the Showman point blank whether or not he's the devil or not. The Showman says he's not, but Spoiler Alert, he really is the devil.
Throughout all this, Steven wants to take Mercy back with him. And after a final declaration that he's not afraid to grow up and face all the challenges and wonders that life holds, he declines the Showman's offer. The Showman says he can go if he can find his way out. It then dawns on Steven that this place really isn't real at all, and that he can be destroyed....by ghost flames. And much like the old theater that burned down all those years ago, so too does the Theatre of the Real starts to burn down. Steven's basically outwitted the devil.
It's then revealed that the Showman really is the devil, but he's chosen the form of a giant snake!
She transforms back into her true form, that of the Showman/Devil's talking cane, and slithers away into the night. Poor Steven. Hell, I thought she might be real too.
Steven heads back to his home, with no treats, just tricks(not the good kind;) and goes to bed after his hellish ordeal. We think it's all over, when the Showman appears in Steven's bathroom mirror, and proudly, eerily proclaims "You think it's over? It's never over! It doesn't matter where you travel. It doesn't matter you go. I'll not forget you. I'm only a moment of reflection away."
And that's how it ends.
Pretty cool huh?
Of course this isn't Alice Cooper's only comic appearance
Nope, he appeared in #50 of Marvel Premiere back in Oct 1979, as another album tie-in. This time it was hyping his album Welcome to My Nightmare.
Very, very cool.
I lucked out in recently acquiring the collected trade of the Last Temptation when I bought a stack of random comics from a friend who's moving and wanted to get rid them. In it was little gem, who'd I heard about back when it first came out, but it never really seemed to stick on my radar of comics to look out for. I have to say this one was really worth what I paid for the whole lot, as it's classic Gaiman/Zulli with those very cool McKean covers thrown in. The Showman is basically the Alice Cooper character, just elevated to a larger, more omnipotent/god-like status. Fucking love it!
If you don't already have it or the trade, I highly, highly recommend looking for this and getting it. It's just that damn good!