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Battle of the Bands: The Best Musical Acts in Comic Books

by  in Lists, Comic News Comment
Battle of the Bands: The Best Musical Acts in Comic Books

Music has long been a dominating force in pop culture, with our favorite songs often serving as markers of identity and providing the score for our most formative moments. It should be no surprise, then, that music influences other popular media, even otherwise silent ones like comic books. In fact, it’s become common practice for writers and artists to share playlists that helped inspire their work, while famous bands have had guest spots in comics going back to the Beatles and beyond.

RELATED: The Flash/Supergirl Crossover: 10 Musical Numbers We Want To See

Recently, musicians themselves have even gotten into the act of creating comics, notably Darryl “DMC” McDaniels, Say Anything’s Max Bemis, and of course, former My Chemical Romance frontman, Gerard Way, who is currently leading the charge of DC Comics’ Young Animal imprint. But what about the bands that inhabit our favorite comic book universes? While there are many crossover hits, like the truly outrageous Jem and the Holograms, who rose to fame in cartoons before making the leap to comics, and a potentially limitless number of international acts to consider (“Detroit Metal City,” we’re looking at you), there are plenty of chart-topping bands local to the Western-style comic book stands. We’re counting down to number one, so don’t touch that dial.

11. Dusted Bunnies

Dusted Bunnies

When you come from a family of punks, you’ve got a lot to live up to. Skank Zero Hopeless Savage, the youngest daughter of Dirk Hopeless and Nikki Savage, follows in the footsteps of dear old mom and dad as frontwoman of the Dusted Bunnies, an alt-punk band in the turn-of-the-twenty-first-century vein, but definitely better. The band’s earliest days are recounted in the one-shot “Hopeless Savages B-Sides: The Origin of the Dusted Bunnies” by series creator Jen Van Meter with art by Becky Cloonan, Vera Brosgol and Mike Norton. Their most recent tour, which took place in 2015’s “Hopeless Savages: Break” graphic novel by Van Meter, Meredith McClaren and Christine Norrie, proved one of their toughest.

With Zero now in college and finding her place in the world, it may be make-or-break time for the Dusted Bunnies. Will they sell out, fade away or continue to tear up a succession of small but packed clubs?

10. Red Rocket 7

Red Rocket 7 and friends

“Red Rocket 7 is programmed with musical abilities and just falls into the arterial flow of rock n roll history,” Mike Allred told CBR upon the series’ remastered hardcover release. First taking the stage in 1997, “Red Rocket 7” is a concept album of a story, fitting very well along films like Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” and The Who’s “Tommy.” The final of seven clones, each with one major talent of the original, Seven possessed the gift of music and creativity, which led him to influence or directly create the 20th century’s most important moments in music. He taught Elvis to dance, inspired David Bowie’s fashion (and two eternal songs), and propelled the course of pop culture through the late ’90s. Along the way, Red and his clone siblings explored existential questions of faith, death, prejudice and more — much the same sort of thing Allred does in “Madman,” in a similar electric, eclectic style.

Though Seven achieves stardom himself, his most important legacy is behind the scenes. Depending on your perspective, that could place him either much higher or much lower on this list.

9. Black Canary

Black Canary frontwoman DD Lance

Following directly on the success of the “Batgirl of Burnside” soft relaunch, Dinah Lance’s New 52 solo title saw a completely new take on Black Canary. Dinah — now calling herself D.D. — takes over a band for one album and a tour, rebranding them as “Black Canary.” Trouble seems to follow them every stop along their tour, with the group’s former singer Bo Maeve taking extraordinary measures to overpower D.D. in more than just a battle of the bands. Luckily, D.D. is also a bit of a superhero. As it turns out, though, a good deal of the action and intrigue revolves around Ditto, Black Canary’s diminutive and silent guitarist, with ninjas and other dubious figures attacking the band to capture the girl.

During a cacophonous European tour, Black Canary confronted the powerful producer behind both the group’s formation and its multi-city brawls, defeating him through the combined sonic powers of D.D., Bo Maeve and the otherworldly Ditto.

Written by Brendan Fletcher and illustrated primarily by Annie Wu, “Black Canary” ran for 12 stylish, high-energy issues just before DC’s “Rebirth.” A comic about a rock group and a superhero, it partied hard. The series had a strong, unique perspective and dove into it head first. Fletcher released several Black Canary songs and they are all legit.

8. Sugarshock!

Sugarshock

The strange, brief career of Sugarshock!, the spacefaring rockers created by Joss Whedon and Fabio Moon for “Dark Horse Presents” during its MySpace era (!), packs a lot of action and humor into its single, memorable gig. Led by the Viking-hating Dandelion Naizen, Sugarshock! tore its way through a universal battle of the bands.. Concertgoers saw Sugarshock! shred the guitar and the space-baddies alike. And no wonder, with a robot in the band, an exiled princess and her powerful bodyguard, and a singer who is “empowered to use deadly force by a secret government agency” and is definitely not a Viking.

Funny and frenetic, “Sugarshock!” was about as pure Whedon as you can get, with Moon a master on the pens. With its venue closed down, the Eisner Award-winning web strip is no longer online, but was collected as a single issue in print and included in the “MySpace Dark Horse Presents” trade paperback.

7. Mucous Membrane

Hellblazer's Mucous Membrane

Before he was the manipulative master of the occult, “Hellblazer” John Constantine fronted early punk outfit Mucous Membrane with pals Gary Lester, Beano and Les. With an assist from roadie Chas Chandler, the group played a number of gigs in London between 1977-79 after their auspicious and fateful debut at Newcastle’s Casanova Club. The band broke up under tragic circumstances, however, while trying to collect their fee from Casanova proprietor (and noted occultist) Alex Logue. Unbeknownst to the band, who would never play another gig but whose fates would become inextricably bound, Logue’s daughter Astra had summoned the demon Norfulthing, which wasted no time killing her father. Constantine, knowing a bit of magic himself, conjured the demon Nergal to subdue it, but botched the naming and binding ritual; Norfulthing was defeated, but Nergal grabbed Astra and absconded with her back to Hell. Broken by the experience, Constantine was confined to the mental institution at Ravenscar. Even after his recovery, the Newcastle ordeal would be a defining event of John’s extraordinary life.

Mucous Membrane’s only single, “Venus of the Hardsell,” was supported by an ahead-of-its time (and thus largely forgotten) music video, spotlighted in “Hellblazer Annual” #1. Though the original video has been lost, fans have attempted to recreate it.

6. Sex Bob-Omb

We are Sex Bob-Omb!

Bryan Lee O’Malley’s “Scott Pilgrim” series, maybe the coolest comics of the ’00s, definitely had the band with the best name. Scott Pilgrim lives in a video game-infused reality in which fighting and defeating the lovely Ramona Flowers’ seven evil ex-boyfriends in a series of “boss fights” does not seem at all strange. He also plays bass in the video game-inspired band, joined by Stephen Stills, Kim Pine, and groupie Young Neil. So how does Sex Bob-Omb sound? They’re okay, but a song mix-up and robot attack scupper their dreams of stardom, at least in the band’s original lineup.

Things go considerably better for Sex Bob-Omb in the movie version, but Scott Pilgrim himself is still outside of the inner circle by the finale. Of course, this version had songs written by Beck rather than Stephen Stills, so that’s a big advantage.

5. The Mary Janes

mary-janes-rehearsal

MJ Watson leads Midtown High School’s hottest band, the Mary Janes, with good pal Gwen Stacy on drums. In this reality of Earth-65, Gwen is secretly the spectacular Spider-Woman, which wreaks no small amount of havoc on her ability to turn up for band practice, or major gigs for that matter. But Gwen’s got other stuff on her mind, like the fact that Spider-Woman has been framed for the murder of Peter Parker, and her police chief dad is hot on the arachnid menace’s trail. A supervillain attack at their first big show — aptly foiled by Spider-Gwen — made the Mary Janes famous, but after seemingly being a no-show for their big debut, Gwen is out of the band and MJ’s temper further fractures the remaining members of the group.

Although they’re given another shot at fame by former bandmate Felicia Hardy, now fronting the Black Cats, Em Jay and her crew know that this new opportunity has little to do with the music and everything to do with long-simmering vendettas. Oh well, at least they had that one great hit.

4. The Morrigan and Baphomet

Baphomet and the Morrigan: None More Goth

The tumultuous goth power couple in Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie’s indie hit “The Wicked and the Divine” are also the gods who put on the most killer show. Sure, others can offer musical ecstasy or dance hall valhalla, but the first time Baphomet and the Morrigan performed together in an abandoned Underground station, Baphomet ripped the Morrigan’s head off and gave a short speech before a restored Morrigan commenced knocking Baphomet about. They put their differences aside for one show-stopping number. None more goth.

With the Pantheon in crisis and gods taking sides with and against Ananke, who had held Morrigan captive before Baphomet and Minerva effected a daring escape, fans should be braced for a long wait before the Morrigan (and her alternate aspect Badb) take the stage for another soul-searing performance. That’s if she and Baphomet even survive the coming threat Ananke warns of in issue #22. In the meantime, with WicDiv’s dedicated cosplay community, perhaps some intrepid fans and bands could create a music video of Badb covering My Chemical Romance’s “I’m Not Okay (I Promise),” recreating her karaoke scene.

3. The Archies

Archie and the Archies

The Archies are likely the most successful comic book band outside of comics, with their 1969 hit “Sugar, Sugar” topping the Billboard charts in the real world for four weeks. Debuting on the animated series “The Archie Show,” The Archies soon migrated to comics as well, maintaining some approximation of their original lineup — Archie, Jughead, Reggie, Betty and Veronica — for a staggering five decades.

As well as playing double-bill gigs with Josie and the Pussycats, The Archies have toured with the Ramones and KISS, also enjoying off-stage adventures with these legendary bands. In addition to the astonishing feat of actually getting their albums released in the real world, the Archies further proved their marketing prowess by distributing their records in novel forms, including a cardboard cut-out EP on the backs of cereal boxes. Like many acts that have achieved worldwide admiration, in 2008 the Archies cut a Christmas album! Sadly, it failed to chart.

2. Dazzler

Dazzler

The power to turn sound into light made Dazzler the most spectacular star of the disco era. From the start, her powerful abilities made her a star both as a performer and a hero, with the X-Men, Avengers and even the villainous Hellfire Club vying to recruit Alison Blaire into their ranks. She outshone the Enchantress for a hot nightclub gig, kicking off a regular ballroom blitz. Revealing her mutant identity severely derailed her performing career, however, and a short-lived musical team-up with fellow mutant Lila Cheney, instead of jumpstarting a comeback, drew her into another superpowered conflict.

Like Madonna, through the years she’s continued adapting to popular music trends and, also like Madonna, these transitions have met with varying degrees of success. But her superhero star-power endures. Now that she seems to be immortal (see recent issues of “A-Force“), there’s no excuse for not becoming the bestselling artist of all-time.

In the Ultimate universe (RIP), Alison Blaire was a punk rather than a disco queen; this look and attitude strongly informs her current style, though injected with classic glam and modern chic for a look all her own.

1. Josie and the Pussycats

josie-and-the-pussycats

Who’s the best band in comics? There can only be one answer. As a band, Josie and the Pussycats is a phenomenon, packing arenas with legions of fans wherever they go. Josie, Melody and Valerie have played together since 1963, touring the country while coping with trials and travails of eternal adolescence. While the Archies may have played any number of gigs through the years in Archie Andrews’ long-running title, the Pussycats maintained an entire comic book series based solely on their adventures as a band for 106 issues; they also had their own Saturday morning cartoon show, which eventually set them up as the premiere rock band of outer space. A 2001 film chronicled the band’s early struggles with success and the sinister machinations of a recording industry executive, and tantalized fans with the Pussycats’ first new songs in decades.

With a new ongoing comic book series and appearances on the upcoming Riverdale TV series, Josie and the Pussycats are poised for a massive comeback. Get ready to rock!

Which fictional bands are you favorite to rock out with? Let us know in the comments!

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