Dynamite Entertainment is the latest publisher to give fans their first kiss, as the newest comic to feature the frightening foursome has hit the stands in the form of Amy Chu and Kewber Baal’s intriguing but somewhat lackluster “KISS” #1.
These same fans have had to wait a few years to see their favorite band get the four-color treatment after IDW Publishing wrapped up their licensing stint with the group about three years ago, and this issue serves as the launch point for first of several series planned by the new publisher. While the new era of KISS comics has begun, readers still need to wait for the quartet to appear, though, as Chu and Baal’s introductory issue feature a plethora of references to the band’s music, but not the bandmembers themselves, save for a group vignette on the first and final pages.
Chu takes a serious approach to the franchise, but the post-apocalyptic backdrop of her story immediately comes across as well-worn and stale. A “Great War” centuries ago has devastated the environment and left the planet surface uninhabitable, so remnants of Earth’s population have settled in the underground patchwork city known as Blackwell. The story centers around four teens who begin to question the way of their claustrophobic existence, and the beginning of their quest to find out more about the world around, and above, the only one they’ve known.
There’s no harm in telling another story featuring a war-ravaged world, or its survivors establishing a haven from it, or its children experiencing a curious wanderlust, but there’s little to supplement Chu’s story to make it unique or more interesting. Clearly published for KISS Army enlistees, fans picking up this comic could probably weather either the absence of their rock heroes or any real storyline of substance, but not both. The setting is unique, but only for a KISS comic, and while there are multiple references to the band’s lyrics and some nicely rendered scenery incorporating the band’s iconic caricatures, it’s not enough to offset some weary worldbuilding. The introduction reads more like a crossover between KISS and any number of everyday sci-fi stories, rather than one intended to showcase the personas of the group.
If readers are expecting the four young lead characters to somehow each be associated with The Demon, Starchild, Spaceman, and The Cat, it doesn’t happen, at least yet, nor is there any indication that it will. The flat characters with equally lifeless dialogue aren’t enough to satisfy readers who want leads as dynamic as their favorite band. And Baal’s art, despite some cool designs, is static and has little in the way of flair save for the allusions to the band’s imagery.
Anyone less than a diehard KISS fan might find this issue lacking; Chu takes the admittedly bold step of using source material solely from what’s largely considered by the band’s fans to be their most hated release: 1981’s “Music From The Elder,” an atypical concept album released during a transitional time for KISS in the midst of their rapid decline in popularity. While a single from the album, “A World Without Heroes,” was moderately successful and its lyrics are used to open this issue’s story, casual fans who were less than enamored with that release won’t be left with much of a first impression. Even stranger, the concept here doesn’t seem to align with that of the album, although that could be clarified in future issues.
Past series at least had some kind of hook; Image Comics’ “KISS: Psycho Circus” from the late 90’s was a cosmic, celestial delight that was the “Sandman” of KISS comics, Dark Horse Comics’ subsequent series was a fun, straightforward superhero-like affair, and IDW’s “KISS Kids” was an all-ages treat. Chu creates something that’s indeed different from those comics, but it doesn’t succeed because her ingredients of otherwise tired concepts combined with puzzling source material don’t gel into anything that comic fans, let alone KISS comic fans, need, or would even want.
“KISS” #1 isn’t a hack job; it makes an effort and doesn’t try to copy previous KISS comic stories, but unlike its predecessors, it just doesn’t work. There’s room for the remainder of the series to adjust, but it requires readers to buy into a premise that this issue just doesn’t sell.