Another week, another story from my high school day. Sure we ran out of comic books with the collapse of CrossGen Comics (for more on that see my previous article) but we still had plenty of graphic novels and manga. I’ll never understand why my school library carried so many of these, including the first two Akira volumes, but I am glad they did. One particular graphic novel that caught my interest was a story called The Last Temptation, another recommendation by Mr. Walton. I’m a little embarrassed to admit that it wasn’t until several years later that I realized this was based upon an album of the same name. Now, when you write for a website called Music and Comics, there can be no bigger boon than an album that inspired a graphic novel.
Especially when the album is by the legendary Alice Cooper and the novel is penned by the counterculture icon Neil Gaiman.
For those of you unfamiliar with Alice Cooper’s work he is deemed the innovator of “shock rock”. For Cooper it wasn’t just about the music, it was the performance and presentation that mattered. First and foremost Cooper was a showman. Between gruesome and macabre stage shows featuring decapitated baby dolls, dental torture scenes and even a recurring guillotine for Cooper’s various mock executions it was safe to say you weren’t going to see him on tour for a nice quiet evening.
Most of his most recognized and cherished work stems from his prime of the 70s where he released such timeless classics as School’s Out and Billion Dollar Babies (yours truly has a soft spot for He’s Back(The Man Behind The Mask) but that comes from his 1986 album Constrictor.) So it may surprise you that this hallmark piece of Cooper lore comes as late as 1994.
The Last Temptation album was Cooper’s 20th studio album and released with ten tracks, telling the story of a young boy named Steven who was offered a chance to join the traveling troupe of “the Showman”. It is clear right from the start that this is no ordinary stage show and that the price to join the fun might be Steven’s very soul. The name Steven might be familiar to Cooper fans as he was the protagonist of another album Welcome To My Nightmare.
I highly recommend listening to the ten-track album in one sitting, not difficult at a total run time of just over fifty minutes. The story is conveyed well through the music and there is a great amount of variety throughout, as fans will have come to expect of Cooper’s music. Not every track is a hit, but the ones that standout I believe represent some of his best work.
For me the centerpiece of this album is the almost titular You’re My Temptation, the fifth track wherein Steven is being tempted by the vision of a woman named Mercy. The track is written by Cooper, Jack Blades and Tommy Shaw. Stef Burns gives the piece an absolutely god tier guitar riff which blends perfectly with Cooper’s dirge-like lyrics. The piece is simultaneously creepy and seductive but is at it’s heart pure hard rock. Also of note are the two tracks that were eventually made into music videos: Lost in America and It’s Me. The former is a classic bit of Cooper in the same vein as School’s Out and the latter is an acoustic rock piece with some incredible harmonics during the chorus.
Concurrent with the release of the album was the comic of the same name, written by Neil Gaiman and illustrated by Michael Zulli. Neil Gaiman is a man who probably needs almost as little an introduction as Alice Cooper. He’s amassed a rather impressive bibliography, of particular note Coraline which was released as nightmare-inducing children’s film in 2009 and American Gods his 2001 novel which was adapted for television last year. Gaiman and Zulli also worked together on The Sandman comic series, published by DC Comics.
The Last Temptation comic was originally released in three-acts by Marvel Comics, each act named after a track in the album: Bad Place Alone, Unholy War, and Cleansed By Fire. It was later released as a trade paperback by Dark Horse Comics. The story of the comic remains identical to that of the album. The “Showman” in the comic appears as Alice Cooper himself, his iconic makeup and attire giving a great sinister vibe to this devilish character. The connections between the album and comic are a little on the nose at times. During the Lost In America music video, you can see panels from the comic and various lyrics are used wholesale as dialogue throughout the graphic novel.
I personally recommend both the album and graphic novel. If you’re a Cooper fan, it’s more of the same stuff you love. If you’re not, while it’s maybe not an ideal introduction to his work it’s still an incredible concept with some really strong songs. The graphic novel was my introduction to this and it remains one of my favorite pieces of Gaiman’s work. Admittedly most of the characters, even Steven himself are fairly bland but it’s all worth it for the Showman who is one of the best written and illustrated villains I’ve ever seen. For those of you bold enough to attend the Grandest Guignol, you will find it well worth your time.
If you’re interested, here’s a few links to where you can pick up the graphic novel and the album: