Written by Amy Chu
Art by Kewbar Baal and Schimerys Baal
Lettering by Troy Peteri
Published by Dynamite Entertainment
'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10
The biggest merchandising machine in rock 'n roll history make their return to comic books with Dynamite Entertainment's KISS #1: a dystopian tale of runaway teens that melds the eponymous silver and black axe-slingers with a Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers-esque origin. Despite the dark nature of its setting, writer Amy Chu and artist Kewbar Baal establish a light and fluffy tone to this relatively slow-paced first issue that struggles to find a compelling voice for itself outside of its cliched locale.
Deep underground, the survivors of the Great War live in the city of Blackwell. Sheltered from an Earth scorched by an endless war, the last few remnants of the human race are ruled by the close-minded Council, who quash any attempt to explore the ruined and desolate earth above. So far, so standard. Naturally, the selling point here should be the eponymous Cat, Demon, Starchild, and Spaceman, the otherworldly alter-egos that provide the bedrock of the generation-spanning appeal of the band. These characters are well-mapped at this point, having appeared in stories across multiple mediums: from the original blood-inked Marvel series to the Psycho Circus video game to a direct-to-DVD Scooby Doo crossover. Chu questionably decides to save the best for later here; the famous foursome only appearing as ghostly Zordon-like visions looming against the apocalyptic skyline. Needless to say, Amy Chu's script firmly places KISS #1 in teaser territory as far as the title characters are concerned. Still, there’s a fair share of fan service in here, taking a fair share of story beats from the poorly received 1981 concept album Music from The Elder.
Away from the source material, Chu wisely steers KISS #1 into Saturday morning cartoon territory, introducing the reader to four rebellious teens who run headlong into the Council’s menacing robots as they break past city limits and stumble into an ancient citadel of unknown origin. Chu’s script eschews subtlety for exclamation marks, painting a fairly generic portrait of a suppressed society hiding in fear. The series' four main characters - a pair of twins, a level-headed one and an adventurous one - have little to them past the bare characterization provided by the rough archetypes they represent. Chu has a habit of using her characters to over-explain the obvious (“I feel... cool air.” says Eran as he breaks out of a sewer grate and into a verdant garden), aiding the cartoony feel but doing little for the reader's intelligence.
Visually, KISS #1 is a mixed bag. An evocative and moody horror tinged main cover (one of ten!) hides strangely minimalist interior artwork. Kewbar Baal's use of wide flat surfaces give figures and backgrounds alike an almost matte finish, highlighted by colorist Schimerys Baal's use of bright orange and green to lead the eye across the page and brighten up the dingy confines of Blackwell. Kewbar Baal inks his own work with thick lines that brings the best out of his artwork, filling shadow with large sections of flat black that helps to sell the underground setting. Its an odd look, too bright to be moody and too shrouded in black to properly evoke the “teens with attitude get powers!” trope it so strictly adheres to.
Ultimately, KISS #1 struggles to provide a real hook throughout its 22-page runtime, doing little to draw in the average reading audience and only offering an unsatisfying glimpse of the foursome for die-hard soldiers of the KISS Army. There’s a bizarre disparity here between the apocalyptic premise and the light tone of the issue’s artwork and script that throws up some hard questions about the issue’s target audience. This reviewer is not a fan of the “wait for the collected edition” adage, but its a fitting decree for Dynamite Entertainment’s KISS #1.