Released: 2005, Dark Horse
Way back in early 1994 there was quite abut of hype about the forthcoming Alice Cooper album; THE LAST TEMPTATION. The previous pair of albums had been big hard rocking affairs with lots of hit singles, big name producers and big-name guest-stars. In the three years since the last album, Alice sat down and had a bit if a rethink of the direction and came up with something darker, heavier and more akin to Alice's darker side. It was a concept album, his 20th album overall and brought back the iconic character, Steven.
Much of the hype was due to a comic-book tie-in and the artwork of author Neil Gaiman of The Sandman fame, a comic that was very popular in the earlier 90's. The comic, illustrated by Michael Zulli, was tied in with a video and the cover-art for the album was done by Dave McKean. Epic spared no expense for promotion and there was even a TV commercial for the comic/album crossover. However on my little cassette copy of THE LAST TEMPTATION, the elaborate art and presentation didn't really translate well. The album itself didn't immediately thrill me, (although over time I have come to appreciate its charms) but I still feel it is a dark horse in his massive catalogue. Accordingly, I never did go and buy the three comics at the time. Shame on me.
Fast-forward about 15 years and one day while browsing in the comic shop I found the hardback version THE LAST TEMPTATION for a very fair price and grabbed it. I must say after reading the comic/graphic novel the albums storyline makes more sense.
Hard bound, 102 pages and black and white the three-part comic is presented nicely. There is a brief intro and comments from Gaiman, fleshing out the creative process and telling of Gaiman's virtual 'audition' and interview with Alice to tackle the project. The story is about the temptation(s) of the main character, a teenager named Steven, tempted by the Grand Guignol, meaning (lifted from wikipedia) “… a general term for graphic, amoral horror entertainment, a genre popular from Elizabethan and Jacobean theatre…to today's splatter films.” Fair enough. A mysterious showman (Cooper) guides the Steven through his various adventures supplied by an old theater with visitations and visions from various spectres and so on…I’m not really doing the excellent storyline justice by simplifying it, but it is an excellent gothic horror tale in the Alice cooper tradition. It also doubles nicely as a tale of the alienation of youth (a favourite theme a Alice Cooper’s) which ties in well with songs from the album like ‘Lost In America’. The art is dark and claustrophobic at times, suiting the mood of the story. Being in black and white ads to the atmosphere. It is an adult comic, not in the sexual sense, nor does it have explicit violence, but there are horror elements and some mild gore. I really enjoy reading it now and again, usually around Halloween.
Only a couple of Metal artists have been big enough to have a comic crossover, Kiss and Alice and both have followed a very similar trajectory. Both had Marvel Special Editions back in the 70's and both had darker, more explicit comics come out in the 90's via Darkhorse. Even without the album tie-in, THE LAST TEMPTATION could easily stand-alone based on the art and engaging storyline. For Alice Cooper fans, his involvement is the icing on the cake.