Alice Cooper: Comic Book Hero/Character/Whatever – Marvel Premiere #50
Though I can’t say I’ve ever been a fan of Alice Cooper’s music — more from lack of exposure than distaste — I’ve always been enthusiastic about him as an entertainer. It’s hard not to like the cut of his jib. Not only has he always struck one as smarter than the average bear, as well as a genuinely nice, humble guy, he’s also managed to pull off a spectacular cross-media trifecta of sorts. He played the lead zombie bum in John Carpenter’s cult classic horror film, Prince of Darkness. He had that great cameo in the first Wayne’s World movie, wherein he gave a backstage primer to Mike Myers and Dana Carvey about Milwaukee’s name and its socialist mayors. Finally, and most importantly, he spent some time in the corner of Jake “The Snake” Roberts during the height of the World Wrestling Federation’s Hulkamania era — at the legendary WrestleMania III, no less. After Roberts’ match, Cooper threw Damien the snake onto the Honky Tonk Man’s manager, “The Mouth of the South” Jimmy Hart. Because why not? Life’s rich pageant, you know? That he rejected Raquel Welch in her prime is a cherry on top. Winning.
Yet his career hasn’t been an unalloyed romp. Cooper, like so many rock stars, has had his struggles with booze. Wasn’t the first, won’t be the last. But in the proud tradition of personal difficulties transformed into art, Cooper’s alcoholism and subsequent sanitarium stay formed the subject matter for one of his albums, 1978’s From the Inside. And From the Inside was the subject matter for, of all things, the 50th issue of Marvel Premiere.
Even though Cooper’s makeup and general presentation make him an aesthetic fit for the world of tights and capes, the marriage is an odd one. Yet here it is: a 1979 comic book with Alice Cooper front and center. The script is credited to Cooper, Jim Salicrup, Roger Stern and Ed Hannigan, while the art is provided by Tom Sutton and Terry Austin. It’s a sequential art adaptation of the From the Inside concept album, with assorted real-life characters who were subjects of songs — Nurse Rozetta, Millie and Billie, Jackknife Johnny — the players in a Cuckoo Nest-like mental ward (if you squint real hard at one point, you can almost make out Jack Nicholson in the background).
How he winds up in an insane asylum when he just needs to dry out requires some explanation — and hey, the comic provides it!:
Soon Alice is getting his hair cut, his makeup wiped off, and some good shock treatments to the cerebral cortex, thanks to a doctor with Art Garfunkel hair. Here’s his — and our — introduction to the rest of the cast (Nurse Rozetta and her Dr. Fate breasts are at the center, Millie and Billie are in the lower left corner, and Jackknife Johnny is in the one with the toy gun):
There are background cameos galore, inserted by the mischievous pen of Mr. Austin. This panel has Bluto, Wimpy, Popeye, Kermit the Frog and the Hulk, among others:
The grand statement of the book — and in turn the album — is that we’re all nuts in our own way. We’re all crazy, from the certified to the mundane. This point is made clear to Alice when he escapes the hospital and finds that Alex Cooper, the tire fetishist nut for whom he was originally mistaken, is now running a successful campaign for public office:
Cooper is a genius in his way. Enough people have said it, so I’m inclined to believe it. But this comic is a dud. It’s beneath the talents of everyone involved, from Cooper right along down. The social commentary is weak as water, and the attempts at humor are forced, making the whole thing like a really, really bad (and really, really long) Mad feature. Yet this was a backdoor pilot of sorts, for a potential Alice Cooper ongoing series, as the end of this background piece makes clear:
One imagines that the reader mail wasn’t all that enthusiastic. Though Cooper would go on to have other comic dalliances — with Neil Gaiman handling the scripting chores — this iteration was stillborn. But we still love him. And contretemps with the Honky Tonk Man remains the apex of his non-music career.