It took me some time to decide how to introduce this particular part of the O Tempora site. After all, how does one do justice to the undisputed king of dark and unwholesome angst, the ultimate rock'n'roll showman, who thrives on inspiring terror in his audience. I toyed with the idea of "Welcome to my Nightmare", but that seemed far too obvious. In the end, I just sat back, and let the words flow out, my fingers dancing like flames across the keyboard.
Alice Cooper has done what other stars only dream of - he has entered the realms of modern popular folklore. It all started in 1969, when five guys in Phoenix, Arizona got together to form a rock group. The driving force behind this venture was a strange young man, who had decided to change his name to that of a 17th century witch, and thereby blur gender distinctions in a way that the powers that be found deeply disturbing. Following a move to Detroit the band hit the big time, and went on a rampage across the country, kicking up controversy wherever they went.
The Alice Cooper stage show - often immitated, but never equalled - has become legendary. The weird sexually ambivalent singer would strut about the stage butchering babies, spewing blood, and generally exuding evil in every conceivable way, but there was a moral ambiguity to the performances, because after Alice had finished his depravity, he would be executed. A just ending you might think; except that Alice Cooper would always come back for the next show, thereby conquering even death.
By 1994, Alice Cooper's star had started to fade a little. The release of "The Last Temptation" changed all that. The end result of a partnership with Neil Gaiman - the creator of "The Sandman" - "The Last Temptation" reaffirmed his creative genius in the minds of his public. A cutting edge album, and a stunning comic book to accompany it! Who could ask for more? Here for your viewing and listening pleasure are some highlights from both. Enjoy, and always remember that before Marilyn Manson, there was Alice Cooper.
FOREWORD BY NEIL GAIMAN
It seems only natural that the house of wax is next to the graveyard. It's cold and dark, and a low mist smudges the light of the gas lamps that flicker unreliably. You walk through the graveyard, thick clay sticking to your boots, weighing you down.
The House of Wax is a huge tent, made of thin brown leather which hangs lifelessly in the windless mist. You walk through the entrance, muddy boots rustling through dead leaves. The mist curls and writhes in the corner of the tent. You step back, nervously. "You've come to see the sideshow," says a voice from behind you.
"Of course you have."
You turn and look at the man. His clothes were once elegant, but are now shiny and frayed at the edges. His hair is long and black, his face is thin, his eyes set deep in his head. He rasies his top hat to you, and grins like a wolf.
He gestures with his stick. A hundred candles burst into flame, illuminating a bad place. Wax statues stand in the tent, each on its own raised pedastal. The showman walks you over to a statue. He runs a finger down its spangled side. The life-sized figure is clasping a microphone. It's a rock and roll star, black make-up outlining its face and mouth. The sign next to it reads ALICE COOPER. At its feet sits a copy of Marvel Premiere no. 50.
"He looks like you," you tell the showman.
"There's a certain resemblance," he admits.
You walk past a wax statue of an artist, a tall man with mustachios and a beard that Dali might have envied, painting at an easel. The word Zulli is painted carefully on his back. Next to him is a wax statue of a man wearing a leather jacket and dark glasses. He has dark hair and black jeans. He is holding a placard with the word writer on it. "Do you want to hear what he has to say?" asks the showman.
You shrug. There's a rustling at the edge of the tent; you dart a glance, but see nothing other than wax statues, frozen in awkward poses. The showman takes a tarnished silver coin from his pocket, and forces it between the lips of the statue. "That's the motto of the lot," he tells you, his voice little more than a whisper, "put a penny in the slot."
The statue of the writer moves, mechanically. A hand raises, in slow jerking movements. A head tilts. The lips part, revealing no sign of the coin the showman placed between them. It begins to talk to us...
CREG BAISDEN ON NEIL GAIMAN (WRITER)
His greatest achievement to date is a string of perspicaciously crafted comics and graphic novels, including VIOLENT CASES (1987) and BLACK ORCHID (1988-89) with artist Dave McKean, and the wildly popular SANDMAN series... with numerous artists. Gaiman is also responsible for the acclaimed four-volume BOOKS OF MAGIC (1990-91), continuing Alan Moore's MIRACLE MAN (nee MARVELMAN) series (1990 to present), and for the graphic novel SIGNAL TO NOISE, also with McKean (1992). These as well as a plethora of one-shots and short pieces, including HELLBLAZER 27 (1990) SEVEN DEADLY SINS, and OUTRAGEOUS TALES FROM THE OLD TESTAMENT have made Gaiman one of the most popular writers in comics today. All of which followed a considerable career in freelance journalism...
However unlikely in the course of such eclectic work, Alice Cooper's THE LAST TEMPTATION presents something new for Gaiman: "There really has been no good rock and roll comics," he says. "My challenge with THE LAST TEMPTATION was to answer my own question: Who says rock and roll comics have to be crap?"
"The fun thing is that we didn't set out to do a comic about rock and roll at all," he continues. "We've made a story about Steven and the showman, the fictional character that Alice Cooper really is. There's a fascinating level on which Alice is a genuine 20th century horror icon like Dracula and Freddy Kreuger... The story came about, and came out, very organic. There's a blackened whiteness to itwhich is something that came much more from Alice. My stories are generally various shades of gray, where it's hard to classify people as entirely good or entirely evil. Most of my people are actual people in fantastic situations. With Alice we've found very much a morality play aspect to the story, with a fantastic figure inside a fantastic dilemma."
CREG BAISDEN ON MICHAEL ZULLI (ARTIST)
"You get what you're looking for," says Michael Zulli regarding his midstream departure from formal art education. "If you go for the long haul or the proverbial grade, you ultimately have to suck up to someone's theory and adopt their approach. I thought it was better to form my own through experience." That independent ethic first found expression in comics with THE PUMA BLUES...
A consisten contributor to Stephen R. Bissette's legendary TABOO anthology (issues 2-7), Zulli joined Gaiman there in 1992 with a stunning 26-page prologue to their ambitious SWEENY TODD, THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET (TABOO 7). Though unseen by the public since, their twisting sojourn through the bloody legend, inconclusive truth, and fanciful fact around the barber turned human butcher has continued apace, "now squatting," in Zulli's words, "huge and monstrous on the horizon - be on the look out..."
Zulli has made sporadic appearances in various DC VERTIGO titles (including the middle of the three issues in writer James Robinson's WITCHCRAFT series) following DC's unceremonious refusal in 1989 of Zulli's nearly completed MOURNING OF THE MAGICIAN, illustrated from an approved script by Rick Veitch for SWAMP THING 88. In keeping with Zulli's iconoclastic work, Veitch's story portrayed the elemental Swamp Thing as comforting Christ in Gethsemane, and ultimately assuming the form of the wooden cross upon which the Messiah was crucified. Afraid of public reaction, DC killed the scrupulously rendered work at the eleventh hour.
Of Alice Cooper's THE LAST TEMPTATION, Zulli notes, "It's always cool working with Neil, and Alice is a legend - you don't really need to say anything more about him."
AFTERWORD BY NEIL GAIMAN
The wax statue of the writer smiles, nods, closes its mouth and, mechanically returns to the position it was in to begin with. Its skin has the sheen of old wax, or of a fresh corpse. The showman turns to you. There's something feral in his smile, something wolk-like in his eyes. "Is there anything else you need to know?" he asks.
You shake your head, nervously, and begin to back away through the tent, and the wax people. You woul feel far more comfortable back in the graveyard, of that you have no doubt at all.
The showman gestures. One by one, the candles that illumiate the tent flicker and go out, casting strange shadows across the inside of the tent as they die, shadows that make the wax figures seem to move, to clamber down from their pedastals, to walk towards you. You aren't moving. You are frozen in place. You can't look away.
"Don't go," says the showman. "We've got other things to show you." He is fumbling with one gloved hand at the side of his face. "Look." His face comes away, as if it's hinged, revealing a skull the yellow of old ivory. A tiny snake, the green of a fresh-cut emerald, writhes in the empty eye socket. It hisses at you, and bares its fangs.
The spell is broken. You can move once more: you take a step back, then begin to run, looking frantically for the way out. Somewhere there must be a way out... You're all alone. The rustling gets louder now. It seems to come from all around you. And then the last candle goes out...
A FINAL WORD FROM ALICE COOPER
Now wasn't that fun? And you were afraid to go with me into my latest nightmare! I told you that you'd be safe with me. Now it's time to pull up the covers, say your prayers and remember... your next temptation may be your last temptation.
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