Friday, August 23, 2013

Review: KISS Kids #1

The larger-than-life personas of rock-n-roll icons KISS have always naturally lent themselves to treatments as comic book characters, and in the all-ages "KISS Kids" #1, it turns out they lend themselves pretty well to reinterpretation as pint-sized partyers who can rock-n-roll all night -- or at least until bedtime. As reimagined by writers Chris Ryall and Tom Waltz, and humorously drawn by Jose Holder, KISS can now be described in a manner that few if any have described them before: cute and funny.

Publishers have made KISS comics for decades, to varying levels of success. The more successful incarnations were those that were aptly handled by capable creators who "got" what the band is about, while others suffered by writers who didn't and took the concept way too seriously. Ryall and Waltz find that middle ground; they understand and use the basic essence of each of the four characters as a springboard to a comedic set of kid-like adventures, and, well, that's about it. They're still KISS, but they still have to go to school and endure evil babysitters just like all the other kids. It's a much lighter and looser interpretation that doesn't feel compelled to make all kinds of contrived, obligatory references to the band's songs and character traits that past efforts have.

In fact, this take on the franchise allows for clever play on some of the band's song and album titles, like a shoe store called "Carnival of Soles." It's a lighthearted, almost self-parodying kind of humor that's been completely absent in any past comic that's been blessed by the group, and this lighter approach makes it a lot more welcoming to readers who might have been less than thrilled by past KISS comics. One of the quartet in particular, "Spacey", in a take-off of Ace Frehley's "Spaceman" persona, seems especially victimized by this self-parody when the writers take the intended meaning of his moniker, that of a literal man from space, and changing it to the more self-deprecating meaning of being forgetful and loopy. It's all in good-natured fun, although the ex-communicated Frehley might not think so, if he were to ever see this. It would only seem odd to fans already familiar with the other band members' caricatures, as kiddie versions of the remaining three; Starchild, Catkid, and Li'l Demon; are straightforward conversions from their adult counterparts.

The laughs are all simple, so younger kids will get them, but funny enough for anyone older. Even those not all that familiar with the band will get the humor, although there are some fun touches that will squeeze out additional laughs from those who have actually seen the band, whether in a performance or the loved-and-loathed quasi-classic TV movie "KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park." Supporting the uncluttered and simple comedy, the issue is broken into several undemanding short stories ranging from one to five pages each, so it's ideal for children or anyone who prefers KISS in small doses.

Jose Holder takes a deliberate and pleasing cartoonish route; the KISS kids all have big heads, big feet and four fingers on each hand; the latter of which would make how well they manage their guitars the interesting subject a future story. The KISS tykes all have annoying parents that make them partake in hated activities, like shopping for back-to-school clothes, but are only seen from behind and their faces are never shown; they exist in this comic only as complications in the lives of these kids, which as all kids believe at one point or another, is all that parents really seem to do.

KISS has always been a franchise that's been seen as larger than life by their fans, and past comics have always tried to reflect that.

But "KISS Kids" is a refreshing, pleasant, and unassuming comic that proves smaller can be better, and readers of all kinds, whether young or old, fans or not, can readily lick it up.