Saturday, April 29, 2017

Rockstars Vol 1: Nativity In Blacklight Review

Written by: Joe Harris
Art team includes: Megan Hutchinson, Kelly Fitzpatrick, Michael David Thomas and Tom Muller
Cover Price: $9.99
Release Date: June 14, 2017
Publisher: Image Comics
Review by: Christopher Hyden

Spoilers Ahead! Skip to the end for spoiler free thoughts and aggregate score

When I picked up Rockstars back in December 2016, I got more than I bargained for. What on the surface appeared to be a comic about your typical “sex, drugs and rock n roll” lifestyle quickly revealed itself to be something else entirely. Well sort of, It still has those things, but they’re used as a vehicle to drive a much darker narrative. The story is set in modern day but goes back and forth between the present and the 1970's. In this review I will attempt to paint a picture but I will leave some gaps in the story between paragraphs. This is done intentionally, both to save myself some time and to give you more enjoyment of the book should you choose to read it. I will have final overall thoughts on the arc including thoughts on the art at the end of the review with a final aggregate score. I'll conclude this intro by saying that this tile is rated M and you should use your own discretion before purchasing or reading on. Let's get to it.

Set List
  1. Save the Life of My Child – Simon & Garfunkel
  2. Run Run Run – The Velvet Underground
  3. Sick Again – Led Zeppelin
  4. Sympathy for the Devil – The Rolling Stones
  5. Mr. Crowley – Ozzy Osbourne

Rockstars #1

Save the Life of My Child

“When darkness fell, excitement kissed the crowd and made them wild”

The series kicks off it's inaugural issue with a beautiful full page collage of various posters, album covers, and memorabilia of some of the late 60's- 70's rock n roll heavy hitters. Right off the bat I noticed The Beatles Revolver, Jimi Hendrix playing the guitar and a Led Zeppelin poster among others. Narrative dialogue fill the few cracks in an otherwise full page as our protagonist, Jackie Mayer, describes the mythos of rock n roll; from backwards messages to references of drugs and madness. This will set the tone for this issue and those to come.

We learn that Jackie has a gift of sorts that was passed down to him from his father. He is able to combine old fashion detective skills with a sort of tarot magic to unravel cold cases. The issue leads into the case of two missing teenage girls, Becky and Suzanne who went missing at a Blue Rider concert in the 1974. Becky was found dead in a back ally later that night but Suzanne vanished and was never seen again. We flash to 1974, the Blue Rider concert already in progress. Jimmy James, the guitarist and brainchild for the band is on stage mesmerizing the crowd with his riffs. There is a panel where his eye meets Becky's in the crowd. A group of girls warn Becky that if she messes with the bull, she should grab him by the horns.

In present day we meet with Jackie as he arrives at the crime scene of an alleyway murder in the same location that Becky's body was discovered decades ago. This would seem coincidental except that Jackie notices that the body was left positioned in the exact same manner and that a mysterious rune-like marking was left on her skin matching the one found on Becky. We are then introduced to our second lead character Dorothy Buell, a music writer and investigative reporter.

Later that evening our two characters arrive independently at the coroner’s building after hours. Each want to take a look at the body that was discovered that day. This is when the book concludes with quite surprise.  A group of ghastly women show up at the morgue to “claim” the body. Jackie and Dorothy hide under a mortician table why the wraith like women dance with the corpse. To Jackie's surprise one of the girls matches the photo of Suzanne!

*As a side note, the cover for issue 1 was incredible. It had several layers to the background and the back cover was a mirror image with the wraith like faces coming through right at you! Very cool and well done.


Rockstars #2

Run Run Run

“When she turned blue, all the angels screamed. They didn't know, they couldn't make the scene ”

This issue picks up right where issue one ended. The wraith like people call themselves the “Gamesmen” and they begin to each sing a different rock n roll song. Jackie points out that it's like listening to 5 different radio stations at once. Dorothy attempts to take photos of the Gamesmen but it become apparent that they are unable to be photographed. About this time Jackie and Dorothy are discovered and have to make a hasty escape. So hasty, in fact, that Jackie drops one of his divination cards and it falls into the hands of Sable, the lead Gamesmen.

Jackie and Dorothy lay low in a nearby diner and Dorothy tries to get Jackie to explain the secret behind his cards. The duo decide to head to a club to try and track the only clue they have on the murdered girl from earlier. Inside the crowded club Dorothy tries to work her way backstage when in the crowd Jackie is passed by a figure that is familiar to him - Jimmy James!

Elsewhere in a distinguished looking car, Sable, Suzanne and a third Gamesmen meet with a mysterious gentleman. The gentleman's face is shrouded in shadow as he holds Jackie's card up and examines it. Narration in the mysterious man's voice pans the last couple of pages informing the reader of a game that has been played since “the very beginning of things”.


Rockstars #3

Sick Again

“Oh, do you know my name? Do I look the same? You know I'm the one you want. I must be the one you need.”

In the thrum of the crowd Jackie sees an ephemeral dragon beckoning him in Jimmy James departure. The illusion is soon shattered as police begin clearing out the club – the manager was found murdered in his office! Jackie's mystically attuned mind is unable to pick up any clues and the two decide to go they're separate ways in investigating the murders.

Dorothy goes to speak to family of the murdered girl to gain any insight into the events of that night. She is startled to discover the presence of Suzanne in the mother's living room although it appears that only Dorothy can see or hear her. Dorothy, in a state of panic, drops her notepad in the hallway as she hastily excuses herself to the bathroom. Suzanne continues to taunt Dorothy by telling her that she doesn’t know the kind of powers shes dealing with. Back in the hall, Dorothy's pad is discovered and read by the mother, who then learns the truth that her daughter is dead. The police had not yet notified the family.

Meanwhile Jackie arrives at Jimmy James mansion, long thought abandoned. Inside the musty foyer Jackie is shocked to find Jimmy James was expecting him. Jackie lowers his guard in awe of being in the presence of rock n rolls greatest idol. Jimmy leads Jackie deeper into the mansion while he recalls stories of past sexual conquests. In a room that looks made for black magic rituals, Jimmy casts a spell on Jackie leaving him paralyzed on the floor. The dragon reappears and Jimmy tells Jackie that he has much to show him.


Rockstars #4

Sympathy for the Devil

“Pleased to meet you, hope you guessed my name”

Caught in the snare of a black magic spell, Jackie begins to have flashbacks to his childhood where notably, he predicts the suicide of Nirvana front man Kurt Cobain two days before his death. These memories are interspersed with scenes of a raving Jimmy James, dressed in his Black Mass finest, preparing a ceremonial dagger. Apparently Jimmy James has lost his connection to some greater power and hopes to regain it through a blood sacrifice. Jimmy prepares to plunge the dagger into Jackie's chest when suddenly James is repelled by a flash of light! On Jackie's chest the mystical rune that we've seen throughout the series appears to be burned onto Jackie's flesh.

The mysterious man from the second issue enters the room and saves Jackie just before Jimmy is able to succeed in his second attempt. Off panel there is some screaming and in the next panel it seems that Jimmy is missing a finger. Jimmy begs the mystery man to take him back and that he only meant to play the game on his own for a jag. The man leaves Jimmy in saying that nobody ever leaves him and eludes to something that Jimmy did that could have greater consequences down the road. Jackie catches a ride with the stranger and we get an awesome visual of a demonic like presence emanating for him in one panel. The stranger tells Jackie that he has known an innumerable number of artists who think they have the game figured out, but that they play small games and are always looking to cheat. The stranger tells Jackie that he's special and that no one is going to take him without a fight.

Meanwhile in the diner from last issue Dorothy is at a table, alone, working on her article when Jimmy James appears and tells her that he's got a story to tell her.


Rockstars #5

Mr. Crowley

“Your lifestyle to me seemed so tragic, with the thrill of it all. You fooled all the people with magic,
yeah, you waited on Satan's call.”

This issue opens up with a scene familiar to those who can recall “the day the music died”. Buddy Holly is preparing to board his plane in a snowstorm that would see his death. This is Jimmy James narrating to Dorothy his history. Jimmy James is a rogue Gamesmen. He reveals that the Gamesmen were behind the urban legends and mythos or rock n roll. When Dorothy pointedly asks if he is confessing to killing Buddy Holly, James replies that he is the reason that Buddy Holly lived (that he lives in rock lore).

Elsewhere Jackie and the stranger are in what appears to be a record store. We learn that the stranger's name is Sonny. Jackie is immediately enraptured by the rarities in room and comments that many of these albums he has never heard of. Sonny says that he is ultimately a collector who prides himself in collecting unfinished work. Jackie asks if he has a record player available because he is very interested in the unheard of Blue Rider albums. Sonny tells Jackie that he knows that he has no need for one. Jackie confused picks up the record and suddenly a holographic projection of the band appears playing music. Sonny states that he has an eye for talent but the problem is that he's not the only one looking.

Back in the diner Jimmy continues his story about how he decided to go rogue and take up the guitar and “win the game”. During the 1960's, he explains, he failed to predict the rise of Elvis and The Beatles but knew when the time was right he would seize the fame for himself. He became Jimmy James and formed Blue Rider.

In the record store Jackie asks Sonny who was responsible for the murder of the girl from issue one that he and Dorothy found. Sonny explains that behind every beloved act of carnal expression a host of benefactors appear to ensure rock n roll primacy carries on. Suddenly Jackie and Sonny appear in what appears to be an executive's office. Sonny admits that Jackie reminds him of the boys father. Jackie is shocked to learn that his father was employed by Sonny. Sonny tells Jackie that his father was a good man as he casts his own spell on Jackie. Jackie wakes up in Sonny's car as Sonny informs him that he cast a spell to break the bindings that the dragon had put on him. Sonny drops of Jackie outside the diner and tells him that he'll be looking out for him. Inside the empty diner Jackie attempts to focus his thoughts when Dorothy approaches him from behind. She nonchalantly tells Jackie everything she learned for Jimmy James. Jackie is impressed but Dorothy shrugs it off saying that she's a journalist, what else should he expect.


Bits and Pieces:

This wraps up the first story arc, Nativity in Blacklight.  I found the story to be pretty interesting despite having to read the last two issues multiple times to really understand what was going on. This book gets high marks for its stellar artwork and the skill with which the writer blends rock n roll myth and reality. This book felt like it was made of three parts, One part Led Zeppelin/Black Sabbath, One part Supernatural and one part Almost Famous. If you are a fan of 70's era rock and don't mind some mysticism thrown in, then I can recommend this book to you.


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