I was looking on the bookshelves for something to read that wouldn’t require too much thought, and this copy of the Neil Gaiman/Alice Cooper collaboration The Last Temptation jumped out. A horror graphic novel seems perfect for July 4 in America 2022. It’s weird how I have learned to tolerate gore and horror, even going so far as starting a Stranger Things watch. But I suppose given the daily shitshow of gun violence, intolerance and repression in the land of the free and home of the brave, monsters just don’t seem as scary as Supreme Court Justices or the US Senate. So here we go.
This series originally came out in 1994 with a 20th anniversary compilation released in 2014. According to the forward, Alice Cooper approached Gaiman to work with him on a story to be released alongside a concept album. Cooper is a fan of Gaiman’s work and the feeling was mutual. The end of the 20th anniversary edition includes some of their correspondence and story outlines that resulted from the initial meetings. I must confess that I am not terribly familiar with Cooper’s music other than the songs everybody knows, but this story is meant to be a companion piece to his album Lost in America.
The story features a protagonist named Steven, who seems to be 12 or 13. He’s a quiet kid who scares easily and gets pushed around a lot by the other boys. But one day, a strange man (who looks like Alice Cooper) accosts them on the street and offers them free tickets to his “theater.” The boys seem wary of the man but they all pressure Steven to go in. Cooper tells Steven that his is a theater of the real, and it showcases some pretty grim aspects of modern society, of growing up and of becoming an adult. Cooper promises Steven that he can help the boy conquer his fears and live forever, but Steven is weirded out and just wants to get away. He succeeds but Cooper promises that they will meet again the next day, Halloween. In the meantime, Steven seems to see Cooper everywhere and does a little research to find out more about the theater.
While this could be read as a straightforward horror story about a malevolent being trying to harm an innocent, The Last Temptation is also about the fears and challenges of growing up, especially in a world where one’s prospects seem limited, if not outright grim. What if you were offered a seemingly easy way out? A promise of never having to confront your fears again? Certainly, adolescents face a ton of fears and pressures, and outlets like drugs, alcohol, and self harm can seem like a way to manage the stresses of growing up. I suspect much of Alice Cooper’s appeal is that he remembers and can write about that teenage frustration and despair so well.
The graphic novel has some really great art by Michael Zulli. Overall, it’s a pretty good story and maybe gave me just a little optimism about facing a grim future here.