Although Motherfather, This Damned Band‘s titular international rock stars, are no strangers to “black magic” onstage, the band is unprepared when the real thing comes knocking. This hook comes late in the book, though, and what comes before is a surprisingly uneven outing from the otherwise impressive creative team of Paul Cornell and Tony Parker.
One can imagine the members of Motherfather coming across the above dictum in Kurt Vonnegut’s introduction to Mother Night: “Heav-yyyyy, man. Pass the chips?”
The connection between rock and damnation is, of course, an illustrious one, perpetuated by the genre’s detractors and proponents alike. Myth-makers have been mining this demonic pairing for decades with varying results, ranging from the legendary (Robert Johnson kneeling at the crossroads) to the best-forgotten (anyone remember Jennifer’s Body?).
The best of these stories crackle with menace – that same delicious feeling of intruding on the ineffable that you might get playing Zeppelin records backwards in your older brother’s bedroom. But if there’s a deeper reason for their longevity, maybe it’s the jealous appeal of such a cosmic system of checks and balances – one where fame and fortune are no salvation when the hellhounds are on your trail.
In their relative obliviousness, though, the members of Motherfather lack the Faustian drive that makes the doomed figures of rock history so iconic. That leaves a sort of self-referential Behind the Music parody that’s nothing we haven’t seen before.
There’s much to suggest that This Damned Band may still end up exhilarating, despite a faulty start. For one thing, Cornell and Parker are clearly committed to the material. Just look at that gorgeous cover (with period colors from Lovern Kindzierski, who also handles the interior).
Cornell chose a documentary format for the script, a conceit popularized recently by shows like The Office and Modern Family but made famous around the time of This Damned Band‘s period setting. In Gimme Shelter, for instance, the Maysles brothers and Charlotte Zwerin chronicled the nightmarish Altamont Free Concert, painting a portrait of a culture tearing itself apart.
Here Cornell takes a similar approach, mingling interviews with band members, groupies, fans, and the band’s mysterious manager Mr Browley, the latter of whom has a scene-stealing introduction involving the children’s show Pinky and Perky. It’s hilarious and also a little frightening – one of the few times that the issue really seems to be reaching its potential.
The issue also shines when it spotlights the women behind Motherfather, including Summerflower (lead groupie) and Alice (wife of the lead guitarist). Even in this first issue, we get a quiet moment between the two that shows their agency apart from the band they both love, albeit for different reasons.
If the art team of Parker and Kindzierski weren’t born to draw this book, you wouldn’t know it. Parker nails both the realistic camera angles required for the storytelling and the fine linework of 1970s comics. Kindzierski completes the effect with a washed-out color palette, capturing the feel of the faded treasures found in dollar-bin longboxes.
If the two solid halves don’t seem to be adding up, the reason has to be Motherfather themselves – an entity still too undefined by the end of the issue to feel strongly about either way. Cornell and Parker position the group as a Top of the Pops-version of Black Sabbath or Coven, having toned down their so-called occult affinities enough to achieve global success.
Visually, it’s hard to imagine Ozzy’s howl coming out of feather-vest-clad singer Justin Parish; perhaps he’s more of a cherubic Steven Tyler? The one real insight we get into the band’s sound comes from a fan, who calls them “heavy – heavy like Grand Funk, E.L.P.” It would be nice to get an inkling of the band’s lyrical content, or even their core concepts, in future issues.
There’s still a lot to like in this issue for patient readers with an interest in the era. The opening chapter of This Damned Band may be more of an aficionado’s collector’s item than an overall crowd pleaser. But then, what great band starts off with the single?
Paul Cornell (W), Tony Parker (A), Lovern Kindzierski (C) • Dark Horse Comics, $3.99