Was Prince, the pop star and musical visionary who died yesterday at the age of 57, a comic book guy? On first glance, maybe not—he wasn’t one of those musicians who writes them (like Gerard Way, Rob Zombie, Doughty et al.), and while his onstage persona was larger-than-life and colorful (literally, with a focus on purple) we found no evidence that he was inspired by superheroes. But Prince did have a major, major contribution to comics—or at least, what they became.
Figure that comic books are really the driving force in Hollywood, and have been since X-Men (2000). Then figure that Tim Burton’s Batman (1989) was the forerunner, a box-office smash that proved that superheroes make good movies if done right (our guess is it was hard for studios to forget Adam West in tights). Prince was right there in 1989, one of the biggest pop stars on the planet, and a believer enough in the subject, director and cast to do the whole soundtrack.
In fact, “Batdance,” a six-minute dance track with several distinct sections and no verses or chorus, even went to number one on the pop chart. It is, frankly, hard to believe today; and that’s a knock on pop charts, not this epic thing:
Prince was also involved a few comic books of his own, though we don’t know to what extent. This one (called “Alter Ego,” although you wouldn’t know from the cover) for Piranha Press was written by Dwayne McDuffie with art by Denys Cowan—and this great cover by Brian Bolland:
Inside, the comic tells a version of Prince’s origin story, like Purple Rain but with more fighting. Here are a few panels that were posted to io9, where you will find some explanation:
(Note: The paragraph below has been corrected, thanks to Patrick from Depth of Field for setting us straight.)
There were three other Prince-focused comics we know of; another is Prince and the New Power Generation: Three Chains of Gold, also written by McDuffie and published by Piranha. According to Depth of Field, it starts off with a concert in the Middle East “…and from that point, things get really crazy. The three gold chains of the title are ancient artifacts needed to rule the nation of Erech, and the princess has one of them and knows the location of another. Romance, scimitar battles, beheadings, and mayhem ensues.” The story was based on the song “7” and others from Prince’s “Love Symbol album”. A poster at Prince.org gives this description: “Prince is on tour and must save Princess Mayte from evil-doers that wish to cause her harm. Wish I could remember a scene from this one, but I know P is more James Bond/Jason Bourne than the androgonist rock star we know in this title.” Here’s the cover:
Prince’s comics bibliography is rounded out by a couple biographies: Like many rock/pop stars of a certain era, Prince got his own issue (#21) of Rock ‘n Roll Comics, and he was also profiled by Michael Frizell in Fame.
Prince was also one of many real people from music and movies drawn into Rod Kierkegaard’s “Rock Opera,” a long-running saga in the pages of Heavy Metal. We’ll be bringing you more on this as we retrieve it from the Heavy Metal archives. For now, here’s a shot of Prince as Frankenstein’s monster from a different Kierkegaard work, a graphic novel called Shooting Stars (thanks Fred for the correction):
Finally, there’s this, a cover from Metal Hurlant, the French magazine that inspired Heavy Metal, that shows Prince punching Michael Jackson. It’s from December 1984, and the artist is Jacques Parnel: