All my life I’ve been a big fan of Prince’s music. From the hyperfunk of “Delirious”, which cut through the mindless pap of late 1970s disco like a sledgehammer through a paper towel, through the genius of “1999” and the eccentric brilliance of “Around the World in a Day” through “Diamonds and Pearls” and “Sign O the Times” and through his whole astonishing, amazingly diverse catalog of music, Prince was a musical chameleon who continually updated his sound to fit his time.
The man was cool and hot, funky and smart, flirty and sexy and always, always himself. I’ll miss him terribly.
And so while the pain and shock of Prince’s death is on my mind, this seems like a good time to look at a special comic book about him. Next week I’ll return to the reviews of “Son of Satan” comics that I’ve been running in previous editions of this column, but this week is the right time to look at Prince’s premiere comic appearance, Prince: Alter Ego.
Written by the redoubtable Dwayne McDuffie, with crackling art by Denys Cowan and Kent Williams, Alter Ego is a wacky, weird ego trip of doppelgängers, muses and rock wars.
But before we dig into the meat of this issue (maybe a bad turn a phrase since Prince was a vegetarian), we get this delightful image of the purple genius on his purple cycle from Purple Rain, looking for all the world like a man who’s back in town with plans on his mind. Problem is, though he might have plans to make music, Prince is missing his inspiration. Until, that is, he meets a girl. His Muse.
This is Prince, so his Muse isn’t just some girl who knows how to find the rocks in the middle of a river. Instead she’s able to turn on his sex drive, and his musical inspiration too. It seems like lovesexy at first sight, even if this new relationship causes our musical genius to turn his back on his beloved bandmates the New Power Generation.
While the romance blooms, Minneapolis is turning nasty. Former friends turn against each other, gangs that used to be friends are briefly enemies, Prince even briefly becomes strong enough to break a baseball bat.
Why does all this happen? Well, okay, this is really fucking weird and random, but… umm… it all has to do with Prince’s childhood friend Gemini. Here, you read this because I can’t really explain it as well as McDuffie does.
I love the way Cowan draws young Prince with those catlike giant eyes and how he draws Gemini to loos like Prince’s opposite in many ways – large, hairy, obnoxious like some kind of hair metal wildman without the intense coolness and self-control of the Purple One.
In fact, the story turns on exactly that self-control, since Gemini becomes the victim of his own success, exiled to an insane asylum because of (it’s implied) his abuse of drugs and alcohol. “He brings out the worst in everybody”, including Prince.
Of course, Gemini and Prince fight. McDuffie and Cowan stage the scene smartly. You can easily imagine some amazing unheard Prince song playing full blast in the background during the chase scene below. Bonus points to McDuffie for the sly Batman reference. (the comic was published by DC’s old Piranha Press imprint, and of course Prince did the music for the first Tim Burton Batman movie).
The battle gets nasty. It reaches its climax in a scene that has to hurt anyone who loved that opening scene (and smart foreshadowing by McDuffie on the first page to set it up), as the gorgeous purple cycle blows up at the end of the battle.
After the battle, everything falls apart. Gemini is revealed to be pure evil, in contrast with Prince’s innate goodness. The New Power Generation falls in thrall with Gemini (dig how they look like a team of heroes in the first panel above). Worst of all, Muse is revealed to be a kind of double agent who has been working with the vicious Gemini. He’s an abuser and a hater, despicable in every way.
Fuck that guy. He needs to go down. “You don’t defeat evil by becoming it,” as the Purple One says in one memorable moment.
And so as he comes out of his own shadows, full of the poetry of song and the brightness of creativity, the true spirit of Prince asserts himself. The captions above are a love letter to the musical genius and work even better as an elegy for Prince. “That’s what music should do. Make you closer to the rhythms of sex. Love. Even God.”
Like the ending of a great Prince movie, everything turns on a magnificent song. Everything changes because the power of the pureness of his music, the transcendence of Prince’s message, cuts through all the negativity and horror. That’s the power of music, and that’s the importance of what Prince represented.
This comic book may be a silly, fun romp on the level of a mediocre music movie. But the comic rocks, and it rocks due to the spirit and energy on the page from its uniquely amazing performer. Prince was such a special musician, so specifically following his own muse and determining his own course, that a weird-ass origin comic like this doesn’t detract from his reputation but actually enhances it.
Prince: Alter Ego reminds readers that Prince didn’t just believe in the power of music to get people up and dancing or play in the background during a hot sex session. He believed the power of music could help people find direction in their lives. They could find truth, revelation, even God. If we read this comic as a kind of oddball manifesto for his view of the world, it shows that any man can transcend his dark side and embrace his true inner wisdom. Or, as this very talented creative team tells us…