“What in the name of Dio!” exclaims Black Sabbath roadie, Russell, after blowing the power in a competition to prove music sounds better live against fellow roadie, Verge. Russell's body is subsequently consumed in a tragic on-stage explosion, leaving his spirit trapped inside a Walkman (that’s a cassette tape player, kids – Ed.) This all takes place in this comic’s opening sequence, instantly setting the tone for what's to come. This mid-80s metal-tinged masterpiece follows the exploits of an unlikely hero imbued with great power and a heavy burden to bear.
Maurice is a 17-year-old drummer working in a dead-end job and jumping from one dead-end metal band to the next. He’s lazy and not particularly talented. His only real ambitions in life are listening to music and playing the drums. He has a turbulent home life, constantly clashing with his mother and sister. Maurice lives and breathes heavy metal music, the one saving grace that gets his through his day to day existence. His mother doesn't understand Maurice's obsession with metal (she did name him after a Bee Gee after all), afraid she'll lose her son to the crazy world of rock and roll just like she lost her husband years earlier. When his mother tries to destroy his trusty Walkman in a misguided attempt to steer Maurice's life in the "right" direction, something strange happens. Maurice finds himself being granted god-like powers, somehow possessed by the spirit of the deceased Sabbath roadie, Russell. Serving as a brilliant metaphor for the power of music, and the strength that metal music can sometimes provide to persevere against life’s complications, the debut issue of “Maurice and the Metal” thrusts you headfirst into its unique, larger-than-life universe.
This first issue is a fantastic entry point into Maurice’s world. There are a only few small moments that are a little heavy with exposition. Debut comic book writer Aaron Sammut manages to make it work, doing a great job of setting up the story and introducing us to the major players as succinctly as possible. He gives the characters and the story enough room to breathe and develop. I expect to see lots of moving parts in any first issue. I want to glimpse into this new world to get hooked and to care about the characters I’ve never met before in such a short time, which isn't an easy task to pull off. “Maurice and the Metal” is an exemplary introduction to its stylistic and idiosyncratic world. The characters and conflicts feel genuine and never fall into the realm of parody or caricature. Sammut knows when to go all in with the craziness of this premise, when to pull back and when to let the characters take centre stage. This debut issue is full of witty and relatable dialogue that just jumps off the page. This is Sammut’s first foray into the world of comics and he already writes like a natural.
Artist Jesse Hamm (Hawkeye, Batman’66) brings the perfect aesthetic to the book, his stylish drawings calling to mind the work of Canadian humorist Chip Zdarsky. The visual style feels like somewhere between an Archie comic and Jack Black’s metal-themed video game “Brutal Legend”. The dynamic artwork fits the story perfectly, as does Hamm’s use of monochrome. He utilises grey scale to maximum effect, so much that it feels like colours would detract from the story at hand. The artwork is minimalistic but vibrant and the storytelling on display is crisp and clear and plunges you right into the book’s stylistic yet grounded version of the 80’s.
Maurice and the Metal is a fun and engaging premise that’s chock full of heavy metal references and Easter eggs. The subject matter could easily feel trite and cliched in the wrong hands. For fans of the scene, this comic book is as authentic as it comes, oozing enthusiasm for metal music and heavy metal culture. If you love comics books and especially 80's metal music, Maurice and the Metal will feel tailor-made for you. The only real downside is that I don’t have a dozen more issues of it to binge read right away. It’s a fantastic introduction point to the series and I can’t wait to sink my teeth into more.
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