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A Look at Acts That Have Become Particularly Animated

May 14, 2000|GEOFF BOUCHER

The Backstreet Boys and Mary J. Blige are braving a new universe where they don skin-tight suits, perform amazing feats and generally kick much bad-guy behind.

Yes, they're becoming comic-book heroes--following in the ink-stained path of other jukebox heroes such as the Beatles and Alice Cooper.

Comic-book mogul Stan Lee (co-creator of Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four and the Silver Surfer) is behind the new projects, and he says he's also in talks with rapper Bizzy Bone to transform him into a four-color hero as well.

The Backstreet Boys have been selling their comic for $10 at concerts and online since February, but the project really hits its stride with an animated online series that reaches the Internet next month (check http://www.stanleemedia.com for more info). Blige, meanwhile, has just inked her deal to become a "Cleopatra Jones-meets-Barbarella" hero, and Lee says she will use concert Webcasts and other promotions to draw attention to the endeavor.

These newfangled comics will join a long, dusty stack of pop culture time capsules. Pop music and comics are pure youth, and a survey of their mutual moments can be very telling. With the help of Bill Leibowitz, owner of Golden Apple, a leading Los Angeles comic-book store, and his capable staff, we present some of the great and not so great moments:

* 1959: Lois Lane swoons for that dreamboat Pat Boone, giving Superman a jolt of jealousy. This happened once before--Perry Como caught Lois's eye in an issue nine years earlier--but it pales next to the shock Supes got in the mid-1960s when a time-traveling Jimmy Olsen became the "Red-Headed Beatle of 1000 B.C." by playing "rock" music (literally) for cavemen.

* 1968: Robert Crumb's densely packed, ribald cartooning graces the cover of "Cheap Thrills" from Big Brother & the Holding Co., hard-wiring a long love affair between music acts (especially edgy ones) and comics artists (especially underground ones) that will put comics art on the covers of Meat Loaf, Joe Satriani, Korn, Lords of Acid and countless punk bands through the years.

* 1970: The Beatles (sort of) meet Batman and Robin. The same month "Let It Be" hit stores, the dynamic duo's monthly adventure was devoted to the mystery surrounding "The Twists," a British pop foursome of which one member--named "Saul"--was rumored to be dead after blowing his mind out in a car. Maybe this means Commissioner Gordon is the Walrus.

* 1975: The top Rat Packers--Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr.--appear in "Richie Rich" a few decades later than you might expect.

* 1980: Spider-Man sings "Oliver's Army." The web-slinger, in the throes of the mind-controlling Purple Man, is ordered to stop fighting and sing. He opts for Elvis Costello, showing much better musical taste than Superman.

* 1981: The adult comic "Heavy Metal," gloriously prurient, violent and profane, hits the silver screen. The soundtrack, oddly, features Journey and Stevie Nicks and very little heavy metal. " 'Heavy Metal' provided me with the sex and violence I desperately needed as a teen," recalls Dave Wyndorf of the rock band Monster Magnet. Hoping to leave a legacy, Wyndorf's band is one of the contributors to the soundtrack (now in stores) to "Heavy Metal 2000," a sequel premiering on the Encore Channel in July and on video in September.

* 1990: Thirteen issues of the "New Kids on the Block" are published by Harvey Comics. To stoke collector interest, nine different issues, priced $1.25 each, are identified as "No. 1." A mint condition copy of any of them now fetches a handsome $1.25 on the market.

The greatest comic book and pop music crossover? We pick the one that never happened--the King of Rock 'n' Roll and the Man of Steel.

Somehow, the publishers of Superman never tapped Elvis Presley for a cameo, although the superhero did cross paths with John F. Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe (no, not at the same time). The Elvis-Superman teaming was ripe with possibilities, our favorite pitting them against the nefarious tandem of Lex Luthor and Col. Parker. "Now that," says Leibowitz, "would have been great."

TREASURE HUNTING: The Cannes Film Festival is underway, and one of the movies vying for honors is Joel and Ethan Coen's "O Brother, Where Art Thou?," a darkly comic retelling of Homer's "Odyssey" set in 1930s Mississippi. The film features Coen brothers favorites John Turturro, John Goodman and Holly Hunter, but another key character is the period bluegrass and folk music that weaves throughout the film.

Songs such as the recurring theme "I Am a Man of Constant Sorrow," "Po' Lazarus" and "You Are My Sunshine" serve as more than mere backdrops to the tale of escaped chain gang members, and their importance to the film has led to a unique tie-in project: a special concert in Nashville that will re-create the soundtrack and be filmed by noted documentary director D.A. Pennebaker ("Don't Look Back," "The War Room").

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