Bowie: Stardust, Rayguns & Moonage Daydreams
Written by Steve Horton and Michael Allred
Art by Michael Allred, Laura Allred and Han Allred
Published by Insight Comics
Review by Scott Cederlund
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10
David Bowie was never what he seemed. For as much as a master lyricist and musician he was, Bowie’s biggest talent was his mystique, his ability to adapt who he was to the times he was performing in. Whether it was the Thin White Duke, Major Tom, or the Blind Prophet, part of the wonder of Bowie was who he was on- and off-stage – even “David Bowie” was an assumed persona for the man born as David Jones. Bowie was practically a superhero on his album covers, music videos and on stage.
Now almost four years after Bowie’s death in 2016, Michael Allred and Steve Horton try to capture of life and times of Ziggy Stardust, one of Bowie’s most enduring personas. Ziggy’s own life was short-lived; Bowie birthed the alien in 1971 and gave him a musical suicide only two years later. But from those two-and-a-half years of Bowie and Ziggy’s shared existence, Allred and Horton excavate the ruins of rock-and-roll theater, creating a sentimentally nonjudgmental biography of Bowie’s iconic transformation into something other than merely David Jones.
Bowie: Stardust, Rayburn’s & Moonage Daydreams is part biography and part myth-making, taking the events of Bowie’s late 1960s/early 1970s rise to stardom and mythologizing his fiction into his legend. It’s obvious that Allred and Horton love David Bowie. Not just “love” the man, but love the tales of David Bowie, as they take key moments from his early career that could be found in any run-of-the-mill biography and make a comic out of them – as a biography of the man, however, Allred and Horton miss many opportunities to reveal anything about him or the times he lived in.
As they recount the days of his life with Allred’s crystal-clear artwork and their ability to catalog specific days and encounters with other larger-than-life musicians, they fail to explore what any of it means. What was glam rock? What was did this confluence of creative people like Bowie, Marc Bolan, Lou Reed and Iggy Pop say about 1972 and the world then? The character of Bowie is merely an actor in this story, saying the words that Allred and Horton wrote without really living them himself. The Bowie presented here is less a man or an artist, and more of a cypher moving through the story of David Bowie.
Maybe that lack of revelation is because the period that they are focusing on is a period of transition for Bowie, but in one stunning image of Iggy Pop, existing in multiple states of being while trying to detoxify himself from his heroin addiction, they unveil much more about Pop than they ever reveal about Bowie in over 150 pages. And part of that is that they don’t want to judge their idol; they just want to worship at this image of the man that they’ve built up over their lifetimes. David Bowie is as much a persona of his as Ziggy Stardust is, but in their attempt to present his story, all they can present is an idolization of a man who was probably like any other man of his day, with the same loves, concerns and troubles as other men and women of the early 1970s. What Bowie ever thought or who he ever loved is buried beneath Allred and Horton’s love of the legend more than in any interest in the man.
Taking the story of Ziggy Stardust and trying to make it larger than life gives Allred the freedom to visual tell this story as a montage of memories and fantasies of how we want to remember the 1970s. If Glam was a musical movement, Allred makes it a comic book experience in this book — the cool sheen of rock-and-roll stardom underlies every one of Allred’s lines and Laura Allred’s hues. This is a book about beautiful people being beautiful, and Allred luxuriates in every opportunity to show them at their most glorious. Following Bowie’s own journey into creating a fictional world around him, Allred uses everything he’s learned from years of superhero comics to make Bowie a superhero in his own story. Allred draws the ascension of Bowie from man to star to alien with an almost worshipful fidelity to the image that the real Bowie was trying to sell. Nearly every image is ripped from a promotional video or a spotlight from Cream magazine.
For as much as Allred and Horton try to faithfully recreate these moments from Bowie’s life, the book reaches exhilarating heights when Allred and Horton take a step out of reality and tries to bring something more comic booky to the mix. Too many pages of this biography feel like they could be assembled through cutting and pasting photographs and videos of the star on the pages, but every now and again, Allred and Horton give themselves the space to use the comic page to explore the whys and hows of what happened. Ziggy becomes a spirit separate from yet merged with Bowie. These sequences in the book step beyond mere recounting and become a metaphorical exploration of the life and times of Ziggy Stardust. This is when the book becomes more like an actual Bowie song, trying to blow our minds by the possibilities of transcending an ordinary existence and becoming something extraordinary.
In these montages of the fantastic, Ziggy Stardust comes alive. Allred and Horton create this otherworldly character who exists among but not as a part of drudgery of life (for example, Bowie/Ziggy can’t be bothered with everyday nuisances like equal pay for his band.). Ziggy gave Bowie an escape from the troubles of the real world. In a similar way, Ziggy gives Allred and Horton a way out of the “real world,” as they get to show Ziggy Stardust as an unearthly messiah who has come to save us with three chords and the truth. For every moment of spiritual elevation that Allred and Horton find in Ziggy, there is a crash back down to earth as the book moves on to the next real life event or encounter with Freddie Mercury or Mick Jagger.
Allred and Horton cap off the story of Bowie/Stardust with pages that show the many lives that Bowie lived after allowing the alien to inhabit him. These lives are simply captured through iconic images of David Bowie, images without words or context yet these pages are so much more exciting because Allred and Horton’s adoration of the men gets out of the way of the story they’re trying to tell. A montage from the period immediately before Bowie’s death in 2016 defines the man’s views of life and death so much more evocatively than so much of the book does. A story lives in these pages where too much of the rest of the book is a catalog of events and gigs.