There was a lot of strange goings on during the 90’s, but one of the big things was mullets. It almost looked like you weren’t allowed to be a male superhero unless you rocked the mudflap at least once in your crime-fighting career. Superman comes back from the dead? He’s sporting an ape-drape. Venom becomes a good guy? Over the course of a couple days he’s grown an impressive set of locks going down the back of his head. Nightwing, Bishop, Nova, Longshot, etc. They all had business in front and a party in the back. The Spider-Girl comic even toyed with nature itself by giving Normie Osborn a hairstyle that mixed the mullet with the infamous Osborn cornrows!
One topic that comes up in comics a lot is if it’s the powers that make the superhero or the heroism inside. Is Superman truly a superhero because he can smash mountains or because of his never-say-die attitude? In the 90’s, that could be asked in another way. Is it the powers that make the hero, is it the inner strength or… is it the mullet?
In 1995, Marvel would test that question by releasing this wondrous piece of work.
Yes, that’s right. Billy Ray Cyrus. The comic. Written by Paul S. Newman and illustrated by Dan Barry. Marvel Music was a short-lived line that mostly dealt with biographies of musicians, such as Bob Marley and the Rolling Stones. Billy Ray Cyrus is above that. Look at that cover. You know this is going to take a turn for the outrageous. A simple biography isn’t going to cut it. This southern boy needs adventure!
When it comes to Billy Ray, I’m completely devoid of information. Really, all I know about him is that back in the 90’s he had a hit song that I’ve never actually heard from start to finish, but it was good enough to get a Weird Al parody. I can’t name anything else he’s performed. Then he faded away for a while until his daughter got popular and brought him back into the spotlight.
Hey, total aside, but now that country singers are the topic, I’m wondering if Spider-Man 3 was really a retelling of how Garth Brooks became Chris Gaines. Think about it.
This collection is made up of two stories. The first one is called I Don’t Stand a Ghost of a Chance with You. It’s the tamer of the two, so let’s get it out of the way.
We see Gary and his ex-girlfriend Karen inspecting the ruins of an old fort that the Cherokee Indians once took over. He talks about how it’s supposedly haunted and, wouldn’t you know it, he sees a Native American wandering through the mist. Gary screams about seeing the ghost, but Karen shakes her head and thinks of him as a major tool. And really, he kind of is.
Luckily Billy Ray Cyrus and his faithful horse Roam are in the area. Billy Ray’s wearing riding gloves, but they vanish and reappear by the panel. Check it out.
Billy Ray is nosey. Just imagine being in the middle of an argument and having him randomly show up.
“I want to return this pasta maker now!”
“I told you already! Your receipt has been expired for three months! My hands are tied!”
“Like hell they are! I want my refund and I want it—“
“WHOOOA! Whoa, Roam! Hey, folks. I’m Billy Ray Cyrus and I heard an argument. What’s going on here?”
“I… uh… how did you get in here with a horse?”
“That’s a good question. Let me answer it with a song. You can tell the world! You never was my girl! You can burn my clothes when I’m gone…”
Billy Ray goes into a whole history lesson about how the Native Americans totally owned the white men in this battle, but then got screwed over with the Trail of Tears. He figures that if there are such things as ghosts, a Cherokee ghost would probably hang out someplace here where he actually stuck it to the man for once in his life. He then gives the kids free tickets to his next show because why the hell not? He tells them to ask for his PR person Lotta Flack and she’ll set them up.
At the concert, Lotta gives the kids good seats up close and tells them that she’ll find them after the show. So far this comic hasn’t been all that excruciating. It’s missing something. Something like… I don’t know…
Oh, there we go! Annoying comic relief.
Just a note: the comic can’t remember how to spell Lotta’s last name.
Lotta shows the kids to Billy Ray’s dressing room, where he appears to be casually naked in front of the youngsters. He gives the two a pair of frontiersmen outfits. Tomorrow the four of them are going on an expedition in search of the past. He already called up their parents and okayed everything. That’s a conversation I’d love to hear.
“Hey there, is this Karen’s father? This is Billy Ray Cyrus you’re talkin’ to! How do you like that? No, don’t hang up! I’m being serious! I’m Billy Ray and I was wondering if tomorrow I can have your daughter come along and join me in riding around the woods dressed like Davy Crockett as we hunt for Native American ghosts. It’s okay, we’ll have Lotta Flack supervising everything! Yes. Uh huh. Yes, Lotta Flack. That’s her name. Yes, I certainly am Billy Ray Cyrus. No, that’s Ray Stevens you’re thinking of. I did that song Achy Breaky Heart. If you don’t know that song, I don’t think you’re going to know any of the other ones. I swear it’s okay! I’m married and I have a baby daughter at home. I’m not like that! Just…! Please! It’s really important that we ride horses and search for ghosts! No, I’m sober, sir! Very sober! Look, I don’t care. I have a show in five minutes. I’m just going to tell her you said it was okay. Sue me all you want. It’s my word against yours. Uh huh. Yeah, same to you, buddy.” *click*
Ned and Jeff, our hilarious tabloid reporters, decide to follow them and get some pictures of those ghosts.
Billy Ray brings a bunch of replica flintlock guns filled with blanks for the sake of authenticity. As they ride around, Lotta tries to push Karen towards Gary some more, but she cleans her hands of that ghost-believing-in dork of an ex-boyfriend. Ned and Jeff hang back as Jeff keeps devouring Honey Bars for energy. Because he’s fat.
But what’s this? A group of Native Americans look on in their horses. Are they ghosts? Well… no, not really.
Yep. They’re just a bunch of guys getting together for the sake of dressing up and pretending to take over the abandoned fort. Well, that explains—zuh?! Then again, if white people can do Civil War reenactments, I guess you should toss these guys a bone.
Later on, they hang out around a fire and eat.
“Y’know, Sure Hand, this Chinese take-out is real good.”
“My college students recommended the place.”
Nice of him to remind his friends that he teaches at a college. I’m sure none of them remembered that fact.
A clusterfuck starts up once a bear follows the scent of Jeff’s Honey Bars. The bear chases the reporters up a tree, but one of them plays a tape recorder back fast enough to turn it into squeaky gibberish. This scares the bear away, but the Native Americans recognize it as sounding exactly like the Shawnee language. That’s… I’m not the only one who thinks that’s kind of offensive, am I? One of them investigates, only to see Billy Ray and Gary hanging out at the fort with flashlights.
White people don’t have souls. Damn it all, David Brothers was right all along.
The oldest of the group, Dan George, figures that it might be the ghosts of the soldiers who died years back waiting to get revenge. He decides that they should cover all bases and do a war dance before attacking the fort. Karen hears this war chant and runs to Gary, screaming that the area really is haunted. Gary comforts her and says that spirits can’t harm flesh and blood.
Then an arrow lands nearby. There goes that idea.
Dan George gets excited about the toy guns they’re using, I suppose with the writer trying to point out that anyone they shoot at isn’t in any real danger. Yeah, that doesn’t exactly work when you’re using REAL ARROWS!
Billy Ray and Gary start firing their own fake guns, scaring away all the Native Americans. Dan George rides into the bear from earlier, then high-tails it back to the fort. He yells at Billy Ray and Gary to cover him, showing that nothing brings sworn enemies together quite like bears. Dirty, stinking bears. No wonder Stephen Colbert supports Marvel so much.
The bear is scared off by the gunfire and runs away. The playful and overly fearful way the bear is drawn throughout the story almost makes me angry at this comic for being cruel to animals. Frightening and threatening bears for the sake of historical LARPing is not cool, man.
The other Cherokees go back for Dan George and find that he’s captured the fort.
Ned and Jeff show themselves, but Jeff’s camera is on the fritz and his pictures were overexposed. All the Native Americans are glowing, like ghosts! But maybe for that one moment they were like the ghosts of their ancestors and history was—eh, fuck this. Next story!
Now, that story was a bit dull in parts, but it’s still worth talking about because it’s about Billy Ray Cyrus and way too many supporting characters torturing bears while looking for ghosts. Luckily, the second story, No Way to Stowaway, is far more insane.
It starts off with another Billy Ray concert. Near the front row is another couple of teens, though this time they’re siblings, Andy and Heather. Andy looks exactly like Gary from the last story. The difference is that Gary probably didn’t ride the short bus like Andy did. You see, Andy wants to get Billy Ray’s autograph. So he drags his sister away from the concert early so that they can hide out in the luggage compartment of Billy Ray’s tour bus. Ozymandias he is not.
Billy Ray and his crew drive off with the kids still hiding in their bus. They drive towards Nashville for their next show, but get sucked into a mystical fog. They stop at a gas station in the middle of nowhere, which is run by Merlin himself. Merlin reveals the children as stowaways and says that they will both save Billy Ray where he’s going.
Damn. If there’s one thing this trade has taught me, it’s that Billy Ray Cyrus is responsible with kids. That’s probably why his daughter came out so well bal—er, let’s just continue.
The tour bus reenters the fog and they all exit to find themselves in medieval times! A knight attacks the bus, thinking it’s a monster of some sort. Billy Ray gives himself up and they become prisoners of King Edward the First. King Edward is happy to see them, since his soothsayer said that he’d get visitors in to go slay a dragon for him. Billy Ray doesn’t know what he’s talking about and says that they aren’t the dragon-slaying types. The king gets angry and has them all locked away until Billy Ray agrees to go fight the dragon.
I don’t know who that guy is, but he’s my new favorite character.
Oh. As it turns out, his name is the Beheader and he wants the honor of taking on the dragon. To win the right, he has to beat Billy Ray in a joust. While begging to take part in an arm-wrestling match instead, Billy Ray is fitted with gold armor and put on a horse. He notices that his horse is a bit sluggish due to the weight of his armor, so he quickly removes all of it and allows his horse to be more mobile. He knocks the Beheader off his horse and convinces him to yield. For his victory, Billy Ray is knighted.
Billy Ray is then seduced by Princess Huncamunca, who needs to marry a brave knight like him. He explains that he’s married, which breaks her heart. But since she knows where the dragon is, he’s at least able to serenade her.
During this, a projectile bounces off his head with a nice “ZONK!” sound effect.
“Hey… Who’s throwing rocks?”
He sees one of his bandmates behind bars above. “Not rocks, Cyrus! Our dinner… Rolls, as in rock and roll!”
I’m sorry, what? Sure, I get that he’s going for a pun there, but what does that even mean?
Another headache shows up in the form of the king’s enemies. Without any description of who they are or what they want, they attack the castle. Princess Huncamunca says that they’ll be driven off over the course of a week or so, but Billy Ray can’t have that! He has a show in Nashville tomorrow! You know, give or take several centuries. With the castle under siege, Billy Ray figures out a way to help out the king.
Hey, maybe it’s just me, but playful banter might not be the best action when you have a couple bloody bodies dying in front of children. You’d think that the beam from a concert laser show would be nothing more than a glowing light used for flashy effects, but you’d be totally wrong. As it turns out, one of those lasers is capable of blowing up a catapult and burning away an entire army of knights.
King Edward’s reaction to Billy Ray single-handedly saving the day is to once again command him to go slay the dragon. Billy Ray goes with Princess Huncamunca, Andy and Heather in the tour bus. They find a cave fuming with smoke. Andy, the tard he is, takes a picture of Billy Ray, saying, “Billy Ray, before you go in, let me get a last picture of you!”
Christ, kid. Lucky he didn’t laser your ass for that.
After all this build-up, you’d think that Billy Ray vs. a dragon would be some kind of awesome climactic battle for the ages. I mean, here’s this guy in jeans, a leather vest with no shirt underneath, a mullet and a laser gun going up against a dragon. This could be pretty badass!
Sadly, the “dragon” is nothing more than a hot spring. Billy Ray gets a fire extinguisher and proceeds to ruin nature yet again by emptying the foam into the spring. Andy takes a photo of the smokeless cave and they use it to prove to the king that Billy Ray is a bona fide dragon slayer. Rather than set Billy Ray and friends free, King Edward instead forces Billy Ray to stay as his new court magician.
One of the bandmates brings up that Merlin mentioned that both of the kids would rescue them. Andy’s camera helped with the dragon, but what about Heather? She’s been pretty worthless this whole adventure.
Yep, there’s a deus ex machina for you. Billy Ray tells the king to let them free or he’ll cause the stars to rain down on him. After the meteor shower scares the king, Billy Ray and the others get into the bus and ride off into the fog. They find themselves back at the gas station, where Andy and Heather’s parents are waiting. The father apologizes for his children’s behavior, but Billy Ray can’t stay mad at a fan.
Despite being let off the hook, Andy opens his goddamned mouth and pesters Billy Ray for an autograph. Jesus, kid! The man just saved you from being stuck as a prisoner in a bargain basement Camelot! Let him breathe!
To close out the story, Billy Ray says, “Turn the page, and you’ve got it!” What’s on the next page?
I have to say, I’m not sure what the point was of all that. Merlin and God decided that Billy Ray, the kids and some roadies needed to be tossed back in time. For what? The dragon was nonexistent. The king was still a jerk when they left. Even those enemy knights would have been taken care of. Time would have taken care of itself with or without a time-misplaced country singer.
Part of me is sad that Billy Ray Cyrus never did more in the world of Marvel comics. To think, he could have opened for Rick Jones and Dazzler. He could have fought the Hypno Hustler. He could have yelled at Hanna Montana for joining the Young Avengers. He could have chosen a side in the Civil War. Sadly, he would definitely have died in battle against a Super-Skrull with the powers of Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson.
Hm. I suppose in the end, country music and comic books just aren’t meant to be together.