1979: Ozzy Osbourne walks out on Black Sabbath, the band he has fronted for 10 years. Things almost get physical, and then Ozzy pledges to rule the world on his own. Tony Iommi swears to come out on top, with or without him. Bill Ward looks down, knowing that it is truly time for a change. Geezer Butler doesn’t want to give it up and recommends they call “that Dio-bloke”.
Malibu comics produced a highly fictionalized version of Black Sabbath’s early history in 1994, with stunningly rich artwork and co-written by one Terence “Geezer” Butler himself. Understanding that this is a mixture of fantasy and history, “The Power of Black Sabbath” is a hugely entertaining comic. The basic bones of the Sabbath story are there. The gradeschool rivalry between Ozzy and Tony was real, but Tony never said “Give it up Osbourne, you sing like a girl!” And it doesn’t matter because it makes for a good panel. Meanwhile, a young Terry Butler is visited by a mysterious entity that allows him a brief glimpse at his own future.
As if like fate, the four members of Black Sabbath eventually merge together. Their early history as “Earth” precedes the fame. Dirty managers, “Blue Suede Shows”, and Jethro Tull stories are rolled out panel by panel. “Why did I ever think about leaving Earth?” muses Tony, as a demanding Ian Anderson commands him to play a solo. After another supernatural encounter, they finally settle on the name Black Sabbath.
Album by album their success grows, but they cannot shake their continuing and strange encounters with entities not of this world. By the time of Never Say Die, tensions between Tony and Ozzy result in the temporary hiring of Dave Walker to replace the singer. Ozzy eventually leaves permanently on his own “Crazy Train”. Ending the story here, we learn that Geezer Butler has come to peace with the supernatural side of his life.
But that’s only half the book. There’s still plenty more content of the non-illustrated variety.
An interview with Geezer Butler is about as revealing as ever. Dig these insightful answers:
Q: Tell us about the new album.
A: It’s called Cross Purposes. There are ten tracks on it. We started writing it last February and finished in mid-July. [He then runs down the band lineup.]
To its credit, Geezer claims that this comic is the most accurate portrayal of Black Sabbath to date, though it does include “poetic license”.
Next is a very cool gallery of photos that you couldn’t easily find anywhere in 1994. These include full colour pictures of the Glenn Hughes lineup of Black Sabbath, and versions with Dio, Tony Martin, Vinnie Appice, and Bobby Rondinelli. There are even a couple monochrome photos with Ian Gillan. At the time these were some of the only pictures I owned of the band in these phases.
The next pages feature a discography, full colour with album art, lineups and tracklistings. Included here is a warning not to buy Greatest Hits or Live At Last! “You have an inferior product both in packaging and sound. You are warned!” Screw it, I’m buying Live At Last! The last page is an autobiographical story by editor Robert V. Conte about buying his first Sabbath album Born Again (my favourite). Within two weeks he had most of their records.
I’ve read a few critiques about this book complaining about the overly fictional portrayal of the band’s history. I don’t think it particularly matters. It’s obvious from the supernatural elements that this is not to be taken as gospel (pun intended). The vibrant ink and colours capture the Black Sabbath members perfectly, and each panel is glorious to look at. Not to mention it’s an oversized comic so every page has more bang for the buck. The stylized dialogue keeps the story moving at a good pace, and though the story is but a brief overview, it’s fine for a single issue.