Robert Loss

Robert Loss is an associate professor in the Writing, Literature, and Philosophy department at the Columbus College of Art and Design. He is the author of Nothing Has Been Done Before: Seeking the New in 21st-Century American Popular Music (Bloomsbury Academic) which includes a chapter on Prince’s later work. His essay “How the Exodus Began: Prince and the Black Working Class Imagination” appeared in a recent special Prince issue of Black Magnolias Literary Journal. At CCAD he teaches a course titled The Literature of Comics, and his writing about comics has appeared in the International Journal of Comics ArtThe Comics Grid, and The Comics Journal, among others. A member of the band Blind Engineer, he lives in Columbus, Ohio with his wife. He’s hard at work researching and writing a book about Prince.

Robert Loss

Gemini and The Max: Prince's Comic Book Alter Egos, 1991-1994

“You really do think you’re Batman, don’t you?” says Gemini, a character implied to be Prince’s alter ego, as the two race on motorcycles in a 1991 comic book titled Alter Ego. Despite this clever nod to Prince’s real-world Batman soundtrack and videos, this comic-book Prince is definitely an alter ego, too—not the least because he demonstrates serious hand-to-hand combat skills! Prince’s use of alternate identities dates back to at least Purple Rain, but the Batman project for the first time explored his aliases within the culture of superhero comics. While Alter Ego, published circa Diamonds and Pearls, and 3 Chains O’ Gold, a 1994 re-telling of the Love Symbol album and home video’s narrative, were not Prince’s first appearances in comic book form, they were the first sustained fictional narratives about him. They may be ancillary to the albums, films, and videos, but both comics are entertaining and enlightening.

This presentation will examine what these comics can show us about the range of Prince’s public and artistic personas circa 1991-1994 while also situating them in the context of the comics medium and industry. Alter Ego and 3 Chains O’ Gold were published by Piranha Comics, an imprint of DC, and both were written by Dwayne McDuffie. McDuffie was a seminal comics writer who in 1993 co-founded Milestone Comics, an independent company owned by Black comics artists which published stories about a diverse cast of Black superheroes. Historically, the genre of superhero comics has excluded and marginalized heroes of color, and though their representation had somewhat improved by the 1990s, even prominent superheroes like Cyborg, Luke Cage, and Storm often suffered from racist essentialisms. Thus we will examine McDuffie’s positive and playful re-imaginings of Prince as knowing comments on the musician’s alter egos, but also as nuanced interventions on superhero comics’ tendency to pathologize Black masculinity, limit Black community, and essentialize Black subjectivity as self-motivated or subordinated to White authority. With all the flair of action-adventure comics—from motorcycle chases and assassins to Sonny T. crash-landing a plane—Alter Ego and 3 Chains O’ Gold show Prince to be a romantic, cosmopolitan hero whose strengths come from his local roots and friends, his “intellect and savoir-faire,” and his commitment to morality and justice.

Despite some similarities between them, no, this Prince doesn’t think he’s Batman. And that’s a good thing.