Jan 5, 2018

Royals: The Unofficial Soundtrack

“There was music here, once. Diamonds made of sound, created in thoughtspace. A form of magic unique to this planet. You destroyed the planet. Destroyed the music. But I remember.” - Noh-Varr, the Accuser, Royals, dialogue by Al Ewing

Royals: The Unofficial Soundtrack
Travis Hedge Coke

The last Inhumans and an alien in love with Earth seek truth in the wastelands of the future, and five thousand years earlier, six Inhumans and a moody alien boy from another reality voyage into outer space on a journey of self-knowledge, hoping to rescue everyone from certain doom. That’s the pitch.

This spiritual sci-fi cowboy drag revue should have its own soundtrack.

Written by Al Ewing, and visualized by an army of prog talent, drawn by Jonboy Meyers, Javier Rodriguez, Thony Silas, colored by Jim Charalampidis and the genius Jose Villarrubia, among ohers, if Wil Moss doesn’t consider this the gem of his editing career, I’d genuinely be curious as to what he feels beats it. This comic is amazing. It’s the glam rock space trip live and in love version of Velvet Goldmine or Six String Samurai. The 2017 psychic sibling of Barbarella. A PG Jodorowsky romp. It was a Bowie sound in ink and light.

Royals did a lot for my heart, these last twelve months. Bringing Noh-Varr back to the brilliant, shortsighted badass he was in his original Morrison/Jones miniseries and not one time after, in the last fifteen years. Queen Medusa having an exciting romance. Crazy tarot symbolism. Sexy Gorgon. World farms.

In this Bowie-less world, it has, monthly, reminded that the world cannot, since David Bowie existed, ever go back to being without Bowie. We are, now, forever with David Bowie. The comic is about music, without ever featuring musicians or composers. It is about Bowie without ever explicitly invoking his name. The issue titles are from Bowie songs. The Man Who Fell to Earth flavors the entire run. I would not feel uncomfortable suggesting there’s plenty of Labyrinth in it. It is about dance magic. About feeling alien and failing at your predestination. Feeling your way through the most natural things in the universe as carefully and awkwardly as possible.


It’s a David Bowie comic, but “Royals” is the title of the comic and Bowie apparently called Lorde, “the future of music.” What better, then, to launch the sound of a Bowie comic about reaching to the potentially terrifying, always electric future? The themes fit, including those unintended, like the irony of a white teenaged colonial bashing excesses she sees in music by oppressed classes in other countries. That’s the Inhumans, right there.

“We’ll never be royals,” declares child pop star. And, that children, is the future. And, the past. And, our opening track.

Rotten Sound

Still not Bowie? Dafuq, Trav? But, hear me out: Rotten Sound is the antithesis of Lorde that is still pop, white, and the folly of the future. “We are doomed to be saved”? “The cycles of stupidity, the cycles of history”? Decimate would fit this comic, even if it wasn’t 87% static and rasp, with the oft-repeated-in-Royals line, “Five thousand years from now.”

This comic is set not only in the present time (albeit in deep space, far from Earth), but also in the distant future, described by Ewing as, “a Eurocomix-inspired eco-apocalyptic world of strange beasts and mysterious post-human societies.”

Diamond Dogs
David Bowie

“Just another future song, lonely little kitsch.” We have Bowie! Diamond Dogs is one of those great songs that hides an utterly creepy, aggressive universe under a veil of pretty lights and danceable sounds.

Royals is similarly disguised. It’s a clean-looking comic, with a lot of threatening grunge under the veil. In both song and comic, we miss the mannequins with kill appeal until they are right on our necks.

We Are the Dead
David Bowie

That great mechanical rhythm. The downer lyrics. The dumb hope. It really is only a matter of time, otherwise, we are the dead. We are not only cogs, but cogged. They make us like that. We make ourselves.

Tomorrow Never Comes
Glen Campbell

If this was any more hermetic-minded and mercurial, it would come packaged in a red crucifix.

The dirge and aspiration in, “Oh you tell me that you love me, yes, you tell me that you care, that tomorrow we'll be married. But, tomorrow's never there,” is easily of religious or nationalist love, as it is romantic. Like the broken marriage of Medusa and Black Bolt, or the broken promise of the alien Kree’s elevation of human to Inhuman that seems to lead… where?

Big Brother
David Bowie

Big Brother is, for all intents and purposes here, an extension of Tomorrow Never Comes. Here, yearning explicitly for a savior, a lord, even and maybe especially a fascist, boring lord. I like Black Bolt, I like the Inhuman culture and dynasty, as an organizational structure, a fictional city-state. But, that is what Attilan and Attilan culture are, what Inhuman politics and culture are. Black bolt, the true prince, no matter how often he is wrong, no matter how far he is absent.

Medusa is alive where King Black Bolt cannot be, but we’re all still champing at the bit, a bit, for them to get back to together, to get back to normal.

Sweet Thing
David Bowie

Another song off Diamond Dogs, this one brings us down into an elegy for cheap sells. The prostitution of hope. “I'm glad that you're older than me,” is a sell and a beautiful neg, if there is such. Bowie slyly making eyes at us with words. “Makes me feel important and free Does that make you smile, isn't that me?” Drumming up business.

Oh! You Pretty Things
David Bowie

A wake up song. A wake up to a nightmare.

What better to follow the low pitch of Sweet Thing? Lifting us up and carrying us through the bridge of the Royals set. Future love. Generational anxiety and love. Jabs at sentimentality that land kindly and land like punches to the nose.

Life on Mars?
David Bowie

And, it’s all a play, after all. “A godawful small affair.” A piss show. “A sunken dream to the seat with the clearest view.”

In the comic, we have an increasing sense of the damaged and unreasonable weight on Maximus, dear and hated Maximus the Mad. This is the best song to remind us what escapism does, what the weights of the world and the heaviness of hope can be. And, it’s silly as it can be, puns and references, goofs and sorrow and life.

Fire From Heaven

Was it worth it? What is worthwhile?

Fire from Heaven is the equivalent of a phone message you leave and question as soon as you’ve hung up. Can’t redo it. You’ve left your message. They are probably going to listen to what you said. And, in Royals, the characters are consistently re-positioned into this horrid limelight, knowing their message will be examined, that someone on the other side is judging, that history is. Everything seems so big, too, so promethean, so ridiculous and ridiculously massive an undertaking.

Queen & David Bowie

A bigger, brasher, rounder live rendition of a song that every movie trailer seems to think is heroic and going to end well. Heroes is not a song about being awesome, but being dull enough you hope for one good day. Last chance to see, before we mess up it all.

Station to Station
David Bowie

Remind them what it is to be weird. To be fire. To be. here.

Station to Station is to be here. To be fire. It gives no fucks. It’s a mad bass line, hisses, hums, and ruptures. The vocals are a drumbeat of utterance. Nothing stops. Nothing sounds exactly as it is. Dance track for serious nuns of tomorrow. Chant for rhythmic monks on the verge. Station to Station keeps getting weird, the way that Royals started with pings of oddness and curiosity, but could - if anyone wanted - loop back into comfort any time, it just never does.


So, that's it. Put the tracks together on your own time. Sync it up where you like, one song per issue, or on a loop as you dive in as long as you like, reading one issue, reading seven, reading all twelve in one shot. DJ it yourself, folks. I’m just putting together the clues and cues Ewing and company provided, and suggesting a soundscape that might lift the comic to even bosser heights than it already accomplished. Which, is pretty damn high.

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