Imagine if you would a band as much influenced by At The Drive-In as they are Iron Maiden whose style often evokes casual likenings to prog-rock champions Rush and whom write their music and lyrics in large part to tell an epic science-fiction narrative which has already been translated into a comic book series and prose novel and, oh yeah, that story has just been optioned by Mark Wahlberg and Steven Levinson of Leverage for a film adaptation. Having a bit of trouble forging such an overpowering concoction of awesome? Well first of all, calm down, you should relax more. Secondly, I’ll help you out of this jam – the band is Coheed and Cambria and their story contains its own story known as The Amory Wars.
For those unfamiliar, honestly, I’m not concerned with you; that’s what Wikipedia’s for. But in case you don’t have six hours to spend getting lost down the rabbit hole of superfluous details and endless links, the long and short of it is that in the late 90s/early 2000s there was this group of young guys playing hard rock together in upstate New York and one of them got it in his head that it’d be fun to write a sci-fi saga and spin its tale through his band’s particular brand of metal, post-punk, and pop rock. These guys eventually coalesced into the band Coheed and Cambria, the names of the two most prominent characters in the concept story’s first installment, the band’s 2002 debut album, The Second Stage Turbine Blade for indie label Equal Vision Records who’ve released albums for similarly unique underground rock acts as Refused and Gatsby’s American Dream. Its listeners were quickly captivated by its infectious blend of heavy progressive rock and catchy melodies mixed with mysterious and darkly cinematic atmospheres. The band earned enough support from fans to make their second album, In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth: 3, a major success in 2003.
By now, Coheed had enough well informed devotees to ask the question, “What the hell kind of lyrics have we been swinging our heads to for the last two years?” It was around this time that Coheed’s guitarist and lyricist, Claudio Sanchez, acknowledged that indeed his band’s music was intrinsically fused with an ongoing operatic space saga and promised fans that this story would eventually see a more refining and clarifying light of day.
After some false starts and speed bumps, Sanchez was able to not only start publishing a comic book series in 2004 titled The Amory Wars which he writes himself, but he did so in part through Evil Ink, the publishing company he started. Together with Image comics, 12 Gauge comics, and Boom Studios, The Amory Wars was released as a ten issue series from 2004 to 2008 telling the story contained within Second Stage. During this time the band released their major label debut in 2005 for Columbia Records, Good Apollo, I’m Burning Star IV, Volume 1: Fear Through the Eyes of Madness, an album which contains as much talent and skill as its title does syllables, and its slightly less well received sequel and apparent conclusion to the concept story, No World For Tomorrow, in 2007.
So here’s where it starts to reach massive nerd levels of complication and convolution (and I’m not even about to scratch the surface of the story itself). At this point the band has four albums, a comic book mini-series adaptation of the first album (which chronologically is actually the second part of the entire concept story), a graphic novel adaptation of the third album (which is actually the fourth-wall-breaking fourth part of the story) released in 2005, and no accompanying publishings for its second and fourth albums. Oh, and Sanchez released a record in 2006 under his solo project, The Prize Fighter Inferno, which also tells a story within the Amory Wars universe.
Then came 2010’s The Black Rainbow, Coheed’s fifth album and prequel to The Amory Wars which was released simultaneously with a novel of the same name co-written by Sanchez and accomplished sci-fi author Peter David. It was also around this time that Sanchez began releasing the recently concluded twelve part comic book mini-series which tells the story encapsulated by the band’s second album, In Keeping Secrets.
Finally, at this July’s San Diego Comic-Con it was announced that Marky Mark himself would help produce with Steven Levinson a film adaptation of The Amory Wars saga.
Now that you’re familiar, you ought to know what the real issue is with the recent announcement. It’s not the script, the budget, the cast, (details of which are non-existent at this early stage); it’s one of honesty and integrity – should an ardent fan of a truly seminal band be excited for a film version of the band’s story whose past adaptations have been less than stellar?
But I’m getting ahead of myself. First I’d like to break down why the aforementioned question is such a difficult one to ask. It’s because the question infers that the graphic incarnations this concept story have had thus far are of subpar quality and even as a critic that just plain stings to even think let alone say out loud or in print. But we fans of Coheed have to be honest with ourselves. No matter how impressive and kick-ass the band’s music is, the comics just don’t stand up well to scrutiny.
At least the first series doesn’t. I bought my complete set of the first ten issues of The Amory Wars, with a bonus copy of the first issue with a variant cover and Sanchez’ autograph, at a Coheed concert at The Electric Factory in Philadelphia in the summer of 2010 with Circa Survive. It was an amazing show and I was stoked to explore my bounty. Once I did so a few times, its novelty began to fade and the critic in me couldn’t help but point out to the fan in me all of the series’ shortcomings.
The art has a noticeable lack of depth (save for the covers completed by Tony Moore of Walking Dead fame) and feels exceedingly cartoonish for such a darkly intense story, the dialogue leaves much to be desired in terms of what feels natural, the pacing is all over the place, there’s no sense of thematic coherence or progression, etc. However, I completely understand why these drawbacks are present – limited time, space, and money definitely force creative individuals into corners – and I like to focus not on these shortcomings but the undeniable potential and inherent badassery these issues contain.
The second series, however, may be a different story. I’ve yet to read it but the changes in artists and writers are enough to suggest good things and I’ve read some positive reviews. The art for the Good Apollo graphic novel stands out as being the most distinct of all the comics and although Sanchez has stated how much he appreciates that artist’s work, the writer has stated that he plans to re-release this story under his Amory Wars title. I did get the chance to read The Black Rainbow, which I enjoyed considerably more than the comics, but I only had the chance to read it once while still very much on the high of enjoying the new accompanying album.
And yet, I’m still positively elated at the prospect of actually seeing this film on the big screen – why?
The reason is that this story Sanchez has been telling was first conceived of when the man was just around nineteen years of age. He is now 34. So that’s about fifteen years of gestation and evolution. Just as the execution of the story has evolved and apparently improved with each new incarnation, I’m of the opinion that given the right environment – one that includes enough financial support to provide Sanchez with the opportunity to tell his fully developed story in a proper fashion – this story could really captivate the mainstream public as much as it has the considerably smaller faction of Coheed fans whom are already devoted followers.
The adaptation will, however, no matter how much money gets thrown at it, be a difficult one to get right. Even assuming Sanchez and company learn from their previous mistakes and take full advantage of this opportunity to do things with fewer constraints, the story is as dark as it is complicated. And I’m not talking about Nolan-dark, or even Community’s darkest timeline-dark; more like Requiem for a Dream levels of fucked up.
Spoilers to follow…
So the story starts to really kick things off when Coheed and Cambria, a working class married couple with four kids, are tricked by the lieutenant of the evil overlord whom rules the galaxy, to murder their children. They poison their two youngest, twins around five years old, and put a hammer through their 20-something daughter’s head. Oh, and the daughter is gang raped for no apparent reason. (I have a real problem with this aspect of the story and would love to deconstruct why I hate it so much, mostly for being at best gratuitous and at worst an insult to rape victims, but that’s a conversation for another article.) And her fiancée is needlessly eaten alive by a giant monster. Oh, and there’s a secret alien race of subjugated people gradually being wiped out and fed to a torturous pocket dimension used to power the star system. So, yeah. Pretty, pretty dark.
As the story unravels, we learn that Coheed and Cambria are actually cyborgs created to defend the universe from apocalyptic threats, but have been manipulated to not only kill off their own family (as the children were the only ones with the means to stop the bad guys), but destroy the massive 78 planet star system in which the story takes place. The couple’s then seventeen year old son, also named Claudio, escapes their misguided and violent attempts at what I’ll generously refer to as euthanasia and eventually discovers that he is destined to be the universe’s savior.
In addition to Coheed and Cambria struggling with the truth of their origins and striving for revenge against those that have ruined their family’s lives, and Claudio coming to terms with being a powerful messianic figure, the story prominently features Jesse, Coheed and Cambria’s “brother”, also a powerful cyborg, who works with the leader of a interplanetary rebellion to overthrow an oppressive and evil regime.
And that’s just the first of eight possible installments so far.
End of Spoilers
This may sound too ridiculous to be taken seriously, but the best stories usually do when they’re described out of context. And more important than all of the story’s flaws thus far are its merits. For all its doom and gloom, The Amory Wars speaks of hope, of change for the better, of the significance in finding one’s true calling and stopping at nothing to defend what’s right and just, even in the face of insurmountable darkness. The bottom line is that Claudio Sanchez is a passionate and capable artist of many talents and considering how long and hard the man has worked to bring his vision to life, I’m willing to bet that given the means he could well be largely responsible for a movie series as seminal as his band’s music. How many of us wish there could be a gritty, no holds barred, hardcore space-pirate saga involving robots and super powers? Just think of how awesome it could be!
The reason you’re reading this, that you watch movies and TV, that you read books, comics, and poetry, that you enjoy any art at all, is that you’re all, deep down, optimists looking ahead with hope for something to inspire, move, and connect us all in these dark times. This movie could do that. So instead of immediately jumping on the Debbie Downer train of pointing out everything that could go horribly awry with this project (and oh so many things can happen, as with any ambitious adaptation), let’s look forward with confidence and excited anticipation at what could be the next Star Wars or Firefly (yeah, I said it).
For a taste of not only the impossibly epic scope through which Coheed and Cambria create their music, but also of the hauntingly evocative tone in which The Amory Wars can (and should) be told, check out these two videos – one being the (extremely) short film created as promotion for the band’s upcoming double album, The Afterman: Ascension and Descension, due out in October and February, respectively, and the other being the official music video for the album’s first single, “Domino the Destitute”, both directed by the very talented Robert Schober.
Are you guys familiar with Coheed and Cambria or The Amory Wars? Do you think it’ll work well on the silver screen, or even make it there at all? Let us know in the comments!
This article was first posted on September 4, 2012