Sunday Slugfest: Perhapanauts Annual #1

A comic review article by: Keith Dallas, Bryant Frattalone, Chris Murman, Jason Sacks
Steven M. Bari:
Bryant Frattalone:
Chris Murman:
Jason Sacks:

Steven M. Bari

Story: When BEDLAM, the secret agency that keeps nasty magic creatures out of our hair, discovers a nasty magic creature murdering innocents in New Jersey – it sends the Perhapanauts! Roll Call! Arisa – a telepath; Molly – a ghost; Choopie – a blood-sucking chupacabras; And Big – a super-intelligent, pacifist sasquatch. Thanks to a conveniently hung crucifix, our heroes send the horse-headed demon back to hell without taking any quick jabs at New Jersey.

Comments: What do you get when you mix the X-Men, Doom Patrol, BPRD, and League of Extraordinary Gentleman? A cast of clichéd caricatures that spout trite and sluggish dialogue amidst even more cumbersome expository captions. The Perhapanauts Annual # 1 is filled with needless exposition and unappealing characters.

When the story opens, we meet MG, a mysterious agent of BEDLAM who can slide between dimensions. Does this come out in the conversation between MG and a BEDLAM technician? No. A big green caption does. How do we learn that Molly’s a ghost? Or Choopie’s a chupacabras? In a caption.

This wouldn’t be a problem if it didn’t take away from the dialogue’s pace. The style in which the exposition is written does not flow with the light and energetic dialogue. In the scene where Molly and Choopie are introduced, they are playing a video game, arguing genially about shooting zombies. The captions are deadpan, epithet labels that give far more information than the reader needs to know. For example, “Molly MacAllister – Ghost - Able to pass through solid objects, become invisible, and inhabit the bodies of unconscious or semi-unconscious people.” Does she do any of these to great avail in the story? No.

Moreover, as the scene progresses, these captions become redundant. Three panels after their introduction, Choopie accuses Molly of going soft on the video game zombies because they’re dead like her. That entire exchange does exactly what the caption does with more speed and finesse.

Unfortunately, the Perhapanauts themselves aren’t interesting enough to even have captions on their backgrounds. Arisa, as well as the characters Merrow, Thorton, and Keith are really banal. They simply have powers to justify the plot. Arisa could just as easily coordinate with her teammates to take down the Jersey Devil by walkie-talkie than open telepathic channels. It’s obviously a team book, and they certainly work together, but you just don’t care.

I really wanted to have some emotional resonance with these characters. But it wasn’t there. The major letdown is Big. He is a supposed to be pacifist, yet he jumps into the fray screaming the lamest, most inconsistent dialogue: “You keep hitting it with a jolt of juice -- whenever I’m not busy beating the ever-loving snot out of it!” He’s a caricature of the X-Men’s super-intelligent and witty Beast without the years of baggage. He had so much potential that went woefully unused.

The only appealing and original characters in Perhapanauts are MG, Choopie, and Hammerskold, who – despite playing a significant part in the plot – were not developed in this story. For instance, Hammerskold can see the tactile history of any person or object just by touching it with his bare hands. While following the demon’s murder trail, he relives each victim’s last moment in order to discover the monster’s motive. The ordeal is supposed have taken a toll on him, but it barely has relevance in the story.

As much as I wanted to enjoy this book, I was dissatisfied and completely under-whelmed.

Final Word: Don’t bother.

Bryant Frattalone

Plot: A group of mystical adventurers take on The Jersey Devil.

Commentary: Let me start with the cover. It’s always interesting to me that back when Image comics was launched in the early 90’s their boast was that independent creator owned properties could succeed outside the auspices of the big two comic companies. But companies like Image continue to mimic things that made Marvel and DC successful in the first place. The cover format used for this issue mimics the old style Marvel Annual covers to a tee. Also, the name echoes what the Fantastic Four are sometimes called at Marvel: Imaginauts. The whole idea of the Perhapanauts seems to have been ripped off from Hellboy’s Bureau of Paranormal investigations over at Dark Horse. The ensemble cast Dezago’s created competes for the bizarre and interesting status that Hellboy’s colleagues got to first and perhaps better. I don’t usually read these types of comics but decided to give it a whirl since it was a short comics week for me.

The story is pretty pedestrian in nature. Ancient evil force is awakened in our time and immediately sets out to open a portal to its evil dimension by way of bloody atrocity to supposedly bring its evil brood over into our world or else transform our world into more of a hell than it already is. Yawn! Even the way the story ends is pretty yawn inducing. If you’ve seen your share of Hammer Dracula films you’ll know what the evil beasties undoing is ultimately. I won’t ruin it in case you actually want to pick this book up. It is kind of a head scratching moment though as the story just ends. My question is, the solution being what it was, why send two teams of supernatural adventurers out to confront this thing if all it took to defeat it was a scientist back home figuring out the oh so simple solution? So, the plot of this annual was ho-hum at best.

Where Dezago shines is in his characterization. His motley band of heroes did elicit a few inner chuckles from me. They were an entertaining bunch and a couple had some potentially intriguing back stories. For instance, MG, the mystery man of the group hinting that he is under a form of “dimensional witness protection program.” That’s kind of intriguing to me. What happened in the dimension he came from that he has to hide out in ours? Then there is BIG, the evolved Sasquatch. For some reason that’s interesting too. Maybe it’s because I really haven’t heard the term “Sasquatch” since watching Leonard Nimoy’s “In Search Of” series when I was a kid during the 1970s. I used to love watching that stuff like “In Search of Bigfoot.” So, the idea picks at that bit of nostalgia in my brain. Finally, there is Choopie, an annoying little Hispanic vampire dude. C’mon, that’s funny. Choopie and Molly’s banter while playing a zombie and vampire destroying video game is quite amusing and endearing at the same time. The voices of all of Dezago’s characters ring true in the context of the world Dezago has placed them in. Also, Dezago highlighted the team’s abilities and strengths by sending them off on different assignments all related to the same case. That worked well. So, this annual gets three bullets from me for the heart of the characters if not for the substance of the story. Craig Rousseau’s art is easy on the eyes and fits the antic of this team of misfits well.

Final Word: Good characterization but a re-hashed plot that ended too abruptly and easily.

Chris Murman:

I have to admit, the first seven pages nearly made me stop reading… which is never what a creative team wants a reader to say about their work. I haven’t ready of The Perhapanauts before this issue, and an opening stanza like that can spell trouble for sales figures. The good news is the boring opener did not continue, and writer Todd Dezago did an admirable job of selling this motley crew of inter-dimensional cops. The fact that this was an annual may have helped matters a great deal for a new reader such as me because it was a complete story. Regardless, solid writing and art by the creators left a good taste in my mouth and actually may inspire me to read further.

What skewed the opening seven pages wasn’t due to any particular problems I felt with the story. I just didn’t like the fact that a forgettable foil to the team was introduced before I had a chance to get to know the heroes. It wasn’t a great introduction of the Jersey Devil either. The name didn’t suit a dragon to me. Again, this is not really a fault of writing, just a choice in style.

I also wasn’t thrilled with MG, who appears to be team leader with his introduction. In actuality, however, he has very little to do with the story besides the bombshell of his involvement with one of the real team leaders. Other members of the team, like Big, Molly and Choopie, were much more appealing because of their dynamic personalities. I realize someone has to be the “Scott Summers” of the team, but Hammerskold seems to be a better read as the opener. MG shouldn’t have been the one of the first characters mentioned, and he shouldn’t have been on the cover.

Not knowing how the previous eight issues have unfolded for this title, let me just say that Choopie probably stole the show during the initial two mini-series. His comedic dichotomy of trying to quell his blood lust with his light-hearted nature would make him a great lead for a solo title. In fact, have him run around with Big the entire time so their two paradoxical archetypes could blend together. The tiny-sized heavyweight beside the gentle giant would be an awesome read.

Props go to Craig Rousseau for his inventive character designs; the team is diverse and differentiated. My perceived interest in Choopie and Big partially come from their look as much as how they are written. It would be easy, however, to concentrate on the non-humans in the group and forget that MG, Arisa and Hammerskold each have their own faces and bodies. Rather than rely on colorist Rico Renzi to help tell the difference between humans in the issue, Rousseau decided to help out. Many indie (and mainstream, for that matter) creators haven’t learned how to do that, so he’s ahead of the curve.

My only real art gripe was the lettering. Whoever is responsible for those duties on this issue should decide if they want to use balloons or not. I was confused and put off by the constant switching. Maybe I’m the only one that feels that way, but I doubt it.

Other than disagreeing on the name for the team (I kept pronouncing it Perhapnauts before realizing there was an extra “an” in there), I had no pre-conceived notions entering my read of this issue. I’m happy to say that a small hiccup opening the book was more than fixed with smart dialogue and more than decent art. The team in charge might have found a new reader for their upcoming monthly title as a result.

Jason Sacks:

This is my first journey into the world of the Perhapanauts, and I had a good time in this world. The Perhapanauts are a group of superhuman adventurers determined to fight some of the nasty creatures that live on Earth. In this book they encounter the Jersey Devil, who turns out to be quite appropriately named.

The thing that really makes this comic stand out is the way DeZago presents his characters. I really enjoyed how DeZago brought us interesting heroes who seem to have long backstories and unique personalities. My favorite is Big, a Buddhist pacifist Sasquatch. Big seems to radiate a wonderful sense of inner peace when he is with his friends and allies, but still has a bit of the angry creature in him when he battles his enemies. I really like the feeling DeZago presents of Big as a creature with lots of complexity who would rather be meditating than fighting evil creatures.

The rest of the characters are interesting as well. There’s Choopie, a chupacabra who has a soft side to him but is driven crazy by violence. MG seems like a square-jawed hero with a Warren Ellis-style ability to pass between dimensions, but has deep secrets in his past. Then there’s Peter Hammerskold, an ex-Marine who has amazing abilities that seem to contrast with his military background. DeZago does a great job of presenting his characters as full people through use of just a few strokes of characterization. That’s sort of character development will make me want to come back to this series.

For me the plot was a bit less compelling than the characters. The threat of the Jersey Devil is definitely appropriate for this set of characters, and it was fun to see all of them take heroic action against the Devil. But the action scenes seemed a bit talky, and the story has a very abrupt and unsatisfying ending. The ending could really have used a couple more pages to really have it fit the scope of the story; it reads like the creative team was having too much fun with the setup to spend lots of time on the final payoff. Craig Rousseau’s art is a lot of fun here. His work is solid and thoughtful, though there are a few panels where the art seems to be fighting the word balloons for space in a panel. Rousseau shows a real knack for storytelling tricks, using silhouettes, unusual angles, and effective close-ups to help emphasize the plot points in this story. The art doesn’t call attention to itself, but it is effective and adds to the story.

I really enjoyed this issue. The journey to this story’s final destination was a lot of fun and shows real passion for good writing. I just wish the destination had a bit more of a payoff.

Community Discussion