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'The Intergalactic Nemesis' in Four Colors

Is the world's first live action graphic novel a good graphic novel?

By Richard Whittaker, 10:45PM, Sat. Aug. 11, 2012

'The Intergalactic Nemesis' in Four Colors

The Intergalactic Nemesis has been called the world's first live action graphic novel. But what happens when you take out the live action, and just leave the graphic novel?

Creator/producer Jason Neulander has turned the pulpy adventures of pugnacious Pulitzer-winning journalist Molly Sloan, her saddle pal Timmy Mendez, and their motley gang of adventurers into a veritable cottage industry. From a coffee house theatrical production to a KUT radio drama to its current form: A son et lumiere extravaganza of projected comic strip images, with live voice-overs, musical accompaniment and sound effects. Now the series has been stripped of the performance component, as Neulander and his graphic collaborators self-publish the collected visuals as two graphic novels.

The first volume binds together the original seven issues of book one (whereas volume two is a graphic novel designed to look like a trade paperback. Clear enough?) It is an old-fashioned, two-fisted, action-serial romp of the most traditional kind, and unashamedly revels in all the conventions. One chapter even sees Sloan and her motley crew cross Europe by that most pulpy mode of transportation: The red dotted line across a map.

Volume one is the trial and error experience, as Neulander throws every action serial convention at the walls: Dour Scottish castles, exotic casbahs, rocket ships, mesmerism, and outrageous foreign accents. Artist Tim Doyle channels his inner Wally Wood (one of the great pulp geniuses, undergoing a long-overdue revival in interest) to recreate the full panoply of pulp comic tropes, all with the requisite amount of cheese. After all, how serious can the romantic exploits of a reporter and a time-traveling librarian be? Especially when the key weapon against a squishy alien invasion is saltwater taffy?

Half Raiders of the Lost Ark, half Larry Buster Crabbe-style Flash Gordon, volume one runs on gusto and in-jokes. Neulander is a PG Rob Zombie, blending every childhood influence into a raucous romp: It's just that he's less Famous Monsters and more Thrilling Wonder Stories. His vision is rarely translated better than when Doyle gets to cut loose with his signature villain Mysterion the Magnificent. If Saturday matinee star Sir Denis Nayland Smith ever tired of crossing wits with Fu Manchu, then Mysterion would make a suitable substitute.

Neulander has talked about how much volume two had to be rewritten from its original, pre-graphic stage roots. With Chad Nichols as a collaborator, he seems less determined to cram every kitchen sink in, instead concentrating on one strand of the Nemesisverse. Setting course for Robonovia, he keeps a distinctly space opera flair with a 1950s Red Planet/Red Menace streak. If Target Earth is a mad hodge-podge of Thirties-style gee-whizz antics, then The Robot Planet zooms straight out of the atomic age.

Doyle dropped out for volume two, to be replaced by David Hutchison. He arguably has an easier job: Not only can he work from Doyle's designs, but Neulander's narrower focus means he can bring a fitting sheen and shininess to the robot planet. Fortunately, the work of colorist Lee Duhig (who worked with Hutchison on Antarctic Press' slasher comic Final Girl) binds the two volumes together, adding a glowing neon sheen that every colorist on Strange Worlds of Science Fiction would have killed for (or at least charged up a plasma cannon for.)

Fans of the Nemesis know exactly what they're getting: A loving, tongue-in-cheek recreation of the golden age of nickel comics with pages the consistency of a paper shopping bag. Newer fans will find a simple, old-fashioned action romp (no women in refrigerators here.) If you love finding a reproduction wind-up tin rocket ship, then this is a page-turner.

The Intergalactic Nemesis: Book One: Target Earth by Jason Neulander, art by Tim Doyle, PP 210, $20.

The Intergalactic Nemesis: Book Two: Robot Planet Rising by Jason Neulander, art by David Hutchison, PP 198, $20.

Jason Neulander and the cast will be signing volumes one and two of The Intergalactic Nemesis at Bookpeople, 603, N. Lamar, 7pm, Aug. 13.

There will be a double bill performance of the live show on Aug. 18 at the Paramount Theater, 713 Congress. Book One: Target Earth 3pm; Book Two: Robot Planet Rising 7:30pm.

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