Review: The Perhapanauts: First Blood trade paperback (Dark Horse Comics)

Thursday, June 25, 2009

[This review comes from Kelson Vibber, whose websites include Hyperborea, K-Squared Ramblings, and the Flash-centered Speed Force.]

Perhapanauts is a fun, rollicking adventure featuring a team of supernatural troubleshooters as they track down creatures like vampires, chimeras, demons and Bigfoot. Actually, that's not quite right.

Bigfoot's actually a member of the team.

The series chronicles the exploits of a field team for BEDLAM, the Bureau of Extra-Dimensional Liabilities and Management. It's sort of a cross between the BPRD in Hellboy and the movie version of Men in Black, with a tongue-in-cheek tone somwhere between MiB and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

The leads are Blue Team:
  • Arisa Hines, a psychic and the team's leader.
  • M.G., a mysterious guy who can slide between dimensions. A condition of his employment was that BEDLAM would not dig into his past.
  • Bigfoot a.k.a. "Big", a Sasquatch who was exposed to an "evolvo-ray" which made him a genius.
  • Molly MacAlister, a timid ghost who hasn't quite adjusted to her status.
  • Choopie, a chupacabras who was exposed to the same evolvo-ray as Big, and has the mind of an 8-year old boy.
The cast is rounded out by BEDLAM's staff -- an administrator whose face is always in shadow, a telepath, a man whose eyes can erase memories -- its researchers, and Red Team, led by a no-nonsense ex-Marine whose training sometimes gets in the way of managing a team that includes a Mothman and a water sprite.

First Blood features two main stories. In the first, the team is dispatched to locate and detain a hulking, seemingly unstoppable monster from the dawn of time. By the time the story is through, the reader has a solid sense of each character's skills and personality, and how they manage when Plan A falls through. (One of my favorite moments is Molly's response to a plan that involves sending cement-eating slugs back in time to the precise moment needed to arrange for a building to collapse now.)

The second story pits them against an aswang, a vampire-like creature from Filipino mythology, and you get to see how they handle a somewhat less successful mission. Actually, "less successful" is putting it midly, as the book ends on a cliffhanger -- a gutsy move, considering it was originally published as a miniseries, with no guarantee of a sequel!

Like Buffy, Perhapanauts can switch between action, horror and comedy at the drop of a hat. BEDLAM learns about a breakdown in the fabric of reality...from a man who talks to butterflies. Choopie dismisses the aswang as a "stinking vampire...and then the scene shifts into intense character drama as Choopie struggles with his own bloodsucking nature. Craig Rousseau manages give his characters a full range of expressions matching the tone shifts.

All of the leads have at least a moment in the spotlight (I particularly like Arisa's psychic battle in the first story), but it's Choopie who steals the show with his hyperactive personality, his tendency to shoot first with his "mess-you-up gun," his penchant for mischief, and the fact that despite a need to drink pre-packaged goat's blood, he still has a thing for sugary junk food. (Fruit pies become a running gag in later volumes.)

In addition to the lead stories, there are three short character pieces. "The Terror from Within!" introduces Karl, the Mothman, whose ability to project fear is matched only by his inferiority complex. The story provides a glimpse into the minds of the heroes, as well as a first look at Red Team. "Seven Months Earlier" is a more action-oriented tale of the last disastrous mission of the previous Blue Team, and how Arisa proved herself capable of becoming its leader. "Fiepick" is a comedic piece in which Choopie tries to "help" as Big and M.G. tinker with highly advanced machinery.

Rounding out the book is a dossier with profiles of the BEDLAM agents, staff, and targets, and an art gallery featuring Kevin Nowlan, Nick Cardy, Mike Wieringo (who also wrote the introduction) and others.

First Blood is followed by Second Chances. With the third volume, Triangle, the series has moved from Dark Horse to Image. The later volumes broaden the focus considerably, allowing characters like Hammerskold the ex-marine, Karl the Mothman, and the Merrow to grow past the one-note caricatures glimpsed in the background of "First Blood." We also learn more about Blue Team, particularly Arisa and Big...and a surprisingly poignant revelation about Molly. Seemingly random events from volume one turn out to be setup for future storylines, and the title begins to make sense as the team begins to navigate "the Perhaps."

One word of warning: Image started the numbering over, so First Blood and Triangle are both labeled #1. Just go with the numbers in the titles, and you'll be fine!

If you'd like to check out the series, Todd Dezago has made the 2008 Perhapanauts Annual #1 available for free as a PDF on his website, http://www.perhapanauts.com/.

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