Penultiman originally appeared in the one-shot anthology, ‘Steel Cage’, which the publishers Ahoy Comics have handily placed on-line for free although you now have to pay via its Amazon connection. However, you don’t desperately need to read it before taking on # 1 because it lays everything about the character out extremely clearly and, spoiler alert, that right there is my biggest problem with this comic.
Let’s take a step back. In 22 pages, followed by 4 pages of unrelated short stories, # 1 tells us that the ‘evolutionary ultimates’ from the year 90,019 have banished Penultiman to our time because he’s an evolutionary throwback. Of course, the joke is that the ultimates look ridiculous while he’s a super-human who can fly, survive in space, alter his appearance, has super-strength and so on.
Penultiman isn’t happy that he’s been exiled to Earth and, as a result, despite being able to fly, etc, etc, is a petulant dick to his biomechanical understudy/robot sidekick Antepenultiman. Like another exiled to Earth super-hero whose name escapes me, Penultiman also has a joke alter-ego, Agent Wayne Cruz, who’s even more of a sad sack than he is.
The main villain of # 1 is Zev Zolo, who appears to be a normal human except he has giant hands and can fly. For reasons that are never explained, he’s trying to crush a city with a Cosmic Pinball Machine in the sky, which helpfully demonstrates how the tone of this comic is all over the place. Penultiman talks like a silver age super-hero (‘Perhaps the infliction of pain is reward enough’) but acts like a sulky child.
He seems to have been on Earth a while as his fans love him, but Antepenultiman talks to him like they’ve only just met. Even the art, while clean, colourful and good-looking, can’t seem to settle. It handles the people and action well but has a weird habit of making the Ultimates and others scrunch their facial features into odd positions. It kept reminding me of ‘2000AD’s ‘Muties’ and, in fact, the symbol on the Ultimate’s forehead is pretty darn close to a Judge’s badge.
As you’ve probably guessed by now, I struggled to find a way ‘into’ the comic. Presumably, we’re meant to feel sad for Penultiman and empathise with his wish to go home but, other than being constantly whiny and rude to others, he doesn’t seem to have a personality. Maybe the comic is supposed to be funny, with Antepenultiman a much better super-hero, Zev Zolo’s silly hair and nonsensical scheme and Penultiman’s alter-ego being a ridiculously sad, sad sack? I just felt the tone pinged around like balls in a Cosmic Pinball Machine. # 1 doesn’t even end with a strong cliff-hanger, just a jokey question to which the answer is pretty obvious.
Maybe I’m wrong about the obvious answer. Maybe # 2 will raise some intriguing questions about the bigger picture or have Penultiman develop some goals. Maybe the tone will settle. But, unfortunately, I can’t review what this might become and right now I’m struggling to recommend # 1 of Penultiman.
(pub: Ahoy Comics. Price: £ 3.19 (UK))
check out websites: www.ComicsAhoy.com, https://comicsahoy.com/comics/penultiman-1 and to buy on: https://www.comixology.co.uk/Penultiman-1/digital-comic/894670