Remember back in 2007 when these things called “mash-ups” were going to save the world? Danger Mouse’s Grey Album had invented the Jay-Zeatles, Girl Talk had become lord of a small hipster fiefdom by sampling Top 40 radio hits, and all your techie friends were raving about the app mash-ups they’d seen at SXSW. The idea was simple: If you smash things together from disparate sources, sometimes the result is beautiful or useful.
Sometimes. Other times, you get a convoluted mess, like Brad Paisley and LL Cool J rapping about racism. The Intergalactic Nemesis Book One: Target Earth is a sci-fi/noir piece being presented in a format that mashes up graphic novel art and live radio drama, and it raises one important question: “Why?” Why take the graphic novel form, which supplies the visuals but requires the reader to supply the audio, and blend it with the radio drama form, which supplies the audio but requires the listener to supply the visuals? Depending on how you look at it, writer/director Jason Neulander is either combining the best of both worlds or blunting both of their strong points. As the voice actors recite their lines, a projector flips through more than 1,250 impressive, comic-book-style panels drawn by artist Tim Doyle.
The plot for Intergalactic Nemesis is rife with twists and deus ex machina moments. Pulitzer-winning tough-gal reporter Molly Sloan (voiced by Danu Uribe) is chasing down one heck of a scoop about a mind-control machine and an alien takeover plot, aided by her sidekick, the boyish rube Timmy Mendez (David Higgins). The pursuit soon takes them to Scotland, where a Mike Myers-soundalike taxi driver (Christopher Lee Gibson) takes them to the mansion of the evil hypnotist Mysterion the Magnificent (also played by Gibson) and their path crosses with a time-traveling librarian named Ben Wilcott (also played by Gibson).
Neulander’s Nemesis is a campy world of time travel, space travel, telekinesis, robots, and sludge-based aliens. But rather than subvert these tropes for a B-movie sendup, Neulander seems to be playing them straight — as if he were living in the 1930s, when audiences still found all of these things novel. The production is clearly meant to be a loving homage, not a parody.
The three voice actors all do respectable jobs with their numerous roles, creating distinct characters and slipping into accents that sound more cartoonishly entertaining than regionally accurate. Gibson shows a knack for playing the cackling villain and a cadre of shifty foreigners, although his take on the Tunisian character Jean-Pierre Desperois sounds more Cajun than North African.
The actors do their best with what they’re given. For a brief moment on a spaceship, Uribe does a dead-on impression of Mae West that is worth hearing in itself. Unfortunately, the source material mostly consists of wooden dialogue and cheesy quips. As the hard-nosed reporter Molly Sloan, Uribe is obviously trying to channel Rosalind Russell in His Girl Friday, but the script’s attempts at witty repartee fall flat almost without exception.
Early in the second act, the plot had wended its way through so many “shocking” revelations that I started to lose focus, fixing my attention instead on foley artist Cami Alys. Positioned at center stage behind a table covered in toys, plastic sheets, cinder blocks, a single balloon, and an array of microphones, the creator of the show’s environmental soundscape turned out to be the real star. With the spotlight on her the whole time, she pulled off sound effects with not only convincing realism, but a lot of visual panache. I was hooked from the moment in the first act when Alys cranked a wooden cylinder to simulate the wind while arching her back and snarling like a wolf.
Last night’s show was only the first part of the Intergalactic Nemesis story, to be followed up tonight with Book Two: Robot Planet Rising. I can’t say I recommend seeing it unless you’re interested in the simplest kind of escapism. Book One was overlong and underdeveloped, with flat characters and no social commentary to speak of. Maybe this one’s for the kids, but even my inner child was rolling his eyes.