The one thing I can definitively say about Sebastian Kadlecik, Lindsay Calhoon and John Bring’s “Penguins Vs. Possums” is this: I was not expecting that.
When I signed on to review the first issue of JBSK’s new series, which they funded through kickstarter, I was expecting something light, adorable, and fluffy in every sense of the word. Remember those comics that came out when Pokemon was still new, where everyone was named after a type of nut and everything was so cute you could vomit pure sugar? “Penguins Vs. Possums” is the exact opposite of that.
Cards on the table, I don’t often read comics, but you guys know that. My gut reaction to “Penguins Vs. Possums” was to keep not reading comics, but by the time I reached the end of the first issue I have to admit–I see a lot of potential. My problems are mostly with the story line and dialogue. The art of the book isn’t bad by any stretch; I’m even willing to forgive the one panel where two possums share a passionate kiss, so long as it never happens again. The only other offense committed on this front would be the penguins’ “battle gear”. Their goggles and silly helmets take a moment like THIS one (which should NOT be happening in the first issue, but we’ll get to that) from dramatic to down right goofy.
If goofy were the intended tone for the series, that would be perfect. However, what I can gather from the first issue is that “Penguins Vs. Possums” is written with heaps and heaps of earnestness. While the battle rages at the San Diego Zoo penguin enclosure, clueless people-folk ignore the kid who is pointing out the massacre. This humor is subtle enough to be passable, and balance out the extreme gravity of the battle itself, which is heavy on death and gore; but I just can’t get past the goggles.
The plot leaves a lot to the imagination, for instance there is no explanation of why the possums and penguins are actually fighting. They are not natural enemies, nor do they encroach on each others’ territories. The penguins live in the zoo, the possums are wild. There is no hint at the true meaning behind their anger and violence toward one another. Additionally, the main possum is apparently fulfilling a prophecy, because he leads an army into the penguin enclosure and gets a scar on his eye. But, he is a farmer possum, not a solidier, and he just wants to live his simple possum life with his pregnant possum wife. WHY, then, did he go into battle in the first place? WHYYYYY?
By the end of “Penguins Vs. Possums”, I was left with more questions than answers, and maybe that’s a good way to start off a series; but if you give your readers questions then you have to be willing to answer at least some of them. The WHY from halfway through became almost a battle cry of my own by the end, and if there were more issues of the series I would need some serious exposition in issue two if I were going to get hooked as a reader. I would also probably need a pair of those penguin goggles for myself. I think part of the problem lies within the fact that plot too often relies on classic battle story tropes. The farmer is destined to be the champion, the actual champion is disappointed, there are children on the way and blah blah blah. There’s also an imbalance between the amount of screentime given to the…uh…Penguins, versus the Possums. While we get to know a day in the life of a possum fairly well, we barely see anything about what it’s like to be a penguin at the San Diego zoo, besides dealing with entirely incompetent people staring at you all day. My final problem with the storyline was pacing. As I stated before, the first issue is jam packed with battles.
At the top of the story, the possums declare that they must take out the emperor, then by the end of the first issue, they manage to kill him with his own helmet. I don’t know about you, but if I was a possum at that point, I would call it a day and get on with my simple possum life. BUT THERE’S STILL THE PROPHECY! AND THE MYSTERIOUS POSSUM WITH THE EYE PATCH! AND THE BABY POSSUMS OF THE FUTURE! (I think. Maybe the simple possum wife got killed in the scuffle. I can’t really tell…). If issue two were to come out of “Penguins Vs. Possums”, I would probably give it a chance, but Brent, Calhood and Kalecik have some MAJOR ‘splainin to do if they expect me to stick around to issue three. A bribe in the form of penguin goggles would probably also work.