The Possum #1, September 2006, Possum Press
by Blair Kitchen
Presumably, I don't have to explain to you that superhero titles are not commonplace at the Alternative Press Expo. The very name of the event implies that one would find something alternative to the mainstream, and in the comic book industry, superheroes define the mainstream. Now, capes and tights aren't commonplace but they aren't absent completely; in fact, they could be just as successful as any autobiographical zine (for example) if they approach the genre in an alternative way, exploring super-types in unconventional ways. The Possum is such a title, and in fact may be the most unique superhero book I've ever read. In a market saturated with every kind of meta-human archetype imaginable, that's certainly saying something.
First of all, I must say that The Possum is masterfully and beautifully illustrated. In his introduction, Blair Kitchen reveals his experience in the animation business, and this issue is indicative of the skills acquired during those years, as most of these pages are so detailed in their sequential potential that they reflect the faux motion of well-planned storyboards. While the Possum's world looks like and operates under the laws of a cartoon, a few real moments of emotional connection and vulnerability keep the story just this side of absurd. In fact, since the Possum's power is essentially a zombie-like invulnerability to pain, cartoon-like circumstances are essentially the only way to demonstrate his true potential. Throw a school bus at him. Drop a bookcase on him. Toss him out of an ambulance strapped to a gurney and watch him plummet through the city. While these scenes sound like something out of a Bugs Bunny cartoon, are they any less extreme than what Superman experiences on any given day?
But I'm getting ahead of myself. The Possum is really Stuart Spankly (who is really an exaggerated incarnation of creator Blair Kitchen's adolescence), a wanna-be comic book artist that inexplicably breaks the fourth wall to introduce himself to readers and establish his excitement over a forthcoming convention at the local old folks' home where he can promote his series, The Possum. See how that goes full circle? At the con, a crazy old coot, tired of watching his beloved bingo nights postponed by these special events, reveals that he has horded his medications to create a zombie pill that creates an ambivalence to pain. Enter Spankly, garbed in the Possum suit his mother made for him, who discovers the pill and unwittingly swallows it, becoming the very superhero he created. He thwarts the old man's plan to create an army of zombie fish to reclaim his bingo night, and thus his career as a crimefighter begins. Isn't that always the way?
This origin issue is an action-packed seventy-two pages, which is incredibly ambitious for self-published superhero book, and many of the pages are laid out well and easy on the eye -- further, the characters are expressive and agile, retaining realistic proportions with a twist of cartoon flexibility. My only critique is Kitchen's pacing, which at times is so sequential that some panels are blatantly unnecessary. When Spankly rides his bike to the comic book store, we watch him pedal, park, remove his helmet, etc. I understand the importance of ambiance and tension, but I wonder if Kitchen had planned for seventy-two pages and needed some fluff to achieve the goal. Still, The Possum doesn't take itself too seriously, and just by talking to us the readers, Spankly acknowledges the confines of his comic book world. Not that Kitchen sought the Hamlet play-within-a-play motif, but the angle adds a charm and believability to a story that might otherwise seem too looney 'toon to be taken seriously. As it is, The Possum #1 is just plain fun. I think you'd enjoy it.
I have The Possum #2 waiting in the wings to read, as well, but I decided to enjoy this inaugural issue on its own, as some APE attendees most likely only purchased this number one as a test read. (I didn't purchase either books; Kitchen and his brother were kind enough to offer a trade for some of my K.O. Comix.) In that experimental environment, where everyone is looking for the next best thing, the Possum may have taken a step toward saving superheroes. They probably didn't even know they needed saving . . . but that's what makes them so helpless in the first place. Leave it up to a possum to work so well in the shadows.