Penultiman seems to be the perfect hero. He’s the most powerful being on the planet, and he uses his powers to protect and save the people of Earth. He always knows the right thing to do, and he never fails. There’s one person, though, who hates Penultiman more than any of his enemies, and who is never happy with anything he does. Unfortunately that person is perhaps the person who needs to like him the most: himself.
Written by Tom Peyer, illustrated by Alan Robinson, colored by Lee Loughridge, and lettered by Rob Steen, Penultiman is the latest collected edition from AHOY Comics. It’s also the latest AHOY title from Peyer, who also serves as the publisher’s editor-in-chief. The Beat chatted with Peyer about his inspiration for Penultiman, what Alan Robinson brought to the project, and the poor marketing for a beloved ’60s television series.
Joe Grunenwald: What was your inspiration for Penultiman? The idea of the second-to-last stage in human evolution feels very specific.
Tom Peyer: I got it from the word “penultimate,” meaning next-to-last. Superhero stories always have to be about the ultimate this, the ultimate that. And I get it. Superlatives are exciting. But why does everything have to be the best? It gets monotonous. Can’t we set our sights lower?
Grunenwald: The relationships between the various stages of evolution are fascinating. Penultiman, his creators, and the android Antepenultiman all feel like they’re evolved in different ways, that don’t necessarily overlap. How did you approach developing those characters and their relationships?
Peyer: Penultiman is in a state of escalating panic. Everyone treats him like the ultimate, but he knows he’s worse than that, and he feels more and more terrible about it. Antepenultiman, his android assistant, perceives that something’s wrong with Penultiman and innocently—you might say naïvely—sets out to repair him. All of their interactions spring from human panic on one side, robot naïveté on the other.
Grunenwald: You’ve worked with Alan Robinson a few times now, and he’s also done other work for AHOY, namely Planet of the Nerds. What about his work made him the right fit for Penultiman?
Peyer: Alan’s work combines the carefully rendered sheen of the superhero comic with an unusually strong command of emotion. The book has facial expressions I’ve seen in real life but never in a comic. And this story desperately needs that. It’s all about our hero’s feelings as he slowly crumbles.
Grunenwald: You have a long career in superhero comics, and with both Penultiman and The Wrong Earth you’re putting your own spin on the familiar trappings of the genre. What keeps drawing you back to the world of superheroes?
Peyer: I just love them. They’re so unreal. When I was a kid, I had virtually no interest in anyone who didn’t have superpowers. Except for Batman, he was great. And Nick Fury. But tycoons and presidents and military brass and private eyes and lawyers didn’t rate a second thought. They were so pathetically weak. I didn’t like sports because the feats everyone admired were nothing. Nothing.
This approach seriously backfired when I turned my nose up to the TV series Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. I was well into adulthood before I learned that, no, they were not conducting a disciplined, scientific exploration of the deepest regions of this boring planet. They were fighting aliens and monsters. One episode even had the crew being chased around the submarine by a mummy! Why didn’t they mention that in the ads? I would have watched it.
Grunenwald: Penultiman was famously (infamously?) one of the entries in Steel Cage. When last we heard about that, the investigation into the voting irregularities was still ongoing. Do you have any updates to share on that?
Peyer: There is currently an audit of the votes being conducted at the Arizona State Fairgrounds Coliseum in Maricopa County. We hope to be able to announce the final result in the second quarter of 2022.
Grunenwald: Aside from your editing duties, what’s next for you from AHOY?
Peyer: I’m about to start writing a miniseries and a one-shot. One is a familiar property; the other is something you haven’t seen before.
Grunenwald: Thanks again for your time, sir!
Peyer: Thanks for your attention. I love attention.
Published by AHOY Comics, the collected edition of Penultiman is available in comic shops now, and goes on sale everywhere on Tuesday, May 25th. Check out an extended preview of the collection below.