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'Intergalactic Nemesis' keeps soaring along, with second part

Jeanne Claire van Ryzin

Comic books. Sci-fi stories. Graphic novels. Radio plays. Classic movies.

They're all things director and producer Jason Neulander has loved since he was a little kid.

No wonder he has bundled them up into a multimedia trilogy of live theatrical shows, the second part of which debuts Friday at the Long Center for the Performing Arts.

For the past two years, Neulander's show "The Intergalactic Nemesis Book One: Target Earth" has busily toured the nation after its Austin debut at the Long Center.

With three actors voicing multiple characters, a live sound effects artist, a keyboardist playing a movie palace-like score and vividly colored comic book illustrations projected on a 20-foot screen, "Nemesis" combines retro-style, family-friendly theatrical story-telling with just enough modern technical flash. Austin composer Graham Reynolds — who most recently wrote the score for Richard Linklater's film "Bernie" — penned the music.

"Book Two: Robot Planet Rising" continues the adventures of Molly Sloan, the spunky Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter, and her intrepid research assistant Timmy Mendez as they venture to Robonovia, the Robot Planet.

Set in the 1930s, the "Nemesis" tale has all the "gee-whiz" dialogue, vintage futurism and good-triumphing-over-evil of the classic radio plays.

"People just love the story," Neulander says. "We get everybody from people old enough to remember radio plays to ‘Star Wars' fans to the ‘Harry Potter' crowd."

As a companion to the live show, Neulander spun off book versions of the episodic "Nemesis" tale, commissioning artists (among them Tim Doyle, Paul Hanley and Lee Duhig) to create the kind of illustrated pages that harken back to the classic midcentury comic books.

"Nemesis" started in 1996 as an informal venture, a casual show presented in a downtown coffee shop. Its instant and enormous audience appeal led Neulander to develop it into a full-scale stage theatrical production with a live sound effects artist and an original score.

Neulander and his co-creators subsequently churned out a couple of sequels to create a trilogy. The shows were staged again and again in Austin and eventually hit the road.

Now, "Nemesis" is an entertainment juggernaut.

Earlier this year, Neulander and the company, in the midst of a 32-city tour, appeared on "Late Night With Conan O'Brian." Next season, the show travels to Canada, Great Britain and plays the Kennedy Center, as well as setting down for a two-week run on Broadway at the New Victory Theatre.

Neulander used to run a small experimental theater company. These days, "Nemesis" has him trotting far beyond Austin.

"I'm humbled by all of this," says Neulander of the success. "I just set out to pay homage to the stories I loved when I was 12 years old."

Contact Jeanne Claire van Ryzin at 445-3699

'The Intergalactic Nemesis Book Two: Robot Planet Rising'