Writer: Mark Waid
Artist: Peter Krause
Colors: Andrew Dalhouse
Letters: Ed Dukeshire
Cover artists: John Cassaday/Dennis Calero
Editor: Matt Gagnon
Publisher: Boom! Studios
Price: $3.99 US
I’m not in the habit anymore of writing a full review of a comic book when I’d written one up for a previous issue the month before, but after reading this second episode of Mark Waid’s deconstruction of the concept of Superman, I realized I had a lot to say about it and that this marked a significant improvement over the storytelling in the first issue. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed Irredeemable #1; it featured entertaining, solid storytelling. But with the second issue, writer Mark Waid and artist Peter Krause really step up their performances. One could dismiss Irredeemable as the latest in a series of dark takes on the super-hero genre, but Waid and Krause offer up some novel character concepts amid a commentary on Superman comics of yesteryear.
The Plutonian, once the world’s greatest and most powerful super-hero, continues a rampage of death and destruction across the planet, as his former teammates continue their quest for the means to stop him by any means possible. That leads one of the heroes, Kaiden, to seek out the woman once dubbed “the Plutonian’s girlfriend” in the press. Alana Patel recalls how she met the powerhouse, how they fell in love, how he shared his feelings with her… and where it all went wrong. As Kaiden tries to find some clue to how to stop the former hero in Alana’s memories, it becomes all too clear that those whose lives the Plutonian touched are now as damaged and fragile as the once proud cityscape that once stood outside the woman’s home.
Visually, it’s abundantly clear what one of the goals of this series is to serve as a love letter to the amazing artwork of the late Curt Swan, who’s pretty much universally hailed as the ultimate Superman artist. So many have said that when they picture the Man of Steel, it’s Swan’s interpretation of the classic character that they see. In my review of the previous issue, I wrote, “There are also a couple of panels in this issue that put me in mind of the work of the late Curt Swan, the quintessential Superman artist for any era of comics.” Now I see that Krause is taking just about all of his cues from Swan’s style. The scene in the radio broadcasting booth in particular just sings of Swan, as it reminds me so much of the WGBS TV news set from Action Comics and Superman stories of the 1980s. Swan really captured the humanity of his characters, and Krause does the same here.
The designs for the other super-hero characters are quite striking as well. Kaiden’s new, ghostly look is quite striking. Furthermore, it serves as a visual representation of the notion that she, like Alana, is haunted by her own memories of the Plutonian. The distinctions between the scenes set in the present and the flashbacks of the Plutonian as a hero are pronounced and effective. The hazy panel borders for the flashbacks really aren’t needed at all, as the shift in color is all the cue the reader needs. Andrew Dalhouse employs bright, dazzling colors for the flashbacks, and melancholy, dreary greys dominate the world the powerhouse is abusing and destroying.
Not only are Krause’s designs for the other members of the Paradigm striking and original, Waid’s concepts for these heroes seem unlike anything we’ve seen before. While the Plutonian is clearly meant to be Superman, the rest of the heroes are quite so easily pigeon-holed as counterparts of genre archetypes. Waid could have easily fallen back on cheap knockoffs of the rest of the Justice League, but he opted instead to develop something new, something unusual. AS a fan of the genre, it’s always surprising and satisfying to discover a character that’s unlike others I’ve seen before. Waid’s also clearly made an effort to make the cast of characters more multicultural in tone.
Waid’s focus here isn’t on unimaginable destruction, weird and new super-hero powers or the downfall of a champion. While there’s a fascinating plot and mystery unfolding, it’s the characterization that’s the most engaging aspect of the book. We see the Plutonian/Superman as an emotionally vulnerable character, even fragile. Waid explores a man who’s forced to live his entire life in secret and how he’s changed and damaged when the decision to finally let someone see his vulnerability and humanity blows up in his face. We also get to see what scares a man who can’t be hurt along with what breaks his heart. Alana’s reaction to learning the Plutonian’s secret is completely understandable and justified. That explosive scene and the fallen hero’s relationship with Patel simply serve to spotlight how disconnected he is from humanity and how that’s really left him as something of an innocent. Perhaps it’s his loss of innocence that leads to the world’s loss of hope and security. 9/10