There have been any number of stories in the past three decades deconstructing the super-hero genre, and a great deal of them focus on or include a deconstruction of the Superman archetype. If such stories are crafted well, I generally enjoy them, even if the approach isn’t nearly as avant garde today as it was in the 1980s. Now while the notion of such a deconstruction is far from rare, I was surprised to see not one but two new ongoing titles debuting earlier this year, both with their own takes on a corrupt Superman-like figure.
The Mighty by writers Peter J. Tomasi and Keith Champagne and artist Peter Snejbjerg (and later Chris Samnee) debuted Feb. 4. It’s published by DC Comics, but surprisingly enough, it isn’t listed under one of the publisher’s imprints despite the fact that it’s not set in the DC Universe along with its other super-hero characters. Two months later, on April 1, Boom! Studios launched Irredeemable by writer (and its editor-in-chief) Mark Waid and artist Peter Krause after a fairly significant promotional campaign revolving around Mark Waid’s popularity and reputation in the industry. Each title features its own Superman — Alpha One and the Plutonian, respectively — and each one of those characters proves to be malevolent. Each title features protagonists who are trying to uncover the mysteries behind the man of steel and they endeavor to avoid detection by his all-seeing eyes.
I was struck by the fact that such similar titles were being released at the same time, and I wondered how they’d fare and how they compare. Another trait The Mighty and Irredeemable have in common is that they are well written and well illustrated. They’re good comics, featuring compelling characters and dark, engrossing elements.
The books differ in a number of ways as well, significantly so that I’m able to enjoy both separately. I never get the feeling of redundancy after reading the two titles.
The Mighty features one man’s efforts to uncover the secrets of the world’s only superhuman and to expose him for the threat that he represents. Irredeemable, conversely, features the efforts of a group of superhumans to uncover the secrets of the world’s most powerful superhuman who’s quite publicly turned from good to evil (at least, that’s how it seems so far). Thus far, Waid has constructed the individual issues of his series to offer a different character study. The first issue focused on Samsara, the second on Alana Patel and so on. In The Mighty, we’re presented mainly with one extended character study, that of Gabriel Cole, once a young boy whom Alpha One saved who’s grown up into a man who commands an organization dedicated to supporting the good the hero does in the world.
Neither of these titles has made its way into the top 100 comics according to Diamond Comic Distributors. Irredeemable #4 sold 13.623 copies in July, coming in at 148 on Diamond’s top 300 comics for that month. Surprisingly, The Mighty #6, the July issue, sold only 6,660 copies. That’s surprising in that it’s published by DC, which boasts a higher profile and more proven track record than Boom! Studios. Of course, Irredeemable has the advantage of greater publisher support, more promotion and the higher profile of its writer.
It’s a safe bet that The Mighty won’t last much longer at DC with those numbers. In fact, I assume it’s only lasted this long thanks to what is no doubt a strong relationship between Tomasi, a former senior DC editor, and his one-time office-mates. Of course, even if The Mighty was selling at Irredeemable levels, it’d be in danger of moving to the chopping block. Mind you, while 13K+ a month would be a problem at DC, it’s no doubt cause for celebration at Boom! Studios. Irredeemable is its top seller, and the title seems to be gaining momentum, as the fourth issue sold almost 800 copies more than the third in terms of initial orders.
Something else these two titles have in common is the context in which they were approved and went into production. While their first issues were released early on in the new Barack Obama administration in the United States, the editorial ball would have begun rolling for these books no later than 2008, during the waning days of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney’s time in office. The Mighty is about the ultimate protector and authority figure plotting behind the scenes against those he seemingly serves, sacrificing lives and invading privacy without anyone knowing. In Irredeemable, the Plutonian has been transformed from adored hero into overt villain, feared and hated by the entire planet. It’s not hard to see the previous Republican administration (regardless of one’s politics) in both of these Supermen.
Another commonality is the mystery surrounding the central Superman-like figures. While the Plutonian’s crimes against humanity are overt, splayed out for all to see, no one knows why he’s committing them. And while Alpha One’s murders and abductions are carried out in secret, again, we don’t know why he’s committing these travesties. Mystery is a cornerstone for both titles, and something makes me suspect that all isn’t as it seems in either case. the audience is meant to be horrified by the actions of the main characters in both books, but in either case, it’s possible that seemingly corrupt actions might have a larger purpose. Who knows? I plan on continuing reading to find out — in both cases.
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