Boom! Studios has become one of my favorite comic publishers. The Traveler, Extermination, and the Hypernaturals are all excellent titles. But the one that I want to talk about today is the one that Boom! launched with – Irredeemable.
Irredeemable asks the question “What would happen if the world’s greatest hero became the world’s greatest villain?” The initial reviews of this that I saw likened it to what would happen if Superman went bad.
I was skeptical at first. Back in the 90’s there were several storylines where Supes went bad. They all revolved around one central story element. LOIS DIES. No matter what else Superman endures, what horrors he stops, what terrible things he encounters, the one thing that snaps his psyche like a twig is the death of Lois Lane. These books all followed a pattern: Lois dies. Supes snaps and decides that he’s going to run everything on planet Earth from thereon in, and woe to anyone who stands in his way. He usually kills off most of the other superheroes (off camera), except for Batman, who despite having no superpowers of his own, somehow manages to stay off Supes’ radar. Batman ultimately leads a team of non-powered heroes against the Man of Steel, several of them die, but Bats whips out a chunk of kryptonite at the last possible second and kills Superman, who repents with his dying breath.
That’s kinda what I figured I’d find in Irredeemable.
Was I wrong.
Warning – Spoilers Ahead
Irredeemable tells the story of the Plutonian, Earth’s most powerful hero, and his tragic and terrible fall from grace. The series opens just moments after the Plutonian’s gone bad, and he begins his reign of terror by killing Hornet, this world’s equivalent to Batman. Hornet never stands a chance. In fact, he makes it two steps into his Hornet-Cave (Hornet Nest? They never did name Hornet’s hideout) before the Plutonian breaks his legs and then vaporizes him with his heat vision. We’re led to believe that Hornet had stuff in his cave that could have stopped the Plutonian, but after killing Hornet (and his family) Plutonian destroys the cave, too.
We move back and forth between the present and the past, seeing the events that led up to the Plutonian’s fall. We see how as a child, the Plutonian bounced from foster home to foster home, because the families didn’t know how to deal with a toddler who could lift a couch or shoot lasers from his eyes. We see how he led a Clark Kent-ish double life, crushing on a co-worker as Dan Hartigan, while wooing her as the Plutonian. When he finally reveals his identity to her, she freaks out on him, claiming that he’s made a fool of her. We see how his super-hearing let him hear all the nice things people said about him, while also enabling him to hear every crack and jibe about how he wore tights.
It goes on and on. And eventually, all these things erode the Plutonian down and he breaks. A handful of the remaining heroes eventually do manage to subdue him, but not until millions of people and most of the heroes on the planet are dead.
The thing that really disturbed me about this series was how identifiable the Plutonian was as a character. This guy who turns bad and lays waste to the planet and his former friends shouldn’t be someone a reader can sympathize with. I’ve heard people say that Superman is hard to identify with, because the guy’s damn near perfect. He’s strong, fast, smart and stable. He has a big heart and he’s generous and forgiving. The Plutonian was like that, but after working hard to be good and always doing the right thing, he starts to feel taken advantage of. Eventually, he resents the people he’s worked so hard to protect. “You bring wonder to their lives,” he says in one issue, “and it’s never enough.”
Who hasn’t felt unappreciated at one point or another? Who hasn’t felt taken advantage of at one time in their life? Who hasn’t thought about just saying “fuck it all” when the bullshit gets too high? Those feelings are what make the Plutonian a relatable character, and Mark Waid is an absolute genius for pulling it off so beautifully. There are moments in the series where you think maybe, just maybe he’s not irredeemable after all, that he might turn it around, and then something happens to push him back. By the end, he’s turned completely evil and it’s obvious there’s no going back.
Long story short, if you like comics and you like a good story, you owe it to yourself to pick up Irredeemable.