You are warned, here be spoilers.
Irredeemable, from Boom! Studios, and The Mighty, from DC, both came to my attention via an episode of the iFanboy.com podcast. The iFanboy guys talked about the two series together, and their approach makes sense. For me, I was encountering both at the same time – on the same shopping trip – and they have similar premises; to present them side by side for comparison is only logical.
Both center around Superman-esque superheroes, and both make them menacing to some degree or other.
Dan Anderson is better known as the Plutonian. He’s a standard flying brick hero, and a member of the Paradigm – this setting’s all-star superhero team. He is, according to this issue, “Earth’s most powerful and beloved hero.”
He has gone berserk.
Though we don’t see much of his violence in this issue, the recap material on the inside cover does as superb job of bringing us up to speed. It says “tens of millions have died thanks to his wanton acts of destruction,” and talks about the Paradigm’s desperate efforts to stop him. There’s a visual dramatis personae, with portraits of the Paradigm’s twelve members and their names, with four of those members crossed out – because they’re dead. Discounting the Plutonian himself, this image says to me, “Four down, seven to go.” It sets up a mood of dread and desperation, which is, I hope, integral to the story. This inside cover is a fantastic response to the old comics adage, “every issue is someone’s first.”
The story is uneven and chaotic, but it feels deliberately so – the Paradigm are disorganized, and they’re working frantically. When we first encounter them, they’re fighting robot duplicates of Modeus, the Plutonian’s archenemy, who are running loose inside the Paradigm’s own secret base. The robots were constructed in the first place because they might yield some insight on defeating the Plutonian. This was a bad idea from the start, but not a surprising one from a team that’s running scared. When one of the team members accidentally triggers one of the Plutonian’s own panic alarms – the sort Lois Lane might carry in her pocket to summon Superman – they evacuate through a teleportation device. One of them stays behind to buy time, and no one has any illusions about his chances.
This feels like a horror story – a daylight horror story, like Jeepers Creepers or The Devil’s Rejects. There’s a genuine, even oppressive sense that the Paradigm’s members all need to go, go now, and never stop, because one wrong footfall will mean their deaths. I’m fascinated by the Plutonian’s appearance. With the cut of his costume and his blond crew-cut, he reminds me eerily of Miracleman, a similarity I refuse to believe is accidental.
I like that this tale is coming from Mark Waid, who wrote the magnificent Kingdom Come. Kingdom Come was a furious indictment of the directions comics went in the ’90s, and a cry for a return to the high ideals and heroic optimism extolled in the comics of yesteryear. Though Irredeemable is, at least on the strength of this issue, a much lesser work, it’s still an interesting contrast.
The art is maddening. On the one hand, it does its job well – the fear, the desperation, the sloppiness born of panic, all come through in the characters’ expressions and body language. At the same time, the art alternates between awkward and ugly; it feels like it’s drawn by a talented but woefully-unpracticed beginner. Body proportions don’t quite add up, and postures are awkward – not in a Liefeldian contortionist sort of way, but with a general sense of a lack of planning. The same character seems to wear different faces from panel to panel.
I’m torn. I’m delighted by the sense of urgency, of tension and, from it, excitement. Much as I’m bothered by the art, I absolutely must know what happens next.
The opening of this issue is brilliantly conceived and brilliantly executed – if you know the story and characters, which I didn’t. This book did a terrible job of handling the first time reader, not really settling into something I could follow comfortably until page 8.
Going back and re-reading the opening, it’s breathtaking. The first page is nothing special – a predictable overhead shot of a coffin being lowered into a grave, while a minister reads out an equally predictable 1 Corinthians 13 (though he cites it as “Corinthians 1:13”, which is wrong). The second page is much more memorable – a close-up of the face of one Gabriel Cole, which, with succeeding panels, pulls back to reveal him standing at the center of a crowd of mourners. Most of them fade into the background, until we’re left with only three vsual elements in front of a distant, muddled-pink background – Gabriel Cole at the center, the superhero Alpha One off to the right, and Gabriel’s shadow, which falls over the grave to form an “A”. Utterly meaningless to someone who doesn’t know Alpha One or his “A” logo, but quite arresting now that I’ve read the issue that follows.
Eventually, I did get a sense of what was going on – Gabriel Cole had once been close to Alpha One (initially I thought he was he was a former sidekick of Alpha One’s, but now I’m not sure), but now there’s some bad blood between them. Gabriel mopes – he’s lost a few loved ones recently, including the subject of the funeral at the start of the issue – and Alpha One makes gentle attempts to smooth things over with him.
Two story elements jump out – they’re what grabs and intrigues me. The first is a scene about halfway through the issue. After a spat at Gabriel’s apartment, Alpha One flies away to a baseball field. Under cover of night, he buries a nuclear bomb under (I think) home plate, first setting it for 72 hours. The second is a conversation, wherein Alpha One casually reveals that the public version of his origin (something about an accident with a hydrogen bomb) is a cover story, and that his real origin will soon be revealed(“I only hope they can accept it.”).
Alpha One isn’t as clearly, simply malevolent as the Plutonian, but there’s something Going On with with him.
I love the art in this issue. Chris Samnee’s linework and John Kalisz’s colours strongly remind me of the work of Darwyn Cooke, an artist I love, or the animation in any of those wonderful ’90s DC animated series. There’s terrific control of pacing through panel-work, and the art perfectly reflects the story’s ambiguity – the characters all have lantern jaws and chiseled features, yet they’re forever in heavy shadow, lit by monitors and fridge-lights and the like.
While not quite as gripping as Irredeemable #6, The Mighty #8 is a more satisfying read, and I most definitely want to know what happens next.