52 weeks. 52 different writers. 2 trade paperbacks or hardcovers a week. Each week I’ll take a look at a different writer and read two different collected editions from within that person’s repertoire to help in the examination of their work.
Mark Waid is often regarded as something of a “Silver Age Saviour”, being a man who instills traditions from the Silver Age of comics into the stories he tells. This is something that Grant Morrison addresses in the afterword found in Irredeemable Volume 1, highlighting how hard it is to shuck labels that are attached to you. With Irredeemable, Waid brought forth a glimpse at the difficulties that come with being a superhero, using it as a platform to highlight what happens to a hero when they are too far gone for redemption. Taking those Silver Age traditions and throwing them right through the wood chipper, Waid proved without a shadow of a doubt that he is far more than a fan turned writer who tries to maintain the upkeep of Silver Age ideals.
Irredeemable Volume 1
The Plutonian, the world’s greatest superhero, becomes unhinged and snaps, causing wide-spread ruin across Earth. After years of saving the planet, The Plutonian finally becomes fed up, killing countless innocent people and physically dismantling the planet. Many of his former teammates band together in an attempt to stop him but to no avail, as the mighty hero proves too much even for his long time allies. As these “friends” work diligently to find some way to stop their disheveled ally, The Plutonian basks in his glory, effectively holding the entire planet in a strange hold as he does his own bidding.
Mark Waid inverts your standard superhero story with “Irredeemable”, showing what happens when the greatest hero to have ever live turns on all those he loves and cares for. With free reign of his mighty power, The Plutonian levels entire cities with general ease, showing a sickening side to the writer Mark Waid. As Waid states in the foreword of this graphic novel, Irredeemable is about the cost of being a superhero. The descent into villainy isn’t instantaneous, being more of a slow burn than an Olympic sprint. That’s exactly what Waid starts to put together here, the obscure pieces of the puzzle that reveals what made The Plutonian transition from the world’s greatest superhero to the world’s most vicious super villain.
With only four issues to work with in this first volume, there are a few ups and downs that set Irredeemable off on an interesting course. The small issue count makes it difficult for things to really develop, as Waid uses these four issues to really cement the brutality and disgusting nature of a man changed from hero to villain. Across these four issues there are teases of what pushed him to the edge, with Waid acting as a great magician who is saving his best tricks for the grand finale far down the road. Irredeemable is largely enjoyable due to its dark subject matter but not being overly dark, an odd paradox that seems impossible to muster yet Waid still manages to do it. The mood of the volume makes you fearful and engrossed by The Plutonian’s awful actions but never are you taken aback by gratuitous or unnecessary violence. Waid does an excellent job of making sure the worst thing you see happen to a character is them getting vaporized. No blood or dismemberment, just a skeletal figure left behind following an intense blast of radial heat. It’s impressive to have a series that deals with something so wicked succeed without being too bloody or vulgar, something artist Peter Krause deserves credit for as well, as it’s one thing for Waid to picture the series in a certain way but it’s a whole other ball game for an artist to actually illustrate it properly.
Even though I mentioned how the small page count affects the story and it’s developments, Waid still makes the most of the real estate he’s allotted, adding in several personal layers to the character of The Plutonian. As his former teammates work diligently to uncover anything to help them defeat their new foe, we learn plenty of interesting things about The Plutonian just as these characters learn them as well. It works to great effect to have these former allies discovering these new things about the Plutonian as you do, partially because it hammers home how woefully unprepared they all were for his sudden turn and to a greater effect it immerses you because of how surprising the information is to not only these fictional characters but to you as a reader as well. Waid takes time to chip away at a few of the mysteries surrounding the Plutonian, with the largest amount of focus falling on his girlfriend and the personal life they shared together. As these former allies dig deeper they discover his alias but also learn about the latent darkness that has always laid within him. What’s so chilling about The Plutonian’s character is how calm he is whilst being evil. A man who has supposedly spent years being the world’s greatest superhero and saving countless lives is disturbingly cold when it comes to having any sort of empathy. The Plutonian enacts terrible crimes and sickening deeds with this bluntness to his voice that is sure to chill you to your bone. Off the top of my head I can think of at least one moment per issue where he doesn’t scream or yell or declare his evil plans. He just does them and any words he states have this emptiness to them, this lack of compassion that you’d expect to see from a serial killer instead of a superhero. The devious mind of The Plutonian is seemingly always at work as you delve further into the story, being calculated and deliberate with every word he chooses to speak.
Collects: Irredeemable #1-4
Best Character: The Plutonian
Best Line Of Dialogue/Caption: “Choose ten.”- The Plutonian
Best Scene/Moment: The Plutonian provides a test for his greatest villains – Issue 3
Best Issue: Issue 4. It’s hard to pick the best issue out of the four present in the first volume. Each issue is packed with awful moments (and I mean that in a positive way as that’s largely what Waid is trying to achieve, awful moments from an amazing hero) but issue 4 takes the brutal piece of the cake, chucks it against the ground, runs over it with a lawnmower, and then laughs while it watches as you try to you pick it up. If Superman ever did anything like what the Plutonian does in this issue the world would surely riot. But with this issue of Irredeemable you just watch in horror, believing that no hero should ever do what The Plutonian does. It’s a sick, shocking issue that is only heightened by the cold demeanor of our hero turned villain
Why You Should Read It: Irredeemable manages to subvert the superhero genre in ways that have been done before but never to this compelling of a degree. Waid takes a character that should be a Superman knock off and quickly makes you forget that he’s fulfilling that character archetype because of how villainous he makes him. You see “heroes gone bad” stories all the time. Spidey got a brain swap, Hal Jordan went insane, even Tony Stark is inverted nowadays but you know all those heroes go back at one point or another and they will be redeemed somehow. With Irredeemable there is no going back because at the core of the story is the question “How far must a hero go to become Irredeemable?”. Mark Waid gets off to a great start in answering that question here in this first volume.