Tuesday, January 31, 2012

I have a few questions for Mark Waid on "Irredeemable"

edit:  I have recently been informed that my comics conversations have gone way "inside baseball".  I suspect this is one of those.  I apologize in advance.

Also, this thing was riddled with type-o's.  Thanks for not pointing that out.

I just finished Irredeemable Volume 8.

Some thoughts:

As much as Kingdom Come was a commentary on the state of superhero comics in the mad, mad 90's, I have to look at Irredeemable in whole, if not in individual parts, as another bit of Waid's commentary, but (for me) its a bit like trying to hold mercury.  The Plutonian is not exactly a Superman analog, even when he clearly is.  There are hints of Squadron Supreme here and there, which was exactly a commentary on the Justice League, but maybe less so when JMS rebooted the Squadron a decade ago.  Hints of Wildstorm, bits of reflections of reflections of the JLA and DC line of books in Authority or a few dozen other replicas that mistook gloss for edge and grim violence for "realism".  But maybe this book is a reflection of that dark reflection.

In this issue, Irredeemable fights the ghost robot from space!*

For those who aren't keeping track at home, Irredeemable doesn't just sort of ask in an Elseworlds sense, but really follows through on the question of "What if Superman snapped?".  I've just completed the 8th collected edition of the series (a bit more on that later), and by now our Superman stand-in, The Plutonian (aka: Tony), has leveled island nations like Singapore, wiped out American cities and placed the entire planet into the turmoil one could begin to expect were an angry god walking the Earth, doing exactly as he pleased, where no amount of damage he did could really sate him.

Other writers have written their one-off stories here and there about Superman gone bad or mad.  Heck, Superman #5 out last week played on this theme.  There's always a Batman or someone to stop him by the end of the story.  The Wildstorm books didn't give us Superman gone fully rogue, just an aloof Superman who practiced bits of enlightened self-interest in Apollo and Mr. Majestic (I still like Mr. Majestic pretty well).  I've not read the 80's Miracleman/ Marvelman, but I suspect the stories might have some similarities.  I'd be curious to see.

But what would it look like to have a Superman go mad on Earth?  Maybe because writer Mark Waid knows Superman as well as any person alive today, the story feels immediate and terrifying in a way that never gets tired.  His Superman is a Superman with no Jonathan and Martha Kent, no Krypto, no Jor-El or Lara.  The Plutonian is a Superman untethered, who fulfills all those "dammit, if I were Superman" fantasies we might imagine in a moment of rage, where it might be nice if the rules of reality no longer applied to us (and only ourselves), and the rest of the world would just have to deal.  There is no Kryptonite bullet to stop the madness in this story.  Just more madness.

Its a commentary not just upon the meta or self-reflexive comics that borrowed from The Man of Steel,  of those who tried to take Superman to his extremes, but upon us, and how we might be in the odd trap of our limitless power an albatross rather than a gift.  What would we become?

Its not just The Plutonian who has become a menace.  Its the all-too-human "heroes" with whom he'd surrounded himself.  Put to the test, and without Tony at the center, they fall upon one another, fail one another, and generally look far from heroic.

Even in the 8th volume (I said I'd mention this later), the series still feels fresh.  I'm not reading the individual issues, but I grab the new volumes of collections from Boom! as soon as they hit the shelf, as well as the companion series, Incorruptible, a series about a villain gone straight but with none of the items a hero usually has in their moral tool-kit to understand limits or perform good deeds without behaving just as much as a sociopath as before.

So my question, then, is:  Is Mark Waid writing the comic he wants to write, or is he writing the comic he thinks we want, but taking it past our comfort zone?  This series came on the heels of Waid leaving The Flash at DC and mentioning that he wasn't sure what the modern reader wanted.   And I am often left wondering if this book isn't at least partially Waid's response to the dark.

He's asked superheroes to return to the light (and turned DC around for a number of years with KC), so is the antithesis intentional?  Is it trying something new out and writing a different kind of story, or is it something else, and I'm missing it somewhere in between?

At any rate, sigh, I am fascinated with Irredeemable as much as I enjoy the plotting and characters, the bizarre twists and turns and the epic hopelessness of it all.  Its one hell of a read to see Waid break expectations and convention, and see what you can do with a little idea like a Superman gone bad.

*that is a jokey thing.  Please do not call him "Irredeemable"


Jake Shore said...

I had never heard of this. Sounds pretty intriguing. Do you find reading this kind of story bothers you after a while, despite the quality? I've never liked villains as protagonists, even if there's some interesting themes/issues being explored.

This got me thinking about what comics out there that really try to explore some of the issues that would result from the huge weight of expectations and responsibility a true blue superhero might face. Obviously powerful characters like Superman, Green Lantern, Professor X, maybe Silver Surfer would be obvious choices, but I can't think of any storylines that explore a fragile human psyche with any depth , and over time. Any suggestions?

January 31, 2012 11:58 PM

Fantomenos said...

Oh psyched that you wrote this up!

I just started reading Irredeemable, got through collection 3, glad to hear it still feels fresh!

I think the execution here is brilliant, like you said, we've seen a "Superman on a rampage" issue or two, but this shows him getting embittered and resentful so slowly...

Gerry said...

I read these in issues and what he's doing now kind of supports what you theorize his intentions are. I won't say more since I don't want to spoil anything for you, but he's doing the origins of both characters and totally subverting everything you'd expect.

The League said...

@Jake - the series trades are still very available at finer comic shops, and there's an Omnibus edition out that I ponder picking up sometimes.

I can only think of a few examples of villains as protagonists. The recent Cornell run with Luthor as the lead in Action was terrific. Old school Suicide Squad was in my wheelhouse. The ongoing Deathstroke is probably about an assassin as protagonist (I'll never know). But this series takes the concept to new levels and treats the Earth as the victim it would be.

@Fantomenos & Jake - pick up Incorruptible, too. Its hand-in-glove to this series.

@Gerry - I cannot wait for the collected editions.

Jake Shore said...

I just looked up Incorruptible. It got me wondering. Do you know if Waid plans on these being ongoing series? Or does he plan some climax that will wrap up the story and bring the series to an end? Something like a final confrontation between the two characters?

The League said...

I suspect that both series have a planned ending point. I don't see how this could carry on indefinitely. Maybe a 60 issue run or so?

Simon MacDonald said...

Actually Waid just announced today that the series are ending at issues 37 for Irredeemable and 30 for Incorruptible. Which is probably a good thing as a story like that can't go on forever. I read an interview with Waid and I think you were pretty close if not bang on when you alluded to Waid writing these series to get his "dark" out.