BACK ISSUE TO THE FUTURE: IRREDEEMABLE
Commentary by Sean H.
If you ask the average reader for the best Superman origin story, you’re likely to get one of two answers. Superman Secret Origin by Doomsday Clock dream team Geoff Johns and Gary Frank, or Superman Birthright by Mark Waid and Leinil Francis Yu (You may also get The Man of Steel by John Byrne, but I digress). While I personally prefer Secret Origin, Waid’s Birthright is a seminal piece in its own right, being a fantastically written tale about how a man becomes Superman.
Which brings me to Irredeemable. Written by Waid and drawn primarily by Peter Krause, Irredeemable is the story of how a Superman becomes a supervillain. One of the key elements in the origin of Superman story is his upbringing. Everyone knows it; raised on a farm by his two loving parents and surrounded by friends and loved ones (and SA Lex Luthor), he is able to see the best in humanity, and with their guidance decides to use his powers for the good of the world. These are a fairly unique set of conditions allowing for Superman to develop the way he does and formulate the beliefs that propel him into becoming the messianic superhuman we all know and love.
The Plutonian, Irredeemable’s Superman proxy, has none of that. While he strives to help people, he doesn’t have the same internalized belief that everyone is inherently good and worth saving in spite of their flaws. So, when he finally gets criticized one too many times and the pressure of humanity’s problems becomes too much, he makes the calm and level-headed choice to murder the entire world.
This event kickstarts the series, which explores what happens when the world’s greatest hero goes bad for good, and how everyone else responds to it. It’s grim, dealing not only with the dangers of a rampaging, nihilistic demigod, but the loss of hope that comes with it. Plutonian, like Superman, represents an ideal in his universe. When betrays everything he stood for, it makes everyone question whether or not there’s any hope left, and that causes all sorts of unpleasant new problems as other costumed heroes struggle to keep the faith and stop the madness, only to come up short every time. Add into the mix increasingly dangerous and desperate supervillains, now having to evolve or die in the face of the Plutonian’s onslaught, and you have a recipe for what I truly believe to be Mark Waid’s finest work.
His characterization of not only Plutonian, but the wide cast of costumed heroes and villains who he now threatens, is the best of his career and the storyline plays out like a good and proper comic book event series, putting all the usual tropes in place, and then showing what happens to them when the script gets thrown out the window. Peter Krause, and later Diego and Eduardo Baretto (however briefly), capture the atmosphere and emotion of every scene, giving life to Plutonian’s reign of terror and conveying the feeling of a proper epic. This was only further helped by its sister series Incorruptible, which dealt with Plutonian’s most hated adversary, Max Damage, who is inspired to reform and do what’s right after witnessing the carnage of Plutonian’s rampage firsthand.
Mark Waid’s star may have fallen somewhat in recent years, but Irredeemable represents him at his peak, and is absolutely worth the read.