Mild-mannered reporters by day, Greg Phillips and Nick Duke share an intense love of comic books that has made them the Hard-Traveling Fanboys. Over the course of their travels through comicdom, they have encountered numerous stories via the wonder of trade paperbacks and graphic novels. Once a month, Nick and Greg will review one of those collections in The Longbook Hunters.
Greg: We’re a few days behind schedule, but nevertheless, we’re ready for another installment of The Longbook Hunters. Each month, we’ll look at a book that one of us has read and the other has not. This time around, we examine our first BOOM! Studios book, the first volume of Irredeemable, written by Mark Waid and illustrated by Peter Krause. I first read the series a couple years ago, while this was Nick’s first read-through.
Nick: That’s right, Irredeemable. Mark Waid has gained somewhat of a reputation for being the king of the lighthearted, more optimistic superhero tale. However, he’s perfectly capable of giving us something a bit more cynical, as evidenced by this work and the masterpiece Kingdom Come.
Greg: In addition to Kingdom Come, Waid is perhaps best known for his nearly 10-year run on The Flash in the ’90s and his current critically acclaimed stint writing Daredevil. I read only a bit of Waid’s Flash growing up, but loved Kingdom Come, 52 and his terrific JLA story “Tower of Babel.” How familiar were you with Waid’s writing before picking up Irredeemable?
Nick: Not very much, to be honest. His DC work mostly came before I got into DC and his Marvel work has largely come since I fell out of touch with the company, so really the only notable work of Waid’s I had read before this was Kingdom Come. That, however, is all it takes for me to consider Waid a master storyteller. The only bad thing I can say about Kingdom Come is I often see people giving Alex Ross more credit and praise than Waid. Both deserve equal amounts of praise for that story’s success.
Greg: I completely agree, and perhaps we’ll discuss that particular book in the future. Getting to Irredeemable, a friend of mine had been singing its praises for months before finally loaning me a copy of this trade paperback a few years back. He pitched the premise to me thus: “Superman” (rather, a character clearly modeled after Superman) snaps one day, takes over the world and rules with an iron fist. I was a tad skeptical at first, because I felt I’d read this story before numerous times, but I nevertheless relented and gave it a shot. How did you first hear about Irredeemable, and what (if any) were your preconceived notions going into your first reading last week?
Nick: You were the first one to really sing the book’s praises to me, and you described it much the same way it was described to you. And it certainly comes off as that — the first volume, at least, deals with a character that is overwhelmingly similar to Superman and tells the story of his fall from grace, although through a bit more violent or adult lens than most of the “Superman goes berserk” stories I’ve seen or read.
Greg: That’s probably the first thing to understand about this book — it is dark. And I don’t mean “dark by superhero standards.” This is significantly more violent and depressing than Red Son or most of the other “Evil Superman” stories I’ve read. In the opening pages, the Plutonian (the main character and antagonist of the series) brutally murders Hornet, one of his former teammates, as well as his wife and daughter.
How did those opening pages strike you? Were you as surprised as I was?
Nick: Not really, mainly because you had told me the basic concept of the book. And once the Hornet was shown on the page, it was clear that he feared for his life, which helps the reader to understand that whatever has happened to the Plutonian, there will be no mercy. When the Plutonian does show up, the results are ridiculously violent and evil. While I understood from very early on that something despicable was about to happen, it didn’t keep the actual events from being well-written and compelling.
Greg: The other thing that I think separates Irredeemable from other attempts at this theme is the fact that it is telling a long-form story. Irredeemable consists of 10 different collected editions, and I don’t think any other story of this kind has ever been attempted over such a long period of time. That led me to wonder, after those first few pages, “How can this possibly continue past a single volume?”
Luckily, the Plutonian is far from the only character in the book. In fact, much of the story centers on the attempts by Plutonian’s former teammates, the Paradigm, to unseat Tony (as they call him) from his dictatorial position. In this first volume, we’re presented with a few key questions: What made Tony lose his marbles and how can the other heroes hope to stop him?
How did the book handle these questions, in your view, and which of them was the most intriguing in this opening volume?
Nick: The mystery that most excited me was easily that of the Plutonian’s (I hated the Tony nickname, for what it’s worth) motivations for going all-out dictator. Part of his reasoning was his romantic woes and the issues he had with his secret identity’s coworkers, but it’s clear that there’s a lot more to his personality shift than we’ve seen so far. As far as how his former teammates will stop him, the Plutonian’s powers and weaknesses haven’t been fully revealed and detailed yet. Once they are, I feel like Waid will leave himself a logical way to write the Plutonian being taken down. His teammates are also endeavoring to find out every aspect of the Plutonian’s past, whether they’re directly linked to his turn or not. Those tidbits of backstory were also fascinating to me.
Greg: Without spoiling anything, I’ll say the Plutonian’s powers are definitely explored in later volumes, as are some ethical questions of how far the Paradigm are willing to go to stop him. Before we delve into the characters and the plot anymore, let’s talk a little about the art. This was my first exposure to Krause’s work, and it was brilliant. The emotion leaps off every panel, particularly during close-up shots. Krause draws really clean figures and strong action, as well, but his ability to convey the terror and cynicism of the Irredeemable world was absolutely essential to the experience. Colorist Andrew Dalhouse also deserves a lot of credit. The colors are dark, but unlike some colorists, Dalhouse doesn’t obscure the scene or overuse any particular color.
Nick: Like you said, the emotion just drips off the panel. These aren’t characters we have a pre-existing knowledge of, such as Batman or Superman, where we as readers would have a solid understanding of how each character might react to a given situation. Rather, almost the entire emotional weight of the story falls on the artists. They must convey reactions and effects through body language and facial reactions, and the artists do a fantastic job of meeting the challenge. I really can’t say enough about how effective the art was. That first scene, as we’ve already discussed, shows readers that the bar is going to be set pretty damn high, and the quality never really dips noticeably from there.
Greg: With that said, let’s get down to the cast of characters, which is pretty extensive for a four-issue volume. We meet the Plutonian, his lobotomized former sidekick Samsara, the seven members of the Paradigm and even several of the supervillains who once opposed Plutonian.
Which characters stood out the most to you?
Nick: Strangely enough, it may have been Alana Patel, the Plutonian’s one-time love interest. Their relationship is a clear analogue for that of Clark Kent and Lois Lane, with a drastically different reaction to the news of her lover being an all-powerful superhero.
Greg: Ha! I was actually going to point to Alana as one of my choices as well. I found her character to be particularly intriguing, as the first time we meet her, she invites Kaidan (one of the Paradigm) to kill her, assuming she’s there at Tony’s behest. And while her reaction to the secret identity revelation is, perhaps, only human, it certainly adds some weight to Plutonian’s mental baggage.
Nick: Other than Alana, I think Samsara was fascinating, and it seems as if he knows more about the Plutonian than has currently been revealed. The rest of the Paradigm have me interested, but I feel like I need to read more of their interactions to get a good read on who they really are. I do like the idea of them tracking down the Plutonian’s one-time arch-nemesis Modeus, who seems to be the only one capable of hurting him.
Greg: Obviously, the Plutonian himself is a fascinating character. Though we boiled him down to a Superman analog above, he’s completely unique in many facets. Unlike our Superman, he doesn’t seem to have the same inherent sense of morality and unshakable resolve, though in this volume we’re not completely shown what causes him to veer from what was clearly a heroic path.
Qubit, the leader of the Paradigm, is really the only member of the group that gets a major focus in this volume, and he seems torn between guilt and anger as a result of the Plutonian’s actions. For me, though, Kaidan (with her unique spirit powers) seemed the most intriguing in these early issues. She appears completely confident in herself and her powers, though the whole group is hopelessly outgunned, or so it seems.
Nick: It’s important to note that the first volume only encompasses four issues, so it isn’t like there was a ton of space for each character to have a major amount of focus. In fact, I’d say I was surprised at how much action and story advancement there was in just four issues. Like you said earlier, it’s hard to imagine the story going more than 12 issues at this point, even though I know there’s a long way to go.
Greg: Great point, and that’s something I mentioned to you before you read it — it’s one of the fastest reads I’ve experienced in the last several years. Every issue is simply packed with stuff, and that’s not a knock in any way. In fact, like you, I was impressed that Waid and Krause managed to pack in so many cool ideas, intriguing questions and gripping characters within such a small space. It left me salivating for the next volume. What about you? Are you interested enough to keep reading the series?
Nick: Definitely. My only concern at the moment is if it can sustain this level of quality for an additional nine volumes. Like we’ve said before, the pace they’re setting in terms of plot just seems unsustainable. No matter what I eventually wind up thinking of the series as a whole, though, volumes two and three certainly have my interest.
Greg: I was so happy with the first volume that I became addicted to the series, grabbing new volumes when they’d release, assuming I had the money. Of all the stories I’ve read that explore these themes, this is clearly one of the most gripping, and it’s probably the absolute best of the “Evil Superman” stories. Waid demonstrates an amazing versatility here, filling the entire volume with a sense of cynicism and dread, to the point that, by the end, I was convinced the heroes had no shot to come out on top in this series.
What are your final thoughts on Irredeemable Vol. 1 after your first read-through?
Nick: It’s a great first volume, but I want to withhold overall judgment until I get more of the story. Suffice it to say that it did exactly what a great first volume should do— set the stage and leave you begging for more. Like you, however, the foundation it provides makes for one of the more intriguing “Superman gone bad” stories I’ve ever encountered.
Greg: And with that, we draw to an end. We certainly hope you check out Irredeemable, because A) It’s important to support non-DC, non-Marvel books, and B) It’s pretty darn good.
Next month, in keeping with our theme, we’ll switch to a book Nick has read that I haven’t: Gotham Central Vol. 1, by the writing tandem of Ed Brubaker and Greg Rucka. Also, join us later this week, when Nick and I debut a new Hard-Traveling Fanboys feature.
Nick: We haven’t come up with a super cool catchy name for the recurring feature yet, but we’ll essentially be doing a roundup of the last month’s major news and goings on in the world of comics and providing some of our thoughts on what seems to be coming down the pipe.