Irredeemable #1Irredeemable #1
Written by Mark Waid
Art by Peter Krause
From BOOM! Studios
Long story short, Irredeemable is about an evil Superman-analogue who goes bat-nuts insane. Not to cross-reference too heavily, but this really is Bruce Wayne's nightmare come true - but in a world without kryptonite. The book opens on the homicidal Plutonian mercilessly slaughtering a costumed hero, along with his family. This is not a hero's story, though the Plutonian was once a hero. Instead, this is the story of an anti-hero. And, y'know, not a redeemable one.
The most powerful aspect of this Waid/ Krause concoction is its ability to convey desperate fear. The prototypical superhero-populated backdrop is right in Waid's wheelhouse, and it is Waid's expert handle on super-heroic mechanics that makes this story so hauntingly familiar. When we flash back to the earliest memories of his former peers, the portrait painted is iconic and comforting; the caped hero topples an iron giant in front of thousands of adoring fans at a baseball park. It is entirely reminiscent of all the basic good we ascribe to the extra-powered, which is exactly what makes his drastic turn so appalling.
That is the hook to the first issue, we don't get much more. In fact, it is the sparing selectivity of details regarding the plunderous Plutonian that best escalate the tension. By not setting parameters to the character, his potential for destruction is limitless. Just like his heroic contemporaries, we know nothing about what it would take to stop him.
Irredeemable is a nice compendium to Mark Waid's other famed creator-owned project, Empire. In Empire, Waid offered an account of what tragedies befall a villain who has achieved his every goal, casting the tyrant in a role that has shades of altruism. Here, he offers the opposite side of the coin. He tells the story of the ultimate hero becoming the ultimate mad god, whose furious bloodlust is matched only by his power. Empire is the world where everything goes right for the villain. Irredeemable is the world where everything goes wrong for the hero. Each provides a satisfying inversion of classic superhero comic tropes.
An added bonus to the first issue is the exhaustively glowing Grant Morrison afterward. In it, Morrison opines over the difficulties of being typecast by fandom; Morrison as a nebulous, ornate plotsmith who seeks only to confound dutiful readers, and Waid as a wide-eyed devotee of the Silver Age, content to relive the olden days again and again without innovation. Now, I think that there is a modicum of truth to both suppositions, because Morrison does specialize in plots that challenge more than most, and Waid is more in tune with the sensibilities that came to define our handle on what heroism is meant to be, but the point is well made.
Waid isn't limited to tales of nostalgia, but his firm grasp on how those tales worked undoubtedly informs his work as a whole. After all, the better one knows the rules of engagement, the better one can break them in new and different ways. Waid is perhaps the foremost expert on the anatomy of the super-idol, making him the most suited to disemboweling icons, and bastardizing paradigm.
After reading Irredeemable one could guess that Mark Waid has just written all the flowery superhero stories of success he has in him. This venomous rejection of trope could be all he has left; a dark excess of ideological disappointment. And there's nothing nostalgic about that.