While the first couple of issues of Mark Waid’s Irredeemable failed to make much of an impression on me, I have to admit that the series has improved as it’s gone on; it’s still far from an essential read, and I do think the basic story has been done better than it a few times, but it’s taken some interesting turns and I’m intrigued to see where it’s going. What I didn’t expect, however, was that it would be a starting point for Waid to build his own little world over at Boom! Studios (the company did already have one attempt at starting its own “universe” with DeMatteis and Giffen’s Planetary Brigade spinning out of the excellent Hero Squared, although that seems to have been quietly forgotten now). It makes sense, I suppose – one of the initial problems with Irredeemable was that it launched the reader into what seemed to be a fully-functioning, established superhero universe; but all the previous stories that would have normally helped us get up to speed had only taken place within Waid’s own head rather than on the page. And one of the things that’s helped the series get better is that its setting and wide range of characters have started to become a bit more clearly defined.
Still, seeing a spinoff of the series – and Incorruptible is one that most decidedly takes place not just in the same world as Irredeemable, but at the same time as it – is a bit of a surprise, even at this early stage; and also as it’s one that features yet more entirely new characters rather than ones established in the “main” book (although there’s reference to the Plutonian throuhgout, and an actual appearance in the closing pages). But even if it’s simply as a result of the first title’s success that this has now been launched, it manages to feel as if Waid always had it in mind to run it concurrently – as it’s essentially a mirroring counterpoint in almost every way. Where Irredeemable tells the story of the world’s greatest hero gone bad, Incorruptible shows the FBI’s most wanted supervillain (“the only known superbeing able to survive physical combat with the Plutonian”, as the book’s intro blurb handily informs us) deciding – in the wake of the Plutonian’s turn to mass slaughter – to start helping people instead.
Unfortunately, it’s only partially successful. The biggest problem, really, is one of character – from his name downard, Max Damage is simply too much of a walking cliche – and in much the same way as Irredeemable found itself launching at the same time as The Mighty (even though the two books have ended up taking quite divergent paths), Incorruptible finds itself with a lead character so similar to Incognito‘s Jake Overkill that I’d suspect something fishy if the the writer weren’t as notable and experienced as Waid. Worse, though, is his sidekick, “Jailbait” – whose gimmick seems to be that she’s, yes, you guessed it, underage (though you’d never guess it from the breasts), and who acts like an infinitely more irritating (and entirely humourless) version of Harley Quinn.
Still, part of the the point of these books is that Waid is playing with tropes, and there’s still some neat subversion on display – Damage, who’s quite pointedly shown to have a Batcave-esque “lair” (complete with flash car), is given his own Commissioner Gordon – with the twist seeming to be that Lieutenant Armadale is roped into Damage’s crusade somewhat unwillingly, and is hardly whiter-than-white himself. There’s promise, at least, in some of the ideas – and the scene in which Damage makes his entrance, managing to be shot at by both cops and his former henchmen, works quite well. But trope-subverting supervillain comics do seem to be somewhat de rigeur at the moment, and if Incorruptible is going to have anything like the success that its sister (or parent?) book has so far managed, then coming up with a bit more originality – and a bit more to actually say – might help.