There’s been a lot of talk and hype around Irredeemable, and a lot of it seems to centre around the idea that it’s somehow a “bold” or “challenging” book. But if that’s its main hook, I’m honestly not sure it’s one that sticks – the story of how “the world’s greatest superhero” became its greatest supervillain, it feels like it’s retreading all kinds of old ground. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, of course – I struggle to imagine anyone portraying the ramifications of such an event in quite as harrowing a fashion as Brian Michael Bendis managed in Powers, but that doesn’t mean there’s not a decent story to tell – but if you’re going to talk the talk (and some of the hype has come from Waid and BOOM! themselves), you need to do more than just make people think of Kid Miracleman and Supershock.
To be fair, Waid’s clearly trying to set up a longer story here – in opening the series with a view of the Plutonian both at the beginning of his career and during his murderous rampage, the stage is set for the gaps to be gradually filled in, and it’s only to be hoped that, as he states in the editorial afterword, plenty of time will be given to a thoughtful examination of what might drive a hero to evil. But for the moment, it all feels pretty by-the-numbers – although the opening scene is almost commendably shocking in terms of setting out the book’s stall. Where it really wants is for character, though – there’s not a single identifiable “way in” to the story. The Plutonian himself, in his two distinct personalities, is little more than two extremes of archetype, and we’re introduced to an almost overwhelming array of supporting characters without ever really getting a handle of them, or without anyone stepping up to be the “lead” – we’ll surely learn more about the Plutonian’s former teammates, but at the moment they’re just a group of character designs.
There’s promise, here, though – it’s a well-crafted comic, and Krause’s art is excellent at times (although slightly sloppy at others – I don’t know how deliberate it is, but it’s hard to see the two versions of the Plutonian as the same person when their faces are different shapes). And as a concept, “superhero goes bad” is far from a bad one, so long as it’s done vaguely intelligently and with some level of meaning behind it. But given that its high concept isn’t as unique as its creators seem to think, it’ll need more than that one-line hook to sustain interest.