April 16, 2011

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Irredeemable Volume 4

Written by Mark Waid
Illustrated by Diego Barreto with Paul Azaceta, Howard Chaykin, and Emma Rios
Boom! Studios

Take a short break from the action and eavesdrop on the lives of three very different people who might have a say in the life of the Plutonian and the salvation of the world. When you're finished, watch things kick back into overdrive as Bette tries to balance her feelings of guilt with her ability to stop the Plutonian. But with one hero making a Faustian bargain and the rest imprisoned, can she even do anything? If there's one thing to be certain of, it's that iron bars do not a prison make when it comes to superheroes, setting up a climactic battle that's designed to be the final fight for someone--but who? As the story goes on, it's clear that the Plutonian isn't the only one who's...Irredeemable.

I'd love to see Mark Waid's plotting wall for this series, because it has to be as large as the big one in China and covering every inch of space. There's so much going on here, so many points and counterpoints, that it would be impossible to do this story without an overarching roadmap. Reading it would probably not be all that interesting, but I'd still love a picture of the pattern it makes. If anyone can point me to an interview with Waid talking about his plotting for Irredeemable, I'd love to read it.

This trade is a bit of an odd duck, collecting stories from what might have been called an annual, once upon a time. These stories give some details we haven't seen before on three characters, and because I've been a reader of Waid's stories for just about two decades now, I know that they are here now for a reason--to get some ideas inside the reader's head. There's a look at a dysfunctional World's Finest, a proof that one character is arguably the only pure one in the whole story, and a key comment about the star of Irredeemable's spinoff magazine, Incorruptible. The last story is Howard Chaykin at his most Chaykinish, which I thought was pretty funny. If you need someone to draw ladies of the night, go look up Howard, apparently. None of these stories feel essential right now, but if you're new to Mark Waid, just trust the man. You'll be amazed at how they tie in by the end.

The main story itself also takes a bit of a halt, going back to finally tell the story of the day Plutonian went nuts. It's from Bette's perspective, naturally, so I am not sure how reliable it's supposed to be. Still, the characterization here is excellent, with Waid allowing us to see her crime of omission even as we get the larger picture of the Plutonian's rampage.

We end this trade with a two-issue race to fight once again for the fate of the world, with the Plutonian and Cary gearing up for round two. This time, however, there are multiple players on the field, turning the whole thing into a messy, deadly game of Chinese Checkers. Waid gives each its own turn at the plate, and using his plotting skills, shows us that none of the options are very good. With each player just a bit blind to the thinking of the others, it's a matter of who will get lucky and jump the right pieces at the right time.

Total, random chaos rules the day...or does it? With one single panel at the very end of the comic, Waid changes everything and sets up a whole new range of story possibilities. All with a two inch circle within a larger panel. It's absolutely brilliant storytelling, and part of why I love Irredeemable. There's so much more to tell, and even though the plot keeps extending further and further out, I don't feel like there's any padding in the storytelling. I'm completely caught up in these characters and watching their success or failure. This is episodic storytelling done just right. Waid deserves a lot of a credit for writing a dark superhero tale with this much complexity. What others would do with splash, he's doing with subtlety--well, as much subtlety as mass murder can have, anyway.

My only complaint here is that the art takes a definite dip in quality. Diego Barreto isn't bad, but he's not as good as Peter Krause was. There's less impact in his lines, which are looser and less well defined. His figures don't pack as much punch and look more like a typical modern heroic comic rather than one with far more detail, like I've come to be accustomed to. Some of his action scenes don't clearly depict the actions of the characters either, which is problematic. The story is still awesome, but it's losing a bit from the art. I hope for better results going forward.

I'm out of trade volumes of Irredeemable right now, and am debating whether to buy the next trade or start picking these up as digital single issues. What you shouldn't be debating is reading this excellent dark comic series. The sooner you do, the happier you will be. This is an amazing story by an amazing writer. The only thing irredeemable would be never starting to read it.