In keeping with what I started last week, I think I’ll mention another cool thing that helped lead to the creation of Project Sumter and all its attending strangeness. So this week’s cool thing is actually two things that are, in some ways, inseparable. They are Mark Waid’s comic book powerhouses, Irredeemable and Incorruptible.
If you ever want to sit down and read something that will totally redefine your perceptions of comic books I cannot recommend these two series too highly. Waid does everything right that the “Big Two” publishers so often do wrong. There are no implausible resurrections of dead characters, no apologies for unpopular plot twists and, perhaps most important, no attempts made to stretch the story out longer simply to milk the success of the franchise. In fact, both Irredeemable and Incorruptible have ended their publishing runs.
Thematically, the two series are incredibly dark. Irredeemable asks the question what would happen if the greatest hero in the world suddenly became its greatest villain. It’s protagonist, The Plutonian (Tony to his friends) was as powerful and as benevolent as Superman. He led a team of do-gooders known as the Paradigm who held back the tides of crazy, evil-doing superpowered wackos and let the public live in peace. In fact, as Waid’s characters point out several times, the public almost worshiped him as a god.
But like all pagan gods, Tony is little more than a bundle of human frailties writ large and, when the breaking point is finally reached, the people who had come to take their safety for granted receive a rude shock. In the devastation that follows, as Tony slips farther and farther out of touch with humanity and his friends in the Paradigm struggle to understand what went wrong with the man who had led them for three years, Irredeemable asks us the question: Is a person ever really irredeemable?
Meanwhile, in the wake of the Plutonian’s descent into wrath and genocide, the FBI’s former most-wanted, a superhuman known as Max Damage, comes out of hiding and does something most people find inexplicable. He destroys his arsenal of illegal weapons, his car and all his illegally obtained cash and reforms. With no obvious hesitation or remorse he abandons everything that made him one of the world’s most dangerous supervillains and turns his incredible powers to restoring peace and order to his home town of Coalville. He seeks to become Incorruptible. Why he does it is almost as much of a riddle as if he will succeed.
Unlike the Plutonian, with his almost mind boggling slew of abilities, Max has only one thing going for him: the longer he stays awake, the stronger and more indestructible he becomes. This enhanced strength costs him his sense of taste, touch and smell but, on the bright side, it also helps him avoid the physical side effects of sleep deprivation. After a long time awake he still gets a little loopy, though. And when he sleeps, he returns to normal and awakens a regular mortal once again.
Max’s struggles are much different than those of the Plutonian and those who seek to oppose him. Unlike the purpose driven characters of Irredeemable, Max has a much more open-ended and daunting task. He feels he must somehow restore hope and peace to a world where those things have been almost systematically eradicated. And every time he wakes up, his senses fade to two, and he shoulders the powers that sometimes seem as much burden as blessing, he faces a choice: Do I still want to try to do this? In spite of all the bad things in my past, in spite of all the nay sayers and all the people who have given up, in spite of the renegade who we thought was the gold standard of right behavior and who betrayed us in the end? Can a person ever be incorruptible?
In the end, both Tony and Max find their answers, though maybe not the ones they were looking for. And in that, by giving his characters an ending (yes, a real ending!) that fits who they are and what they need, not what they want, Mark Waid makes Irredeemable and Incorruptible more than just about anything else you’ll find in comics these days.
That alone would make it pretty cool. But there’s a lot of other things in there, too. Grim humor, great artwork and neat ideas abound as well. Check it out and I’m willing to bet you won’t be disappointed.
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