Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The End is the Beginning is the End: Irredeemable #37

[I don't normally do this, but seeing as how this is the day that this issue comes out: spoilers of Irredeemable #37 ahead. Seriously. The thing I'm writing about more than anything else is the very end of that issue, of the entire series. If you don't want to know what happens, don't read this post. Don't.


You have been warned.

If you're spoiled now, it's your own damn fault, so don't blame me because you have an odd condition of intermittent literacy.]

The announcement a few months back that Irredeemable (and its spin-off title Incorruptible) would be finishing was surprising. It was inevitable, honestly, but it seemed soon somehow. What series ends at issue 37 -- on purpose? Just a shade over three years of Mark Waid's 'Superman gone wrong' saga that grew so much beyond that initial premise and it seemed short.

When the series first began, it gained a fair amount of notice, because here we had Superman Fanboy #1 writing a comic where an obvious Superman analogue 'turned evil' and crippled the world, seemingly poised to kill everyone on it. More than that, those initial issues were filled with twisted/altered versions of Superman's history, his supporting cast, his villains, and the DCU that flowed out of Superman... It wasn't quite as simple as that the further we were brought into the story and the Plutonian's history. This wasn't simply one bad day turning him evil; this was a lifetime building to an incredibly unstable person embracing who he always was after years of fooling everyone else. Waid really hit upon some fucked up ideas, particularly when the Plutonian's arch-enemy, Modeus, revealed why he's so obsessed with the Plutonian and coloured any future Superman/Lex Luthor stories with an uncomfortable sexual undertone.

As the series progressed, it moved away from that initial concept and began to explore what happens after 'Superman turns evil' with the ramifications on the world, various stories about the Plutonian off-planet, the remaining heroes trying to fix things. Of course, these changes into a series that was more original and, honestly, smarter and more engaging, also resulted in it being shunted off into the 'Oh, is that still coming out?' zone of comics. No longer new and 'exciting' and relying upon a twisted version of the superhero, Irredeemable didn't have that hook that made people have an opinion about it, whether they'd read it or not. That it also suffered through some art changes that left the title less visually appealing didn't help, honestly. The Incorruptible spin-off also sped up people not caring as much somehow. Like the title wasn't as important anymore; that it wasn't just a single book, but a burgeoning line, so get out now before it eats up more of your wallet. Comics, ladies and gentlemen!

So, now, we come to the end after the Plutonian being shunted off-world, returning, learning his true origins, and being placed in a position where all he wants to do is make things better again. That last bit is interesting, because there was a period where he seemed to embrace who he is. But, having doomed the planet to a slow and painful death seems to have shaken him. He may never have been the hero everyone thought he was, but he didn't necessarily want to be the villain he revealed himself to be. It all comes down to a deal struck with Qibit, the resident supergenius, where, if the Plutonian saves the world from radiation poisoning, Qibit will redeem the fallen hero.

And he lives up to his promise, albeit in an unexpected way: he scatters the Plutonian's energy across the multiverse. Boiled down his essence and, hopefully, able to 'get it right' somehow. Cut to Cleveland, Ohio, and a teenage boy rushing to show his friend an idea he's had for a character "for the funny pages." The final panel is a sketch of a muscular man with what looks like a triangle on his chest and two notebooks on either side reading Siegel and Shuster.

The end of Irredeemable is that the Plutonian becomes the subconscious inspiration for Superman who was the actual inspiration for the Plutonian.

You know what's crazy? That's the perfect ending for this series. On the surface, it seems incredibly stupid. Sappy and cheesy, but also ill-conceived. Upon reflection, it makes more and more sense. How else could Waid have ended this series? It began as a weird love letter to Superman as Waid took the character and twisted him around, both shedding new light on what makes the character work and bringing new implied depths to the character by showing what would happen if something essential was changed. It wasn't a mockery of Superman or even a perversion necessarily; part of what made those early issues resonate so much was how apparent Waid's love of Superman was. The series avoided being cheap parody because of that. That this character inspired by Superman would find redemption in being the inspiration for Superman is the only ending that truly works. It's the ultimate redemption, the ultimate setting 'right' what went wrong -- it closes the circle in a way and makes explicit that the Plutonian genuinely was Superman gone wrong.

It also reinforces the idea that Superman is the central superhero figure. In the Plutonian's world, him 'turning bad' was what made that world 'go wrong.' Everything flows from him, just as the DCU ultimately flows from Superman.

I'm sure that others won't be satisfied with the ending to this series or hear about it and scoff. I can understand that reaction and can't offer much more except that it feels right. Knowing the writer, having read the entire series... it feels like the right way to end this series. It doesn't wrap up the plot in a neat little bow. Most of the characters are dead and those that are still alive are left exactly at the moment of the Plutonian's death/redemption. Basically, Qibit redeeming the Plutonian and us seeing that his essence leads back to Superman ends that world. He truly is the beginning and end of that world and, now that he's redeemed, it no longer serves a function. We get that world 'done right' (or close enough to right) elsewhere.

I'll miss this series, mostly for what it became after its first year. But, at the very least, I can say that Waid got off the stage before I grew tired of the book and he went out the right way.