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Irreplaceable: The End Draws Near for Max Damage and the Plutonian

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It’s the beginning of the end for Max Damage and the Plutonian as Mark Waid and company set the stage for the final act of his post-modern superhero opus.

What would you do? What would do if you had the powers of a god? Honestly. Take a long, hard look in the mirror, take into consideration your past, your childhood; all of the joys and tragedies, the petty slights and simple pleasures. Look deep inside and take an accounting of what you find. Do you think you have what it takes to wield ultimate power with ultimate responsibility? I think most of us would at least like to think we would take the high moral ground and behave like rational, compassionate human beings.

But, would most of us be enough?

In his thought-provoking, harrowing, and deliciously subversive exploration of comics’ “superman” archetype, Mark Waid posits a world where most of usaren’t nearly enough. When the Plutonian, a Superman-class hero goes off the proverbial deep end, the entire world pays the price, as nations fall, millions perish, and economies collapse. Global cataclysm is only an angry god’s baleful glare away, or so it seems to the desperate masses, who live in constant fear of the Plutonian’s random, deadly attention.

For every hero who turns rogue though, there’s a career super-criminal willing to turn a new leaf. Max Damage and the Plutonian have a long history steeped in mistrust, misunderstanding, and ultimately severe dislike. Think oil and water and you get the idea. For all of that though, Max and “Tony” are the flip sides of the same coin. Even as one falls, the other slowly, painstakingly drags himself up out of the pit. This is the genuis of Waid’s twin series Irredeemable and Incorruptible – the latter isn’t simply a spin-off of the former but a necessary parallel narrative that provides the reader with the one thing the parent book always lacked (the Paradigm, notwithstanding):  hope.

Without Max’s frantic pursuit of redemption playing out in the wake of the Plutonian’s fall, Waid’s examination of what makes a superman tick (and finally go off his rocker) would read like a dismal doomsday procession to the end of the world lacking an adequate counterpoint with which to contrast Tony’s depravity. That a reformed supervillain would be the source of this brighter perspective brings an added (if obtuse) level of synchronicity to the overall narrative. Both series are a testament to Waid’s virtuosity as comic book writer. His encyclopedic knowledge of the history of the medium is well-documented but we often forget the emotional insight Waid brings to his work. His are stories about super humans and even at his most horrific, he never lets us forget it. The babies may be a burnin’ but damn it, Waid makes us feel it so good.

And now it’s all coming to an end.

          

Irredeemable #34 and Incorruptible #27 marked the opening salvos in the final chapters of Waid’s epic tale of corruption and redemption. As humanity’s last desperate gamble to rid the world of the Plutonian literally blows up in its face, Earth’s remaining heroes enter into a deal with the devil himself to save the planet from extinction. Qubit’s mad scheme to use the Plutonian to effectively save the world from a slow, painful genocide sets the stage for a very dangerous endgame, as the two principals believe they have the other over a barrel. Max, on the other hand, stands true to his hometown of Coalville and returns there to make what little difference he can, leaving Qubit and Tony to their own devices.

Will this really be the last time Max and Tony cross paths though? It hardly seems likely, as intrinsically tied to one another as Irredeemable and Incorruptible are. Simply put, there has to be final reckoning between Tony and Max. Everything has been building toward one last savage showdown with the fate of the world hanging in the balance. Or so Waid would have us all believe. The past two years have shown what the man can do to standard superhero conventions – and it hasn’t been pretty. There’s nothing to indicate Waid will let us off easy, now.

Especially, if Tony’s uber-creepy, depraved, and absolutely smitten arch-enemy Modeus has anything to say about it. Irredeemable #35 witnesses the fruition of Modeus’ grand endgame, even as Qubit and Tony strive to outmanoeuvre one another while trying to save the world, Modeus lures the newly-evolved Plutonian into the beating of a lifetime, while inhabiting the body of the one woman he truly loved, Black Bette. Utilizing his vast intellect to take full advantage of Bette’s seemingly meager powers, Modeus draws upon the power of a wormhole to pummel Tony into submission, all the while madly proclaiming his love for his adversary.

As all of the pieces fall into place, it seems Waid is building to a climax no one will see coming. Even if Max and Tony are linked by history and their twin obsessions with redemption and corruption, is theirs the real battle we’ve all been waiting for? Or is the real danger a madman’s twisted, unrelenting love for his adversary?

What is for certain is the shelves of your local comic shop will seem just a tad emptier in a few months. Only time will tell the ultimate fates of Max, Tony, and the fragile world they inhabit but one thing I know right now, is that there hasn’t been such a thoughtful, incisive, and courageous exploration of our favorite modern mythology in quite some time.

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