I don’t mean by the title that grim and gritty superheroes have returned via Image Comics, but this week’s release of the first issue of the anticipated new series Plutona by Jeff Lemire, Emi Lenox, and Jordie Bellaire, does that thing that other comics have tried repeatedly to do and sometimes just go really badly wrong. And that is to have youthful characters, dark themes, interesting themes, and yet somehow not make adult readers feel like outsiders. JK Rowling does it for the most part, and that’s one of the keys to her massive success.
How does one do it? Jeff Lemire writing this series shows again one of his most pronounced professional qualities as a comics creator so far: a correct estimation of the value of restraint in storytelling. That’s not something that people talk about much. We talk about good choices, narrative moments, characterization, but Lemire’s constraint in writing about this group of kids getting ready for school and picking on each other feels like it is fully reigned in to give each scene and conversation this respectful space where a hint of “real life” seeps in. Stories are artificial–we know this. Some writers spend excessive labor on crafting detail to convince us that their stories have a realistic feel. I’m not criticizing that effort, but sometimes it’s not necessary or appropriate. Sometimes you just step back and give the story that extra time for the reader to inhabit it, and you get even better results. The reader becomes convinced of realism because wild things are not happening every moment of the narrative and there is a leisurely pace–as we experience in life. The silences in this first issue are golden.
Now, Emi Lenox’s art on this comic is superb. I haven’t read her work before, so this was an excellent introduction, and the synergy she has with Lemire’s style is spot on-I’d say she’s even more specifically aware of the need for the deadpan expression, the silence, the absence of facial expressions or subtle ones when handling these young characters. Because–guys–this series is about superheroes. But there doesn’t seem to be any confetti or parades about it. We have one young person keeping logs of their movements and watching the skies. We have the rest getting on with their shifting friendships and self esteem issues.
But if you’ve read the announcements on this book and the solicit info, you’ll know that this story is about the absence of a superhero. It’s about a group of kids discovering the body of a much revered female hero–Plutona–in the woods. And what happens next. For now, in issue 1, we begin to understand the configuration around a central event. We see the lives being arranged around this event, and a relatively simple question being posed with no doubt very complicated answers. What difference, if any, will this make in the lives of the characters to experience an aspect of Plutona’s death?
Not a shred of juvenile goofiness in sight in this comic so far. What I mean by that is that we all know just how badly it can go when adults try to write dialogue and personality for young people that somehow feels like a fabrication, an over-emphasis of an age group that lacks authentic memory of what it was like to be young. Fake slang, stereotyped behavior, signposting that induces discomfort, probably even for young readers. Plutona feels like a story about a group of characters who happen to be young. Sure, all of the elements pertaining to being young will affect them and the story. But beyond that they are characters with certain sets of personality traits, tendencies, and modes of expression. And that is interesting. We want to know what will happen to these characters.
The total tone and experience of the first issue of this comic is remarkably unique, and I attribute that to Lenox’s artwork and Bellaire’s unusual color palette that definitely works for this series, as well to Lemire’s writing.
Also, don’t miss out on the back up features to the comic, written and drawn by Lemire which feature Plutona’s life and say a lot about her as a figure, which has interesting implications for the series and other characters.
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