Jeff Lemire's newest comic shows coming of age in a world of superheroes.
Plutona #1Contributor: Emi Lenox (illustrator)
Publisher: Image Comics
Length: 32 pages
Author: Jeff Lemire
Publication Date: 2015-11
Over the course of his career, writer and artist Jeff Lemire has established himself as a comics master of the countryside tale. With acclaimed books such as his Essex County trilogy, The Nobody, and the post-apocalyptic Sweet Tooth, Lemire has lent his unique voice and somber, sketchy drawing style to stories detailing the lives of people living on the outskirts of the bustling metropolitan world, seeking sense and meaning in the isolation of their own, sequestered lives. Even within his more extravagant stories, such as the sci-fi tales Trillium and most recent Descender, Lemire manages to artfully capture the moments of solitude and distance that are never far away. Often using children and preteens as his protagonists, Lemire chooses to illustrate the anxieties and loneliness of life through the eyes of the youths for which life and reality are still looming. In his newest comic, Plutona, Lemire again tells a tale of small town seclusion and childhood innocence, though one situated in the shadow of the grandiose world of superheroes.
From the opening page, Plutona presents itself as a hybrid of a traditional superhero story and the classic coming of age film, Stand By Me: with the body of a woman in a superhero costume seen lying in a field. The view then pans out to a two-page spread showing a large forest, with a small town and city seen nestled within it. The scene is a clever deviation from the traditional atmosphere of the bulk of superhero stories, in which most every character lives in some kind of major city. To see a felled superhero in the middle of the woods is its own kind of surrealism.
The comic then introduces the main protagonists, who are all preteens at the same high school. The characters are all deviations of the archetypes seen in stories such as Stand by Me: there’s the nerdy one (here seen as a superhero fanatic), the slightly overweight one, the bossy one, and the troubled bully from a bad home. While these character designs would feel cliched under most circumstances, the fact that Lemire doesn’t seem to be hiding the homage to classic coming of age stories makes it forgivable. Additionally, Lemire manages to develop the characters enough to make them empathetic on their own merits.
The issue’s story is another example of Lemire’s talent in portraying tales of the outskirts. Even given the context of a world in which superpowered beings exist and tear through the skies, the story of the preteens feels completely remote as they face the concerns, loneliness and anxieties of junior high. They wait idly for class to be over, they sit in the cafeteria feeling distant, they smoke cigarettes and express frustration with each other, even among the two girls who are friendly. Unlike someone living in the New York of the Marvel Universe, the chance of a superhero flying overhead is not a a regular expectation for these characters, leaving the hustle and commotion of urban life within its own boundaries. The fact that the superhero fan of the group, Teddy, engages in “capewatching” by observing the city from a hillside with binoculars, shows how separated this world is from that of superheroic drama.
After another day of school, Teddy is spotted cape watching by the bully, Ray. Despite ridiculing Teddy for his hobby, Ray then decides to join him. The two girls, Mie and Diane, along with Mie’s little brother, Mike, spot the two boys on the hillside on the way home, and go to see what they’re up to. After Mie realizes that Mike has wandered off, she runs down the hill into the woods to look for him, with the others following after her. When they all hear Mike screaming, they rush to find him, only to discover what’s spooked him: the body from the comic’s beginning, evidently that of a hero named Plutona. The final page, of the five youths starring in horror at Plutona’s body, is a gorgeous image in of itself: the loss of innocence in seeing death. Not just of another person, but of a superhero.
The comic’s last three pages are a backstory for the dead hero: a waitress at a diner in the big city who also struggles with the responsibilities of being both a superhero and a single mother. The pages, illustrated by Lemire himself, contain his usual penchant for gloom as Plutona returns home from a double shift to see her daughter, only to be called away on superhero business. Though short, the backstory is enough to heighten the tragedy of Plutona’s death. With more of her story promised as the series progresses, the parallel narratives of Plutona’s life and the preteens’ discovery of her death could prove to be particularly heart-wrenching.
Plutona #1 is a beautiful beginning to what could be another great story from Lemire. The artwork by Emi Lenox gives the story much of its emotional bulk, particularly in character’s expressions, such as in the hollowness of frightened eyes. The story and characters are effectively down to earth even in a miraculous world, focusing the reader on those below the capes and costumes. With the end of one hero’s journey, it’s the beginning of another, and it’s one definitely worth following.