The traditional comic book ideas have their roots in the favourite question of our imaginations; What if? What if superheroes existed? What if there were aliens out there? What if the newly elected president on the world’s most powerful nation teamed up with Ashley “Ash” J. Williams to battle the eternal forces of darkness? Comic book readers have been reading the answers for decades. Since the golden age however, comic book writers have had license to kick it up a gear. As the social acceptance for hard hitting writing rises, so does the deviation from the norm.
As such, Incorruptible and Irredeemable are not new concepts. Certainly the major comic book publishers have covered the turn of all their central characters to the darker end of the moral scale, either in their standard run or in one-off specials. One of my favourite aspects of these books is being smashed in to this huge global change without prior knowledge of the universe in which they are taking place, or the characters in it. Whilst familiarity does often breed contempt, there are enough staple character types, concepts and situations to enable the reader to feel at home, whilst still showing you something new.
Irredeemable and Incorruptible are a double helix, weaving their way through the world of the Plutonian. They barely touch and that’s the beauty of these books. Irredeemable focuses on the core – the decline of the most powerful man in the world and the effect on those closest to him. This is done very skilfully, somehow simultaneously showing as both a sudden explosion and a slow burn. This is accomplished with heavy use of flashbacks. This does place a demand upon the reader for a certain level of attention, but I found that the drip feed of information it created kept me ticking along nicely.
Adversely, Incorruptible focuses on one individual and the rest of the world. It feels set at street level, as opposed to the lofty stratosphere of the most powerful. The impact of super beings on those who live normal lives is thrust forcefully in the face of the lead, through whose eyes we learn the finer points of life. Despite it’s post-apocalyptic feel, there is a softer tone to Incorruptible. Some may feel it’s simpler, but it has it’s own intricacies that allow the book to stand on its own. The linking of the stories definitely make Incorruptible the secondary book, but I find it hard to recommend one over the other. There are similarities and individual merits, but if you have the means to buy both, they are equally rewarding.
With both books, characters are key and there are central themes. The affect on mental health when such absolutes are in play is a cornerstone. Again, this is not a new concept, covered multiple times as comic books have become more intelligent. This story portrays the subject matter in new ways, using both internal and external constructs of the mind in real and imagined settings, creating it’s own version of crazy. This is a very clever way of weaving the reality back in to a very full fantasy, giving human qualities to both the inhuman and superhuman alike. The characters are also not 100% original, and whilst I find myself using those sort of statements repeatedly, please don’t let this put you off. The comfortable parallels of both the central and peripheral characters at times just feels like a little reward, as if to say if you’ve read enough to catch a reference then you’ve earned a nod and a wink. This is done subtly, with neither derision or homage.
As with all books of this nature, it is very easy to draw comparisons with more well known titles. I found myself thinking of various Superman or JLA stories regularly. The X-Men storyline, Onslaught, also dragged its ugly purple carcass in to my brain more than once as well. This can’t really be helped, but I do genuinely think there is enough original material to actually make these comparisons enjoyable.
Some readers might find a few of the nuances are obstructive. Changes in artwork in Incorruptible did leave me wondering what the artist was trying to portray, when these thick inked lines turned up suddenly, only to disappear again next issue. I can only think that there was an attempt to balance the artwork of Irredeemable, but it didn’t pay off for me personally. Some of the basic character’s details in both comics were distracting for me, with little things like the names Max Damage, Qubit or Samsara being almost beyond cliché and into clumsy. I would like to think that when considering this book, these things are actually there to draw you in and tie you down with the familiar, but at times I really wasn’t sure.
If I could only give one reason as to why you should read these graphic novels however, it would be this. I said at the start of this piece that ‘What if?’ is the staple diet of those who feast on comics. The real beauty of these books is that they allow a genuine ‘What if?’ experience without the hang-ups or the debates that go with trying this with a more familiar universe. This gives the story freedom, which in turn gives the reader excitement. If you want to read an exciting story, this is a bloody good one.