That “Mark Waid is Evil” promotion wasn’t joking around. The guy has taken his beloved Superman and turned him into a murderous pervert. How much more evil can one guy get?
This isn’t really Superman, of course, it’s a hero-turned-villain known as the Plutonian, and other than having a fetish for blue-haired, bobbed female journalists and secret fortresses of solitude and the ability to survive any kind of attack and super-strength and flight, there’s really no similarity. The Plutonian doesn’t even have a cape.
Okay, there are far more similarities than differences between Superman and the Plutonian, and this comic is part of a long tradition of superhero pastiches that might be traced from Harvey Kurtzman and Wally Wood’s “Superduperman” to Alan Moore and Gary Leach’s “Marvelman” to Rob Liefeld and Brian Murray’s “Supreme” to a million other variations, etc. “Superduperman” was more of an outright parody, while “Marvelman” was a deconstruction of the superhero archetype (based more on the Marvel family, of course), and “Supreme” was…well, until Alan Moore got a hold of it, it wasn’t much of anything.
Mark Waid and Peter Krause’s “Irredeemable” is something a bit more specific than all of them perhaps. It’s an exploration of the Superman archetype as he was during the Weisinger era. And it’s an exploration of what might have happened to that emotionally-troubled character had Lois Lane found out the truth of his identity and done what any self-respecting person would really do: freak out and condemn him for his cruel lies. All of that backstory, with the Plutonian playing the Superman role and Bette Noir playing the Lois Lane role, appeared in the previous two issues, and issue #3 may be the best one yet.
Because this is the issue when the second-rate villains come up with a plan. This is the issue when we see just how depraved the Plutonian has become. This is the issue where we see that Mark Waid doesn’t seem to have any plans to redeem this clearly irredeemable character (it even says so in the title).
The issue opens with an image of the Plutonian seeming to rekindle his relationship with Bette, only we soon discover that it’s neither the Plutonian nor Bette in bed together — it’s a couple of victims being forced to re-enact a love scene for the Plutonian’s pleasure as he hovers behind them, demanding that the female scream “Save me. Please save me.” It’s a corruption of the essence of the Superman character, and after opening with such cruelty, it’s difficult for Waid and Krause to top it.
Perhaps they don’t. Perhaps the extended sequence with the second-string supervillains in the Batman-analogue cave (in this universe, it belongs to “Inferno” who seems to have an “Infernomobile” at the ready) is too tame after the brutally twisted opening scene. But Waid gives us some great evil Superman dialogue here — Superman the way he must “really” think. The Plutonian’s monologue about his relationship with humanity is particularly trenchant: “You bring wonder to the lives of ordinary people,” he says, referring to himself, “and in the end, you realize it’s like doing magic tricks for a dog. So you build a home out of a volcano and hope the noise drowns them out.”
Yes, Evil Mark Waid writes fabulous dialogue.
Unlike, say, “The Boys,” this isn’t a comic that revels in its own debauchery. It knows that this Superman-analogue is doing something terribly wrong, and it tries to show the good guys doing their best against impossible odds. But its greatness lays in the way it messes with the Superman conventions, twisting them to accentuate the ridiculous selfishness of the character’s whole elaborate secret identity charade. And it’s a comic book about Superman gone bad. Done with such loving attention to detail, what’s not to like?