The first year of “Irredeemable” was a revelation. The title began as a simple ‘Superman gone wrong’ story, albeit one done with a lot of skill, and it quickly became something more. A rumination on power and those we trust with it, it soon becoming apparent that the Plutonian, the Superman-esque hero turned evil, isn’t the only one failing to live up to his or her status as a protector of mankind. The most recent and shocking was Bette Noir who failed to provide the means to stop the Plutonian when he first went rogue because it would have meant revealing the night they spent together to her husband. That choice cost millions their lives.
Last issue, that choice was explored in great depth as Bette told the story to her now homeless father and he let her know just how much she screwed up — if she already didn’t, having her father lay into her verbally definitely made it worse, and made her determined to do what she could to stop further lives from being lost. The only problem is that the Paradigm, the only group that could probably stop the Plutonian, has been arrested by the US government and is imprisoned.
This issue begins with the appearance of an unlikely pairing in the form of Survivor and Orian), last seen traveling to Orian’s home dimension and fighting one another. Their method of returning is unpleasant and immediately shows the difference between the two. The rest of the issue focuses on the Paradigm and their efforts to escape. The most notable is Gil, the winged immortal and a time he was imprisoned before, with Alexander the Great. The lesson he learned from Alexander serves him well here as he goes to painful lengths to escape.
Still absent is Peter Krause, but Diego Barreto does an able job in his stead. His work isn’t as tight in places, but his visual style is similar enough to keep the book looking like it has since its inception. His line work is dynamic, showing characters in motion or in as visually interesting a manner as possible. Some of his finishes are weak on smaller panels or when showing characters from further away than medium shots. It’s solid, but not flashy or stunning work.
In many ways, this issue is just another example of the title’s high level of quality, but it also shows a different side of many of the heroes. Their determination and skill in a difficult situation, and their drive to protect the world even if some view them as threats. For a series that’s focused on the shortcomings of heroes, this issue is a rare example of a focus on the heroes being heroes, stepping up to do what’s necessary and right no matter what. Those threads have always been there, but an entire issue devoted to the idea is needed after so much time wallowing in how heroes can go wrong and fail to live up to their callings. “Irredeemable” is probably the best work of Mark Waid’s career and the complexity of the world and its characters is why.