The first half of "Irredeemable" #15 seems to demonstrate that, after over a year of serialization, Mark Waid's take on an evil Superman has fallen into the rut of conventionality. It's just a standard superhero fight scene for much of this issue, and it's a little flat, a little too typical for a series that has been such a refreshingly twisted take on the cape-and-cowl archetypes.
But in the final sequences, it becomes apparent that the traditionalism of the fight scene was just a touchstone, an anchor for the vicious ending and layers of betrayal that makes this one of the best "Irredeemable" issues since 2010 began.
Artist Diego Barreto is part of the reason that this issue -- and many of the issues so far this year -- has a kind of conventional feel. His is a late Bronze Age, early Modern Age kind of traditional superhero illustration that wouldn't have been out of place on the Marv Wolfman "Teen Titans" or some classic daily comic strip. That's not surprising, considering he's a Barretto, and his father Eduardo has drawn things exactly like that. Diego's style is a little looser, but it's recognizably similar to Eduardo's.
So, the ending of this issue? It hinges on that loaded gun metaphorically and literally, on that bullet that Bette Noir had stolen. The one bullet that could put an end to the Plutonian's tyrrany. But though the bullet is aimed at his heart, things don't go according to plan, and yet Waid sets it all up so that the characters don't seem to realize the implications of what has happened -- or what could have happened -- as well as the readers do. It's classic dramatic irony, used wisely and well, and it leaves this series with some new character dynamics moving forward. This series may have began as a book about a group of makeshift heroes standing up against a rogue Superman, but it has long since evolved into a fraught-with-conflict ensemble comic. And the ensemble is torn apart even more by what happens in the final pages of this issue.
Two characters die, and the Plutonian lives, and nothing will ever be the same. In this comic book series, anyway.
"Irredeemable" isn't some radical deconstruction of the superhero myth, but it's a series in which Mark Waid isn't bound by any corporate demands to protect the icons. And he takes advantage of that. Anything could happen to these characters, and that gives them the kid of life so often lacking in superhero comics. That, along with the powerful, efficient unfolding of the story, makes it worth reading every single month.