By Jeff Lemire, Emi Lenox, and Jordie Bellaire
Ugh, kids are the worst. They’re cruel, self-absorbed, and redirect their insecurities in all manners of offensive and obviously immature ways. At least that’s how it can seem when painted only as one-dimensional caricatures needing to fit into predetermined slots in fiction or the very real social structures of your everyday school cafeteria. When done well, as it so triumphantly is in Plutona #1, these characters become multi-faceted reflections of our own experiences, embarrassments, fears, and desires. Impeccably tight pacing, heartfelt characterizations and that added hook of ‘Stand By Me but with superheroes’ makes for an irresistible first issue that transports you back to those halcyon days of trying to figure out who you are. Like that time you discovered your first dead body of a superhero.
At this point, if you see Jeff Lemire’s name on a work you can pretty much bet the house that it’s going to be absolutely loaded with gut punches straight in your feels. Admittedly, and at least so far, Lemire isn’t treading brand new ground in this first issue; it’s the coming of age tale that brings together a group of maladroits via a unique circumstance that you’ve seen everywhere from The Goonies to Super 8. It’s the introduction of these characters that sets it apart however, as Lemire and Lenox (especially Lenox, but we’ll get to her in a minute) paint four rich and nuanced portraits of suburban youth with a simplicity that belies their intricate honesty.
The dialogue is succinct and familiar, but speaks volumes as to who these kids are and, more importantly, who they’re trying to present themselves as. The tough rebel who’s profanity laden big talk is spurred from a place of pain, the shaky confidence of a friend who’s treated like an occasional doormat, the doormat walking friend who’s trying to walk the line someone between those two, and the straight laced and somewhat nerdy kid who’s content with himself and utterly unimpressed by the masks of others, but who’s still slightly embarrassed about his own interests. The bulk of this issue is dedicated to establishing just who this ragtag group of pre-teens are through their interactions with each other (as well as when no one else is looking) but Lemire cleverly does a fair amount of world building via Teddy’s log book.
There’s a bevy of superpowered beings fighting the good fight against evil-doers that seemingly commit crimes that would fit right at home in Batman ’66 (The Bang Bang Gang crashed the Mayor’s Annual Harvest Gala, you see) and that might be the most genius aspect of this issue. We have these camptacular happenings occurring in the background of far more realistic depiction of modern youth and the two come together to create the ultimate coming of age analogue. Admittedly, not a ton actually happens as far as heavy plot goes, but the amount of heart injected into making these characters so captivating is made all the better with the final page plunge into adventure.
Here’s the thing: Emi Lenox’s art is Charming. As. Fuck. For a book with Jeff Lemire’s name on it, Lenox is the clear superstar of this issue. All of that great character work mentioned above, those perfectly paced introductions to these misfits and their world? Yeah, those are so effective almost entirely because of Lenox’s stellar and natural storytelling. The gentle opening framing of the various lifeless body parts (each part and panel in turn replete with a buzzing fly) that gives way to a massive pastoral splash is this perfect blend of horrific serenity. Then comes four successive pages introducing the main character, all formatted nearly identical in terms of panel layout and opening with a close-up of their respective eye. It’s tightly controlled pacing that reveals a vast amount of information. Just like her rendering style, it’s all deceptively simple. Lenox delights in showing as much as possible using only the most necessary of lines.
The figure work is eminently inviting with a subtle bounce and open points. Character designs are thoughtful and rife with revealing personality traits. But through it all, it’s Lenox’s attention to pacing that makes for such an engaging read. For an issue, especially a #1 issue, that largely focuses on kids going to and then coming from school, it’s nearly impossible to put down without finishing immediately. The narrative flow is constructed via transitions and layout that there’s never an instance one could break away from it comfortably.
The creative team is anchored by yet another rock star of the comic world and one would be remiss not to raise that lighter high for the work of Jordie Bellaire who delivers, unsurprisingly, perfectly attuned colors. The palid, lifeless (literally) opening sequence establishes the muted tones found through much of the issue, but elegantly transitions to the richer chroma of the rising sun and the lively school grounds. The application throughout is light on shading, but not entirely devoid of, so as to create a flatter appearance that complements Lenox’s style very well. The texturing throughout is mild, but effectively utilized with soft gradients in blank backgrounds and light layering on objects to provide the smallest sense of depth. Bellaire seemingly assigns colors to the characters upon introducing them that is interesting to interpret as indicators of personality: an even-keeled olive for Teddy, an introspective violet for Diane, of course a heavily shadowed grey for Ray, and a fiery orange for Mie. Time is largely kept by Bellaire’s attention to detail of the position of the sun throughout and the effect on the sky as we progress from an eerie dawn to horrific night over the course of this group’s not-so-typical-anymore school day. Bellaire continues to prove why she’s one of the industry’s best and her art here enhances the story without ever taking over.
Bolstering the issue is a three-page backup story, a mini-comic really, drawn by Lemire give insight into the daily grind of mother/waitress/superhero/newly dead person, Plutona. It’s done in the style of comics and the dialogue is intentionally self-aware that it’s in a comic, but there’s a poignancy there that bolsters the tragedy seen in the opening pages.
Subtle, nuanced, charming, and downright elegant, Plutona #1 delivers on its premise and then some. Lemire, Lenox, and Bellaire craft a heartfelt introduction that blends the best elements of the genre and add complexity to expected archetypes before slamming all the delight of campy superheroes into the mix. Coming of age with a dead superhero misadventure on the way? Damn, kids are the best.