By Jeff Lemire, Emi Lenox, and Jordie Bellaire
The gentle miniseries about a group of kids from a sleepy town finding a dead superhero in the woods comes to a fittingly sinister, yet somehow relatable, end…
Plutona is a film by Wes Anderson.
Plutona is an album by Boards of Canada.
Plutona is the essence of autumn confined to paper.
Issue #5 completes this gentle miniseries with the same soft tone that made all prior issues stand out from everything else on the rack with a strange, yet satisfying, floating sensation. This may not be the heavy ending some would want, but it’s an ending you’ll think about for longer. That final page will cling with you, and we’ll be debating for years what lies ahead for the future of these kids: especially quiet Mike.
Written by the clearly over-working Jeff Lemire, whose current output has made him more ubiquitous than oxygen & salted caramel combined, Plutona #5 is heavy with what you expect a Lemire book to be heavy with: Heart. You get the impression that this is a storyteller who will always put character before the narrative he’s weaving.
The only minor niggle is everything feels a touch rushed. It’s as if this should have been two issues, but an editorial decision reduced a six-part mini to five. In prior issues there was always time to slow the story down for an extra character beat, and it was those little wry looks & smiles that made the series more than the twists & turns. Yet in this final instalment, the pace rockets compared to those that came before. This is a touch jarring, a sudden jolt of energy following a gentle jaunt. But this is only one perspective. Another could be that the change of pace was the perfect way to finish. Either way, it feels as if the delays in release between issues may have contributed to this sensation of a jolting pace change. Perhaps when read as a trade the gaps between each chapter will blur, and the speeding up of the narrative will feel natural, like a TV show that works best when binge-watched.
This is not a barnstorming close, but something more cerebral. The final pages are a visually literal demonstration of the most common approach to a protagonist’s arc, all of the kids return to what they knew before, but they themselves are subtly different. Their world’s have not been stratospherically altered, not yet, but the seeds have been planted. Sadly, but solemnly and perfectly apropos, one character’s death poetically find them end in a similar place to where they started: Being dead & buried perfectly reflecting their cold, isolated nature when alive. From there, all their childhoods died.
What’s most impressive here, and a note applicable to all prior issues, is how quickly you care about the kids. Character is the hardest part of writing to pull off in a comic as one can’t use an actor to hide bad writing: But Lemire is such an expert at crafting characters you could not be blamed for wondering if he is some sort of conduit through which all the world’s emotions run. We still don’t forgive him for what he made us feel with Sweet Tooth…
Turning to the art and Emi Lenox is nothing short of a sensation, and continues her brilliant work as if effortlessly building a world that is 110% her. Her style GETS this story. It’s a cutesy aesthetic, but this childlike tone is perfect for a tale about childlike wonder melting away. Her style makes the book feel like a quirky European animation you find in the dark dredges of Netflix at 3:00 am. It is simplistic yet complex, scratchy yet clean. There’s an evoking of classic kids comics such as Peanuts and Archie, which helps make the darkness of the story land with that much more weight. Like Jeff Smith on Bone, the simplest of line convey so much. It’s easy to lose yourself in a character’s face for minutes on end, letting yourself interpret every possible meaning out of a raised eyebrow or wrinkled nose. The cleverness of what she does here is to make something so emotionally complex in a style that one could deem simple in contrast to the glossy double splashes of the big 2. There’s a real sophistication at work here.
The coloring from Jordie Bellaire, who seems to be in a competition with Dave Stewart to see who can color the most books a month, keeps with the childlike theme and elevates Lenox’s work, tapping into all the aforementioned ideas. Most intriguing of all is how she colors the central forest in which the gang’s childhood is ripped away from them, suitably on the fringes of their hometown the beginning of the world beyond all they know. Whenever the kids are in the forest, the sky is black; regardless of time of day. The in-universe logic is simple: the trees block the light out. But from the P.O.V of this as a fiction, the black skies are a stroke of subtle genius. This is their coming of age. This is where the kids grow up. Where they first come face to face with the bleakness of life. The sky may be the limit, but it’s so dark they cannot navigate it. Bloody clever… And perfect then for Lemire to end the tale at night, with the kids confined to bed (or in someone’s case, a grave) with nothing but the blackness in which their recent troubles were had to comfort them. And that’s what is most impressive here. The story decisions reflect the art & color decisions and vice versa. This is 110% a team effort. Every creator’s input is felt. They pass the baton between them and work together to elevate each other’s ideas.
Bar a semi jolting jump in pace, Plutona #5 is a perfect end to a wonderful miniseries about the death of childhood, represented very literally in one instance, that feels it will work better when read as a collection in one sitting instead of in the monthly format. The TPB of Plutona is available as of July 20th. Grab a copy, read it in one sitting at 4:00 am by torch-light whilst listening to an album by a band like Animal Collective and remind yourself of the numb pain of being forced unwilling into the black skied world of adulthood…
And bonus points if you spot the Final Fantasy reference.