Mark Waid (in collaboration with Alex Ross) delivered an apocalyptic world of super-heroes gone bad in DC's Kingdom Come. Now he's developed his own universe to play in.
Having written much for DC, Waid has created a very similar universe—The Plutonian (or Tony) is a virtual Superman, with similar godlike powers and boy scout persona, tireless and vigilante, revered by the masses until suddenly and inexplicably he snaps. The first issue begins several weeks into his worldwide rampage that has mercilessly ravaged both everyday citizens and his former teammates in the super-hero group The Paradigm.
Waid's universe is firmly inspired by the DC Silver Age—a variety of super-powered heroes (science or magically inclined) have faced a disparate manner of threats from super-villains, disasters, demons, alien invasions, and the like. Heroes have only made their appearance within the last five years of story time (allowing for a more concise batch of continuity to handle), with the Plutonian being the only one (so far) of his kind and power.
Irredeemable is a very dark book—the Plutonian commits genocide at a whim, and more personal and psychological atrocities that would make Hannibal Lecter proud. The thrust of the initial storyline involves the surviving Paradigm members racing against time to figure out what snapped the Plutonian, piecing together his vague origins and associations to find some answers (some of which are quite disturbing), while looking for a key to defeat his nearly omnipotent power. One answer might be to locate the missing villain, Modeus, Tony's arch nemesis.
The supporting cast is an interesting ensemble—Qubit is the brainiac of the team, who's genius is both helpful and reckless in his pursuit to find answers. Charybdis and Scylla are a pair of mysterious twins who work in concert together, sharpshooter Bette Noir, winged immortal Gilgamos, and Kaidan, a magic user who can summon ghosts to battle. The Batman-like character, Hornet, has, in fact, already been killed at the beginning of the series, but his influence on events plays out nicely through the first two years of the book.
The mystery of the Plutonian and the constant peril to the surviving members of the Paradigm brings out some messy secrets along the way, including lies and indiscretions among the members that erode the bonds of the team. The Plutonian's mayhem has not only broken down society and made heroes an object of fear, but shatters the once close friendships of the heroes and forces them into difficult and odious choices. Nearly two years in, the pieces are coming together—backstories to the individual heroes, details of Tony's rampages, and the truth behind many of the events that preceded his insanity.
While the Irredeemable world doesn't have a published history of 75 plus years (like DC) to lend the Plutonian's fall more gravitas, he does give his setting and heroes a backstory that succeeds fairly well in fleshing out this world. It's similar to The Watchmen in this respect, jumping into the middle of the story and using flashbacks to construct a complete history for these characters and events.
A neverending battle with the Plutonian could get old very fast, so rest assured, that is not the direction of the storyline. There are victories and losses, and the status quo changes often. Events have climaxed as Irredeemable reaches the end of its second year, and the series could easily go in a variety of directions, but I'm still hooked.
Irredeemable is produced by Boom! Studios. The art is steadily consistent. It's a very compelling read as it imagines the fall of a god-hero and the carnage he's capable of, making one reflect on what's going through Superman's mind when he deals with an ungrateful citizen.