Welcome back to the Pull List, where we read first issues and dole out recommendations. Jeff Lemire’s Plutona is something like if the kids from Sandlot found the body of a superheroine in the woods.
Jeff Lemire’s been on a hot streak recently with rave reviews over Descender, a title that, to me, demonstrated very competent writing, though not quite the Next Big Space Opera Thing touted elsewhere. Enter Plutona, which shut me right the heck up. The premiere issue is a soft opening, with elementary school-kid drama weighing in at 90% of the issue, and superheroism at 10%. Now seeing as how this first issue blew my socks off, I’d say that’s a pretty good sign that Lemire’s focusing on all the right things with this series: character moments and understated action, with a dash of costumed crusaders.
You’d never know you were looking at a superhero book from the cover either, which features a somewhat bratty preteen girl sporting a beanie and a pullover sweater with a pear stitched on it that says “DUMB.” It’s very Ellen Page from Juno, and the book shares the same type of warm, vivid, surprisingly effortless characterizations. Consequently, the cast of Plutona is immediately lovable.
We’ve got Teddy, who obsesses over superhero sightings the same way kids decades ago would be into ham radios; Mie, the somewhat bitchy protagonist gracing the cover; Diane, her unfortunate doormat friend; and Ray, our token, troubled chain-smoking child. All characters we’ve seen before in some form or other, but all immediately magnetic thanks to the quiet magic Lemire’s working across these panels. It’s in the montage of their morning before-school routines, the choice slices of dialogue electric with friction, indifference, and tragedy, oozing out of their little bodies.
The issue is rendered fantastically by artist Emi Lenox, whose character designs play beautifully into Lemire’s dialogue. The charm might be described as something halfway between the work of Darwyn Cooke (New Frontier) and Bryan O’Malley (Scott Pilgrim), boasting a modern minimalism and a very classic-feel. Especially memorable are childrens’ facial expressions, which positively glow with their individual microdramas.
Issue #1 is mostly spent sketching out and tying our motley gang together, and ends with their discovery of Plutona’s body. Plutona’s last-minute introduction brings an entirely new direction to the plot: the perspective of a superheroine who is also an every-woman and struggling mother. Hence, Plutona ends with a sort of Twin Peaks feel to it, as once again we’re looking at the corpse of a woman in the full of life, and whose broken form looks so rife with sublime and unnerving meaning.
In short, I’ll take quiet Lemire over waxing-operatic Lemire any day of the week, if it means getting more work like Plutona. It’s not going to change your destiny or anything, but it’s definitely educational for anyone interested in effective sequential storytelling, or a good ol’ fashioned ‘band of kids’-type tale, with a hero comics’ spin on it.