I’ve always thought of Irredeemable as a version of Astro City in which the silver-age heroism has been tarnished by some serious dark hearts. All the superheroes in Irredeemable have walk-in closets full of skeletons rattling around, impairing their judgement and leading to rising civilian body counts.
Irredeemable Volume 5 is essentially the big book of betrayal and its repercussions. We see Qubit being confronted over his sabotage of the Paradigm’s attempt to kill the villainous Plutonian. Even more disturbingly, we see the Plutonian (Tony) reveal that he’s aware of the scheming of his kid sidekick Samsara.
Tony’s explanation for why his arch-villain Modeus always had a vendetta against him is shocking–giving “love thy enemy” new meaning. The sadistic way he exploits his foe’s emotions is pure Plutonian . . . calculated, cruel, and devastating. A god-like being revelling in inflicting pain on those whom he thinks deserve it (i.e., everyone!)
However, the biggest twist comes from posthumous revelation of Hornet, the sole un-powered member of the Paradigm. As Hornet remarks: “Me, I was some guy who knew some muay thai. Not a superpowered bone in my body.” If Plutonian is writer Mark Waid’s corrupted version of Superman, then Hornet is surely Batman–with his extreme level of paranoia and distrust towards his god-like ally ramped up to catastrophic degree.
Qubit reveals to the surviving Paradigm members that Hornet made a deal with a race of alien conquerors to protect the Earth against the Plutonian if he ever went rogue. The price? The location of all the defenceless planets that the Paradigm ever helped during their star-spanning adventures. Waid once again challenges our perceptions of heroism and villainy; sure, the Plutonian is a mass murderer, but Hornet sacrificed dozens of planets just to ensure the safety of Earth–or, as he puts it, “Selling the universe to save the human race.” Who is the bigger villain?
Whereas previous volumes ended with Tony somehow escaping to battle the Paradigm another day, the conclusion of this one (taking a page from Terry Gilliam’s Brazil), really leaves the audience guessing where the story might go in future issues.
Peter Krause’s art has steadily improved on this book, and he’s firing on all cylinders here. It’s all in the facial expressions of his protagonists; Krause manages to give all the characters the right amount of weariness, sadness, distrust, and anger. Of course, he also manages to make Tony look ultra-creepy, too.
Irredeemable is a laugh-free zone, with any humour running in a few different shades of black, but it’s always a compelling read and it only becomes more so here.