Mark Allen reviews Plutona #5…
Trust Jeff Lemire to tell a superhero story that ends with teenagers knifing each other. The final issue of Plutona, written by Lemire with co-plotting and art by Emi Lenox, is the bleakest so far, but features some of the series’ most touching moments and caps off a unique exploration of hero myths and the sometimes tragic consequences of a child’s interpretation of the adult world.
If story is about character, and character is illuminated by action, then Plutona is a truly exquisite story. The five teen leads a are in many ways typical adolescents, with their own petty jealousies and mood swings, but each is a sharply-drawn individual with their own anxieties, hopes and foibles, and both Lemire’s dialogue and Lenox’s simple yet wholly expressive art demonstrate this in nearly every panel. There’s both a universality and specificity to Plutona‘s storytelling that connects a reader to it, even if they didn’t grow up in suburban America.
The characters’ large, watery eyes, repeated locations (the kids never stray far from school, their homes or the woods nearby) and consistent uniforms evoke a wistful, pained nostalgia, a feeling of frozen time that comes from thinking about an all-too-distant past. This appears to be intentional, as the story plays like a twisted 1980s coming of age movie and features heavily features archetypes of said stories. Heavy emphasis is placed on family, the differences between people and the fickleness of teenage friendship.
All of these concepts are tested in Plutona‘s finale, which begins where Lemire’s self-drawn backup strip ended last issue: with the titular local superhero fighting her sworn enemy in the events leading up to the main story. A major plot point is revealed here which casts new light on everything we’ve seen so far and drastically alters the meaning of everything they’ve been to. The series has always maintained a sense of dread, from the disconnection and apathy shown by several characters to Lenox’s autumnal colours and enclosed, claustrophobic spaces – especially in the woods, where the bulk of issue #5 takes place.
These inevitable events share a taste with the best coming-of-age stories like Stand By Me, with childhood being taken from the cast before they have a chance to say goodbye. Just as in life, there is no pat conclusion to events and the knowledge our characters gain takes a large chunk of their innocence away. Lemire and Lenox should be commended for this small, huge story, as they have managed to tell an old, all too familiar story in a new, emotionally resonant way without resorting to trite sentiment or vulgar exploitation.
That’s more than can be said for most superhero stories these days.