Thursday, November 15, 2012


In one fell swoop I re-read the run of Incorruptible, the other half of Mark Waid's exploration of what happens when Superman goes bad.  Really bad.  Not the old Red Kryptonite kind of bad.  Kill millions kind of bad.

Of course, that main story was told in Irredeemable, which I didn't finish reading because it seemed to have reached a point of being stuck in amber.  This story is a look at what happens to the arch nemesis of the Plutonian (Superman stand-in) once the Plutonian goes bad. 

Max Damage, a great name for a villain, is a guy who group up with a crappy home life, no friends but for one girl a few years younger, and an abiding outrage at the existence of the Plutonian.  Sort of Lex Luthor but not so smart.  Not nearly so smart.  Max can withstand just about anything and has superior strength, both of which increase in power the longer he's awake.  The drawback is that the longer he's awake the more he's sleep deprived, just like anyone else, and becomes incoherent and irrational.  When he wakes up he's a normal human for an hour, give or take, before his powers start kicking in.

Unlike Plutonian, Max wasn't born with his powers.  He paid a loopy scientist to give him the powers.  The scientist isn't really interested in the people who come to him to get powers, just the money he gives them.  As a result, most of his patients die.  In fact, Max is his only known success, and that's because the scientist's assistant ran the experiment on Max instead.  She actually paid attention to what she was doing.

So, Max robs, steals, kidnaps, and so on, generally being a menace to society.  He has a sidekick named Jailbait who's his underage girlfriend.  Depending on the state, she might not really be underage.  She's at least 16 when the story starts and is nearly 18 by the time it ends.  Regardless, for purposes of the story she's considered underage.  She has no powers.  She's just an anarchist of sorts who likes the adventure, acquiring piles of stuff, and the sex with Max.

Max is in Plutonian's home town when Plutonian goes off the deep end.  Apparently this is because he told his girlfriend who he really is and she reacted by exposing his secret identity to everyone.  Based on a story from Max's childhood, it seems Plutonian was unstable before that but hid it well in superheroics.  I'll have to pick up the trades for Irredeemable at the point where I left off in the singles to see if there's more to it than that.

Max's world is turned upside down by Plutonian killing millions.  If the most powerful person and unstoppable force for protecting the world is now destroying the world, what's a man whose nearly as powerful but has always been a force for chaos to do?

Max's answer is to become a protector.  Problem is, he doesn't really know how to do that.  He has no internal compass for what's the right thing to do.  His method is to obey the letter of the law.  Right from the start he gets his own gang arrested, burns all of his stolen wealth, and refuses to have sex with Jailbait any longer.  He also tries to get Jailbait to a place of safety, which she sees as rejection altogether.  He ends up picking up another sidekick who looks a lot like Jailbait but is older.  Her entire family was killed by a racist gang that worships the rampaging Plutonian as a force purging the world of the unpure races.  At first she masquerades as Jailbait but later she goes by Headcase.

Waid has a good way with names in the book.  Max Damage, Jailbait, Headcase, and my personal favorite, Hate Crime.  She's a reformed criminal who hates crime.  The double entendre of her name is entirely lost on her.  Charlie Hustle, a diminutive criminal with super speed, is also a favorite name.  The fact that he wears an oversized football helmet and eyeblack is an amusing visual, too.

A lot goes on in this book, as opposed to Irredeemable, which I felt like was plodding.  Max sets up a protectorate of sorts in Coalville, his home base of operations.  He recruits Lt Armadale as an ally in the police, though Armadale himself is a sober alcoholic and former recipient of many graft payments.  Max protects the city from racist gang attacks, marauding criminal gangs seeking to loot the only known city to have some stability, and Plutonian himself.  He fights the latter to a standstill and reaches a deal with Plutonian for Plutonian to leave the city alone, which promptly leads to a criminal warlord and the US army trying to take over to use the city as a base of operations.

Max reaches a deal with the warlord and the army is forced out.

My main disappointment with the story is that too much of the end occurs in Irredeemable, essentially off camera.  Alana Patel, who was Plutonian's girlfriend until she outed him to the world, is Max's psuedo ally, though she's easily manipulated by men of power into exposing Max's weakness.  She eventually acquires the same powers Max has.  More importantly, I really have no idea how Plutonian was defeated.  It just became a fait accompli, leaving Max somewhat rudderless.  At least he was back with Jailbait, counting the days until she turned 18 and they could resume their releationship.  More importantly, Max learned that being a protector doesn't mean the letter of the law but doing the "right" thing.  He developed his own moral compass.

It's a good story, all in all.  It's not groundbreaking or Earth shattering in any way, but it's well told.  A lot of the smaller stories I didn't go over are well plotted and developed within the larger arc of the story.  In particular, Waid has a good sense of characters, giving each one, even minor ones, unique personalities.  Charlie Hustle is no major character and has limited page time, but he quickly became one of my favorite among the many sociopaths in the book.

The art was done by Jean Diaz (1-4), HOracio Domingues (5-10), Marcio Takara (11-27) and Damian Couceiro (28-30).  Diaz's art was the most polished, but I enjoyed Takara's angular style.  Takara certainly did the bulk of the work.

1 comment:

  1. I started with this book, but like its brother title gave up as it went along. Incorruptible suffered, IMHO, from poor artists in the later issues. I liked the book before it became too cartoon-y.