Vaughan & Chiang's "Paper Girls" Builds a Familiar Yet Disconcerting World
I spent a chunk of this weekend celebrating (memorializing?) this week’s end of Mark Waid’s Superman-Gone-So-Very-Bad series Irredeemable, re-reading the whole thing (and catching up, too; I’d gone to trades somewhere along the line, and had then managed to lose track somewhere around Vol. 7, so there were 10 or so issues that were brand new for me), and realized towards the end something that, in retrospect, I couldn’t believe I hadn’t noticed before. Namely, Irredeemable was Battlestar Galactica for superheroes.
By Battlestar Galactica, I’m hoping that you’re already ahead of my explanation that I mean Ron Moore’s 2004 reboot/reimagining of the show, instead of the 1970s original; for one thing, Waid’s superhero series lacked cyborg dogs or intergalactic casinos, even if I strongly suspect that Dirk Benedict in his prime would’ve made a great Charybdis in an imaginary Irredeemable movie. But the Moore version took the show’s central concept seriously, and provided viewers with a world where things kept getting worse, and the odds for the survival of the human race ever longer, no matter how valiantly our heroes kept fighting, an d… well, that’s kind of what happens in Irredeemable, too.
In both stories, too, you quickly come to realize that the grand stakes of what’s happening is ultimately backdrop for the personal stories of their central characters, whether it’s Starbuck’s death-wish-turned-rebirth and renewal or the slow death (transformation?) of Qubit’s optimism and morality in the face of repeatedly terrible, tragic events. Both Irredeemable and Battlestar Galactica offer glimpses into just how “bad” the actions and intentions of self-styled “good people” can become in impossible circumstances, but there’s more to both than just wishing to tear down heroic ideals; after all, there’s something noble and heroic in the fact that characters in both universes refuse to give up despite the mind-numbing horror they’ve witness (and, in some cases, been party to); for all he’s done wrong, for example, there remains something weirdly inspirational about Qubit’s belief that he can still manage to save the world even when a dramatic, extreme final solution has been unleashed by the world’s governments.
(Both stories also offer cautionary tales about people who proclaim themselves saviors, in Gaius Baltar and Charybdis; beware people who want to tell you that they’re here to save the world, they say, as if seeing what happened to the Plutonian wasn’t enough.)
Irredeemable shares the moral complexity of BSG when dealing with its villains, as well; as scary and seemingly “evil” as the Plutonian seems to be at the series’ start, by the time the character has been taken off world – Is that a spoiler? It happened more than a year ago, so I’m hoping it’s not — and we see what he dreams of, it’s clear that he’s as lost and powerless as everyone else, and impossible not to feel for him and wish for his redemption, as impossible as that seems.
One final parallel between Galactica and Irredeemable is in the ending of both, which I won’t spoil as much as I want to. I think the latter handles its ending in a far more satisfactory way, without the stretching and seeming desperation of tying off/tossing off some plot threads in order to close up shop in time, but there’s … something in what happens in the two that makes me feel as if they’re not a million miles away, nonetheless.
All of this is meant to say: Irredeemable has quietly, slowly been a series that’s pushed and pulled at ideas of superhero morality, picking at and deconstructing cliches and ideas heavily sewn into the DNA of the genre in the same way that Battlestar Galactica did for science fiction, but without nearly as much praise or attention being thrown in its direction. With tomorrow’s #37 finishing the whole story up, I hope that changes; that more people can read the whole thing in one sitting, like I did, and see the threads pull together and the story unfold in total and realize just how damn good the whole thing really is. It’s been just over three years since we were told that Mark Waid was evil, but like so much of Irredeemable, that’s misdirection: He just writes like the devil, it seems.