The Breakfast Club meets Stand By Me meets Top Ten in Jeff Lemire’s new comic Plutona. The story straddles the line between coming-of-age realism and superhero fantasy, building one inside the other to offer a unique juxtaposition. Newcomer Emi Lenox’s art is reminiscent of both indie comics giant Daniel Clowes and Lumberjanes artist Brooke Allen. The initial issue effectively introduces the central characters through narrative and visual cues and sets the stage for their life-altering discovery. I will definitely be adding this to my pull list.
Plutona offers two initial impressions: the cover depicting disaffected teen Mie and the opening page of four panels of extreme close-ups of the dead body of a superhero. This juxtaposition creates an interesting new take on one of the most epic of narrative tropes in comics–the death of a superhero, but now through the eyes of a naive, personal perspective rather than a global peril one. These opening images set the path for the rest of the narrative.
Crucial to this issue, though, is the introduction to our four teens: Teddy, Diane, Ray, and Mie. Each gets a page depicting their time before heading off to school. The top panel gives an extreme close-up of their eyes, setting up mirroring images to pair them: Teddy and Diane, Ray and Mie. The effect overall of repeating the structure of their pages is to beg a foil comparison. They have aspects in common, Teddy’s fixation on superheroes ties to Diane’s new puppy Loki who ties to Mie’s brother Mike. But they also each have their unique qualities. For instance, rather than being prompted by a parent to get to school on time, like the others are, Ray is the one waking his father for work. Their parent-child relationship is reversed.
To emphasize their uniqueness, each of the four gets a color that dominates their page. Teddy is green, Diane purple, Ray gray, and Mie orange. Though I don’t yet have a full theory on the symbolism of each color, the use of them continues in interesting ways through the rest of the issue. As the teens come together on the street on their way to school, all of their colors intermingle in the background. Later, when Teddy and Ray meet on a grassy hill, the color choice for the panels is a dull yellow, as if their colors of gray and green were mixing. When Mie shows her dominance over Diane by pressuring her to let her wear the punk jacket, the wall behind them is orange. Thus, Emi Lenox’s art emphasizes the kids’ relationships, visually offering clues to the emotional significance underlying the scene.
Additionally, this issue must establish the world of the narrative. After the initial panels of the dead superhero, there is a landscape shot of the setting: a city in the distance, a small town closer in the frame, a river running past the two. The sun beginning to rise from behind mountains, the sky purple-pink pastel. A forest of trees everywhere else, surrounding the human settlements. The landscape is idyllic, yes, but the engulfing forest suggests that outside these human civilizations is wilderness and chaos, the threat of animal nature.
Teddy’s page establishes the relationship with superheroes. He’s listening to news reports from Metro City of superhero and villain activities, logging them in a notebook, and sharing them with others online. To him, the superheroes are a public fascination, like celebrities, and he spends his free time “capespotting.” His room is plastered with posters (one is of Plutona) and news clippings. The radio report sets up analogs to the superheroes the reader knows. C.O.M.Bat is Batman, for instance. The depiction of Plutona, with the astrological symbol for Venus and thus woman, on the chest of her uniform, suggests her analog to be Wonder Woman, although the information we get through the comic within the comic gives her a wildly different backstory. The prevalence of superheroes in their world reminded me of Moore’s Top Ten.
Although the comic is only getting started, the death of Plutona begs some interesting symbolic reading. Her use of the Venus symbol connects her to femininity and by extension, through her power, feminism. In her comic, she struggles to fill all of her roles: waitress, mother, savior to the city. Her dual identity creates strife for her, attempting to do too much. In fact, she’s pulling a double shift at the Double Dipper Diner. Perhaps this is meant to critique the working mother or the notion that women can do it all. Her death, then, could have further implications regarding the role of feminism in society or even just comic books.
In a more universal way, the death of the hero could mirror the coming-of-age of these teens. Becoming adult is often the awaking to the reality behind illusions. Their hero is dead. Perhaps their innocence too. Darker stories are already being suggested behind the facades of identity. Ray especially clearly sports two identities, like Plutona. To the other teens, he’s a rebel bully, tough and independent and borderline criminal. He smokes and calls them offensive names like Tugger and Chubs. When Teddy asks him what happened to his eye, Ray responds he got into a fight with a 9th grader, but the suggestion is that he’s being abused at home. The kids’ foray into the woods at the end of the comic likewise suggests they are going to be digging deeper into their true selves and seeing what they’re really made of.
Lemire’s Trillium showed me he’s a writer of creative, parallel storytelling and unique vision. I see the beginnings of those same traits here and am intrigued to see where this goes.