When I was eleven, my cousin/next door neighbor and I spent a considerable amount of time wandering through the mangrove surrounding our neighborhood. To increase the excitement of each expedition, we speculated beforehand what we might come across, each of us trying to outdo the other as we escalated from animal carcass to abandoned house to secret indigenous tribe. The similar vibe between those trips that led to nothing more than mosquito bites and the spontaneous walk through the woods by Plutona’s young teens compelled me to check out Jeff Lemire’s most recent creator-owned property. In contrast to the galactic tale in Descender, Plutona is seemingly a much smaller story in scale that packs the emotional heft in place of universe-building. Taking place on an Earth similar to our own but for the existence of super powered persons, referred to here as capes, Plutona focuses on a group of young teenagers who come across the dead body of the series’ titular female cape. Although it’s not an entirely original concept to view the world of superheroes from a normal person’s perspective, Plutona’s approach from a child’s perspective expertly blends in the capes into what’s shaping into a story of change for the title’s main characters.
After a glimpse at the later horror the children will find, the series introduces us to the teens as they go through their morning ritual before school. The five characters (Teddy, Diane, Mie and her younger brother Mike, and Ray) come from drastically different home lives, and each are introduced on their own page, emphasizing the book’s ensemble nature. After an uneventful day at school, the five end up crossing paths again when Mie, Mike and Diane come across Teddy and Ray who are capespotting, a meeting that soon leads to Mike’s disappearance and the discovery of Plutona’s body.
Plutona features some of the most nuanced depiction of young teens that I’ve seen in a comic due to both the script from Jeff Lemire and art from Emi Lenox in the main story (Lemire illustrates a backup about Plutona). Lemire understands the liminal state that adolescence represents, and shows that while the kids are making their way through their teens, they still remain largely innocent. I love how Mie is both a bossy sister as well as a loyal friend to Diane, sticking up for her when Ray insults her for her weight. Although the other kids know Ray only as a minor bully, the reader is introduced to him via a scene where he attempts to wake up his dad for work after what looks like a late-night binge. In this intro to Ray, he’s careful to not upset his father and possibly get a hit similar to the one that gives him a black eye. When the others meet Ray, it’s evident that he’s channeling his rage about his father’s abuse into tormenting others even as Teddy attempts to be kind to him, only to be treated hostilely when he asks Ray about his eye (to which Ray responds was the result of a fight with an older kid). Even something as simple as the kid’s change in vocabulary, cussing just as soon as their out of the presence of adults gives their dialogue authenticity. I’m intrigued to see how each character responds to finding Plutona’s body, and how that will potentially change them.
Like Lemire, Lenox also has a deft handle on kids, providing them with both subtle expressions in moments of inarticulation as well as the exaggerated movements teens use when trying to get their point across. Mie’s opening page quickly establishes her as the most dramatic of the group, as Lenox illustrates her with six different degrees of annoyance when Mie’s mom spoils her after school plans. I also love the detail of Mike being absorbed in his handheld game throughout the majority of this issue, which gives the handheld’s discovery near issue’s end a moment of concern as Mie imagines the worst after Mike walks away from the group.
What Descender is to A.I., Plutona is to Speilberg’s other film Stand By Me. Plutona’s characters may just be average teens, yet the team behind this comic makes the group’s interactions compelling and likable despite their sometimes lame behavior. I hope we find out just what game Mike seems to be obsessing about.