Jeff Lemire originally gained a lot of attention for his comic 'Essex County' (which remains his best work). The first arc of Essex County followed a lonely boy who uses superheroes as a means of escape from his boring farm life. This arc is a clinic in understatement and rich subtext, as Lemire uncritically portrays the boy's struggle to connect with his uncle and his father through sparse, unemotional moments that connect to form a rich, fully-realized world. Nine years later, Lemire is writing (with Emi Lenox) 'Plutona' with a similar concept and approach, and somehow, nothing is coming together. The concept for 'Plutona' is a simple one: five school children discover the body of the titular super-heroine, and deal with the emotional consequences. Having childhood butt up against the harshness of reality and death is time-tested story fodder, and introducing caped superheroes into the mix is a clever way to make it specific to comics. But four issues into 'Plutona' (a five issue mini-series), a meandering plot and low emotional stakes have made the comic feel entirely inconsequential.
The characters are exclusively the five children mentioned before, but oddly, they remain largely undefined beyond a few stereotypes. We have a bully from a bad family, an unpopular chubby girl, a moody nerd, an annoying little brother, and a flaky wannabe popular girl. These are not bad starting points for characters, but over four issues, no noticeable growth has occurred, and, more annoyingly, no reason to care has been given.
Issue four finds Tugger continuing his obsessive plan to swap blood with Plutona's corpse to gain powers, but we don't really know why. Tugger is superhero obsessed, but choosing to go this drastic, gory route seems like it would require a further motivation, something he's not given. Meanwhile Mie (wannabe) ignores Diane (chubby) in favor of Ray (bully), because kids are jerks. It's not a bad plot-line actually (since kids really can be jerks), but it's oddly divorced from the main plot-line of a literal dead superhero. None of the plot feels particularly fresh or well-wrought culmination in an issue-ending twist I have already seen this year ('Snow Blind #2').
In the midst of an otherwise unremarkable issue, the team of Lenox and Bellaire continues to turn in spectacular work. Lenox's art has a Saturday morning cartoon quality of big shapes stylized characters, but with a subtlety and specificity that makes it easy to take seriously. The characters are simple and yet each one is distinct and evocative (more information is communicated through the character's eyes and body language than through the script). And Bellaire colors with her usual eye for mood and simplification, creating cheerfully lit suburban homes as effortlessly as flashlight illuminated forest.
Perhaps as a consequence of the charismatic art style, I want to like Plutona far more than I actually do. I'd like to see a book that tackles the concept of children dealing with death through superheroes. But as it stands, there's very little to recommend the book which feels increasingly dull. Perhaps when the mini-series is collected as a volume after next month's issue, it will read better, but it's hard to imagine it, at its best, being more than an example of when good creative teams make something that isn't quite good.
Plutona #4 Authors: Jeff Lemire, Emi Lenox Artists: Emi Lenox Publisher: Image Comics Price: $2.99 Release Date: 2/24/16 Format: Mini-Series; Print/Digital