Plutona continues to excel at assuming the point of view of children in a complex and difficult world. One of the great things about that particular point of view, especially with regards to this kind of story, is that the characters don’t waste time discussing unimportant things. If a group of adults found a dead person dressed as a superhero in the woods, they would probably immediately call the police and the case would be made into a criminal matter, involving all the scientific precision that a forensics team could bring to bear. Realistic, but not that much fun, and no, repeat no sense of wonder allowed. (They would never, for example, accept that the deceased could have really been a superhero, and would probably just file the case under “mentally ill vagrant dies in forest”.) But when the discoverers are children, they cut straight to the heart of the matter: this is a dead superhero, so she might not actually be dead. (To paraphraseThe Princess Bride, maybe she’s just “mostly dead”.) They discuss her costume, and debate whether it carries with it any powers. They debate which of her supervillain foes may have brought about the death of this hero, Pluntona. And most importantly, they don’t tell adults – they don’t even allow photos to be taken. Superheroes, for this audience, are emphatically real, and have a special connection with young people that grownups just don’t understand. As an audience, we’re right there with the kids on this one, and telling the story from their perspective allows the book to keep the focus on the right mythic elements, without having to get into grim, depressing realism.
Jeff Lemire’s dialogue for the children continues to ring strong and true: as we mentioned in our previous review of issue #1, Lemire really seems to understand the way children really think and talk. They aren’t helpless here, nor are they hapless. They discuss, debate, cut each other down and eventually plan a course of action that will help them protect Plutona from the cold forces of the “real world”. That’s essentially their plan (without spoiling the actual details): save the honour of their hero from being desecrated by people who have forgotten how important superheroes are and what they mean.
The main character, a young boy who is also a superhero “fan”, or a cape-chaser, knows far more about the mythology of this hero than any of his friends, and certainly any adult. He knows, for example, that Plutona’s fourteenth anniversary as a superhero is coming up. He also has studied her mythos for long enough to consider that she may have lingering powers that can be brought to bear, even on this situation. This issue ends with him literally taking matters into his own hands, and as readers, we’re just as curious as any of the characters about what he will find.
The storytelling techniques in this issue are a great example of serialized narrative. Most of the issue consists of a single scene: a bunch of kids arguing with each other in the woods, standing over a dead body. While other comics might reach for cosmic heights or mythic depths, Lemire and his main collaborator Emi Lenox keep their focus squarely on the relationships between the characters. This is not a fantasy book, although it has fantasy elements. It’s about these children, and how they see the world, and the reality of their lives. There’s an intuitive understanding of the rhythms of their day-to-day life, which many of us will remember, having lived it for years: school, lunch break, “after school”, dinner, TV, time spent in your room alone, and then bed. And the same thing the next day. Of all those segments of a child’s day-to-day, the “after school” time is the most magical. With parents usually still at work, but school out, those magic late afternoon hours were our time, to go out and explore the world before the sun went down, and before anxious parents began hauling us off the streets and sitting us down to casserole and tedium. It’s certainly no accident that they discover Plutona in that “after school” time, and agree to meet back at the site of the discovery at that time the next day to put their plan into action. Evening was the adult’s time to get away from it all, and for those kids brave enough to venture out after dark, the world was a scary, dangerous and exciting place. Without spoiling anything, it’s safe to say that Lenox and Lemire understand how it feels for a child to be out in the world when they shouldn’t be, and to know things adults don’t know. That’s the tone of the book, and it’s enthralling.
On a structural note, Lenox and Lemire also make great use of the comics montage, just as they did in issue #1, to indicate the passage of the tedious rituals of children’s life. In the last issue, it was the predictable ebb and flow of the school day. Here it’s the tedious lethargy of the evening, when parents come home and the world becomes theirs again, following that all-too-brief period in which children were free to explore and have experiences.
The blending of a deep understanding of children allows Plutona to rise far above being just a “superhero comic” and instead reconnect us to a lifestyle and a world that was just a little more magical, just a little bigger, where we all used to live. It’s a great place to revisit.