The Roman Empire had nothing on groups of kids when it comes to conspiracy, collusion, forming alliances and keeping secrets. That’s one of the great truths about young people that Jeff Lemire and Emi Lenox share with us in the third issue of Plutona. The series began about a group of kids who find a dead superhero, and introduced us to their diverse and colourful personalities. Here in issue #3, things start to take a dark turn, as keeping Plutona’s body from the adult authorities is going to be much more difficult when the children themselves can’t agree on a course of action, and can’t seem to cooperate. At least, not fully.
It’s difficult to write about what this issue really concerns without revealing too many juicy plot surprises, but readers can rest assured that nothing in this issue contradicts or is off-base with the tone and the characters we’ve already established. Though some of what happens here might seem extreme, there seem to be excellent reasons for it, based in a thorough understanding of the social dynamics of pre-teens, particularly with regards to their younger siblings.
Every kid seems intuitively aware of the social pecking order. And it goes without saying that younger siblings are at the bottom, or at least the bottom of the next step up the ladder of power. But with that lack of power sometimes comes a useful anonymity. Mie’s younger brother Mike, in this issue, uses that to his advantage, venturing out into the wild unknowns of the night to retrieve his lost gameboy (what modern young person wouldn’t risk their life for their digital friend, especially when it’s a video game machine?). As his sister texts with her friends, and their mother cleans up after dinner, Mike’s actions go unnoticed, just like many a youngest child.
But while younger siblings may slip about unnoticed, they usually require the help of an older, bolder kid to really get into the action. It makes sense: all a younger kid wants to do is be accepted by their elders, and an offer of getting into mischief and being trusted with deep secrets would be fairly irresistible. That is essentially what this issue is about, in terms of character.
Of course, this is also a superhero book, or at least it seems to be. Lemire continues his story-within-a-story by flashing to Plutona’s last great adventure in the end, and even here we get some interesting hints that her powers might be borrowed. She refers to them as her “Plutona powers”, which is an interesting twist, but certainly not unprecedented in comics, going all the way back to Billy Batson and Captain Marvel. That, and another plot twist which we won’t reveal, appear to set the book on an intriguing tack, addressing the time-honoured superhero comic themes of power and responsibility.
Which means, of course, that for all its wisdom about children, their social lives, and their relationship with the peculiar kind of comic-book celebrity, Plutona may evolve into a powerful superhero story of its own. That dedication to genre while keeping the characters rich and true is why readers keep coming back to Jeff Lemire, and why this comic is becoming essential reading.