Wednesday, February 08, 2017

Plutona by Jeff Lemire and Emi Lenox

If I were pitching this book to Hollywood -- which I am not, and never expect to -- the obvious line would be "It's Stand by Me meets Powers." (Although that assumes the person I'm pitching to wouldn't mind that Powers was a flop, which is probably untrue of anyone who might potentially be in that position.)

I don't think that means that Plutona is particularly high-concept; we just live in an era saturated with stories and obsessed with connecting stories to other stories. Plutona stands entirely on its own, but it does also fit interestingly into the larger universe of books about superheroes in almost-our-world and into the universe of stories about unhappy, disaffected teens.

Plutona is a superhero -- a young woman with a complicated, busy life, pulled in multiple directions, but still a superhero -- in Metro City. Out in the countryside nearby is a small town, with woods around. And, one day, five kids -- young teens, mostly -- from that town find the body of Plutona lying in those woods.

Writer Jeff Lemire -- he also contributes art for short flashback chapters about how Plutona got into those woods -- has designed those five kids for maximum drama: they know each other, but aren't "friends" more than superficially. There's the chubby smart girl and the budding mean girl who takes advantage of her, the bully from a broken family and the meek boy he picks on, and the mean girl's quiet younger brother. They don't really have anything in common-- just the body.

They have unrealistic ideas of what they can and should do -- telling the authorities,the obvious best response, is off the table immediately. And their relationships are twisted and tested by that body in the woods: can they benefit from it somehow? Can they get rich, get famous, get superpowers? And even if any of those things are possible, who will get them?

Emi Lenox draws all of the main story in a matter-of-fact style driven by body language and particularly by eyes -- this is a book where paying attention to eyelines is important. And Jodie Bellaire adds soft, almost watercolor-style hues, for both the dark woods over several nights and the bright, should-be-cheery school in the intervening days.

Plutona is not a happy story. It's not about happy people. And, given that it's an indy story written by Jeff Lemire, you can assume it won't end well. It doesn't end in any of the ways I expected, which was a very good thing -- but it ends truly, and honestly, and devastatingly. This is not really a story about superheroes at all: it's a story about kids who make bad choices when they hit an Outside Context Problem, and how that escalates. If you're looking for the usual superhero fare, where violence solves problems...well, you probably should read Plutona, because that's not what violence actually does.

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