Logic Heroic: The Plutonian in “Irredeemable” as Suicide Terrorist


Abstract: Looking at the comic series Irredeemable, this analysis seeks to understand the various motivations of the Plutonian through scholarship oriented around political terrorism. By using a framework provided by Robert A. Pape in his book Dying to Win, the Plutonian is shown to be analogous to the modern suicide terrorist, a person whose strategies of coercion include punishment and the instilling of constant fear over potential acts of violence that might occur in the future. His brand of suicide—symbolically understood by the discarding of his former superhero identity—is egoistic in nature and born out of his total detachment from society. Importantly, the Plutonian can also be shown to fit within the typical demographic profile of such terrorists in modern history.

Logic Heroic: The Plutonian in Irredeemable as Suicide Terrorist

From the very first frames of Mark Waid and Peter Krause’s introductory issue of Irredeemable (2009), the reader is able to see a raging transformation in the antagonist which signifies an onset of total corruption and odiousness. Although some of these motivations are not revealed until later, it is hinted by the authors that something monumental must have caused the Plutonian—who was once the leading superhero on earth—to become the foremost supervillain who seeks to debilitate his former friends, invoke widespread fear, and destroy the lives of any others who he can.

Without complete answers in this regard, it is difficult to know what exactly propelled the Plutonian to take such a course of action in the first place. Helping to clarify these reasons is why Waid and Krause make such a point of offering hints throughout even just the first two volumes. One example of this is quite instructive. Right before his transformation from superhero to supervillain, the Plutonian asks his victims directly if he appears to be “some bomb that could go off at any time” and then proceeds to finally surrender his will by taking on that identity (Chp.8). The page-sized frame that follows is a striking visual representation of the Plutonian’s first suicide attack, one which puts to death his former self and at the same time leaves everyone around him lifeless and the immediate physical environment in ruins.

Discovering the nature of these motivations is essential in determining either the rationality or irrationality of the Plutonian’s eventual campaign against the world in general. In order to accomplish this task, this paper relies upon foundations provided by Robert A. Pape in his work Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism. Pape, a political science professor at the University of Chicago, has contributed much to this field of study by describing the rational basis that frequently guides such actions in the real world. In his introduction, Pape writes:

To explain suicide terrorism, it is helpful to think of a suicide terrorist campaign as the product of a three-step process [altruistic motive, mass support, and coercive power], to explain each step individually, and to provide a unifying framework for the causal logic as a whole (Pape, 2005, p.20-21).

Pape’s analysis of the issue remains significant because it largely goes against the dominant discourse, which sees acts of suicide terrorism as both irrational and rooted only in the perpetrator’s all-consuming religious convictions (p.16). Such a belief is certainly present throughout the Western world, the type of ideology which McKee (2003) would describe as “more common, more powerful, and less easily challenged” (p.100) than other ideologies that might hold sway in both everyday life and news media. In response to these assumptions, Pape investigates what he calls a “causal logic of suicide terrorism” (Pape, 2005, p.22), showing that those who rely upon it specifically do so in response to foreign occupation. Following Durkheim, he also explains that one of the most applicable forms of suicide for practitioners of such deeds is egoistic suicide, a type “in which personal psychological trauma leads an individual to kill himself in order to escape a painful existence” (p.23).


Before gaining an understanding of how the Plutonian acts within the parameters that Pape describes, it is necessary to establish first what is meant by “suicide” as it relates to this character. The manner in which the Plutonian committed suicide was by forsaking his former identity, allowing himself to be completely overtaken by something which irreversibly altered his person. There is some suggestiveness regarding the idea of his death on the last page of chapter one, too, when he appears in the graveyard. In this instance, one of the frames actually depicts him with a skeletal-like smile as he fires lasers from his eyes onto the ground (Waid and Krause, 2009). In order to properly be called a suicide terrorist, Pape explains, he first has to engage in this necessary act of “killing himself […] in order to kill others” (p.202). There is no question that putting his former self to rest is essential in creating this new disposition, one in which he is completely obsessed with carrying out a maniacal campaign of destruction. The dehumanization of those whose innocent lives he continually takes is a component of his approach as well. On page seven of the first volume, for instance, the Plutonian nonchalantly waves one of his potential victims off as “a carbon bag of atoms and bioelectricity,” denying that she is merely an innocent “little girl” (Waid and Krause, 2009).

Terror’s Motivations and Goals

As already mentioned, it is the purpose of this analysis to reconstruct a view of the Plutonian as a stand-in for the modern suicide terrorist by relying on Pape’s description of the levels present in such individuals’ thought processes. First, it is abundantly clear that the Plutonian’s strategy is politically coercive in nature because of the types of responses that he evokes. Not long into chapter four, for example, the reader sees a depiction of United Nations members gathered together to discuss the “genocidal” threat represented in this figure. The bolstering of all these countries’ military prowess is also touched upon, but the majority of the countries who speak are shown to be intent on offering various concessions for the Plutonian’s appeasement (Waid and Krause, 2009). The coercive power inherent in real-world suicide terror is one which frequently brings about political concessions. This element, Pape tells us, has been key in such campaigns; suicide terrorists have a strategic aim of “compel[ling] democracies to make concessions … toward the terrorists’ political cause” (p.94)

Pape insists that, regardless of whether the targets are “economic or political, military or civilian” in nature, it is frequently the suicide terrorist’s goal to continually serve in “convinc[ing] the opposing society that it is vulnerable to more attacks in the future” (p.30). Just two pages into chapter five of the second Irredeemable volume (Waid and Krause, 2010), the Plutonian is speaking to everyone who is able to see or hear him by way of some electronic device. Within a few frames, he is seen firing lasers at an on-wall map of Singapore, implying to his hearers that there has already been and will continue to be “sporadic global damage everywhere” (Ch.1). In saying this, the Plutonian implies that there is always going to be a threat against everyone on earth. The fact that such a threat exists is entirely consistent with Pape’s explanation, since the widespread psychological terror employed is something relied upon to maintain further coercive leverage.

The underlying logic of suicide terror as a response to occupation is also important for Pape and is something which can be applied to Irredeemable. In the Plutonian’s case, the occupation is a mental invasion rather than a physical presence in some land territory. Democracy long existed in the multitude of voices by which the Plutonian was subjected to having his mind invaded every second of the day. In their free exercise of speech, there were many who expressd awe in his abilities, but still many others decided to voice critical opinions like calling him a “showoff jerk” or “a flippin’ underwear pervert” (Waid and Krause, 2009, ch.1).

Typical Profile of Suicide Attackers

There are several ways in which the Plutonian’s profile can be demonstrated to be consistent with that of a typical suicide attacker. Each of these characteristics runs contrary to what the dominant discourse would suggest. ”In general,” Pape writes, “suicide attackers are rarely socially isolated, clinically insane, or economically destitute individuals, but are most often educated, socially integrated, and highly capable people who could be expected to have a good future” (p.200). It is enormously important to recognize that these latter characteristic mirror the Plutonian’s own identity and experience. Previously to his villainous persona, we know that he had been a well-socialized individual who interacted with many members of society, even if sometimes only in his pseudonymic role as Daniel Hartigan. His former girlfriend Alana, for example, recalls him as being “kind and thoughtful and generous” as well a person whom “everyone loved […] and trusted” (ch.2). He was sane and was even an active professional who worked for a radio organization alongside Alana.

In spite of this, there is still another aspect of the average suicide terrorist’s profile—that of some personal trauma experienced during his or her life—which is just as applicable to the Plutonian (p.210-11). For him, this came in various ways during his tenure as a superhero. Just in the first two chapters of the series alone, he is shown to have faced constant critical attacks on his personal character, the near total exposure of his true identity to every one of his enemies, and the loss of his girlfriend, someone who he openly expressed “mean[s] everything” to him (Waid and Krause, 2009). Pape also describes the egoistic brand of suicide which guides many suicide terrorists’ actions as being born out of “a high-degree of personal trauma and a low degree of attachment to society” (p.173). The Plutonian expresses quite clearly in volume one how he feels about those in society, calling them “miserable, bitter paramecium” (Waid and Krause, 2009, ch.3).

If the Plutonian of Irredeemable can be considered in light of scholarship related to terrorist motives, it helps in informing at least some of the rationale behind the character’s implicit and explicit aims. Understanding the origins of such figures and their ultimate aims can prove enormously important in providing a framework for developing tangible, workable responses.


MCKEE, A. (2003) Textual Analysis. London: Sage Publications.

PAPE, R.A. (2005) Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism. New York, New York: Random House.

WAID, M. and KRAUSE, P. (2009) Irredeemable: Volume 1. Los Angeles, Calif.: Boom! Studios.

WAID, M. and KRAUSE, P. (2010) Irredeemable: Volume 2. Los Angeles: Boom! Studios.

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