Posted on August 13, 2010 by GRIM
Available at Amazon.com
Hopefully writer Warren Ellis needs no introduction, his body of work and his relentless internet presence should make him known to just about anyone with a remote interest in comics or internet culture. He has an impressive body of comics work, perhaps most notably Transmetropolitan and the initial work on The Authority. Planetary takes place within the context of the Wildstorm universe, but is very much its own ‘creature’.
For me this is Ellis’ magnum opus, delayed, beset by problems and an irregular schedule of releases Planetary is a triumph over adversity. Essentially the books are a product of the millennium, ten years in completion but while those themes have somewhat passed by, the books have remained fresh in part due to Ellis’ constant forward thinking and in part due to the recent success of semi-rebooted comic book films and other re-examinations of the genre.
It’s a comic about comics, about the past, a wry, cynical and yet loving examination of comics and their history through an archaeological metaphor, investigating the world of comics within a comic, updating and examining the strange ideas of the past with the eye of today, albeit a sometimes harsh eye.
Planetary is the story of Elijah Snow, one of the Century Babies, unnatural individuals who share the birthdate of January 1st 1900. Elijah is tough, seemingly immortal, unnaturally strong, unnaturally tough and has the ability to control temperature, freezing things solid in an instant. Snow is also an historian, an archaeologist of the impossible, driven to uncover secrets and to document them, he is the author of the Planetary Guides, a series of books published across the 20th century detailing its hidden and secret history.
As the story begins we know nothing of this, Elijah is a washed up unknown, living in the desert, eating at a shack diner, drinking awful coffee when he is the one approached by the Planetary group, having no memory of his former existence as a part of it, as the driving force behind it. Jakita Wagner, another superhuman and Drums, a living information hub form the other two members of Planetary’s ‘field team’, actively heading up their investigations into the unnatural.
As the investigations continue, Elijah gradually comes to fall back into his old ways, his memories slowly reappearing as he is re-exposed to old cases and the string of discoveries that lead him to his original downfall at the hands of The Four, this world’s equivalent of The Fantastic Four, an evil, selfish grouping, jealous of superheroes who collect secret history themselves, specifically to add to their own power, hoarding it from the rest of humanity.
Planetary’s investigations take us through the fate of this world’s Hulk, Thor, Superman, they touch on the age of the pulp and the weird and mystery fiction of the Victorian age. We mix with ‘Tarzan’ and the secret cities of Africa, we cross ‘the bleed’ to parallel Earths on a macro scale and uncover something just as strange at the micro scale. Planetary romps across comics, science fiction and fantastical ideas that are part of all our popular culture. This is as literate as Moore but more accessible, as good as The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen but broader in scope and delighting in the popular rather than the obscure.
While Ellis often ends his material on a down note (The failure’s of The Authority or Jenny’s death, the racism in Ministry of Space) Planetary ends on an up note. The vanquishing of The Four is almost a side note to the true story which I won’t spoil, but which is far more human, far more compassionate and ultimately far more satisfying than any whiz-bang, widescreen superhero punch-up could ever have been.
The door is left open for future adventures with the Planetary team, but I almost hope that doesn’t happen as, in the hands of others, Planetary can’t live up to what it has accomplished.
This is an unmissable comic series and the artwork by John Cassaday deserves to be seen in the best format possible. With the release of the second volume as an Absolute Edition, hopefully the first Absolute Edition will get a reprint and you can get both in this format. It’s a shame this series had to be interrupted and delayed so much but the juxtaposition of speculative science and pop-culture nostalgia does make this series essentially timeless and a classic that, to me, deserves to be as widely recognised as Watchmen or The Invisibles.
Review by James ‘Grim’ Desborough