Thursday, April 22, 2010
Planetary (Wildstorm / DC Comics) written by Warren Ellis with art by John Cassaday is another one of my theoretical "If you were stuck on a desert island, what books would you bring?" type of books. Twenty seven issues of the series were published over the course of 1999 to 2009, which averages out to not quite three issues per year, but that was not the release schedule. The series started out strong with its releases, but as a result of multiple delays towards the tail end of this incredible comic book, I was lucky to get two issues per year--I do not even want to talk about the three year delay between issue number twenty six and the final issue, number twenty seven. Now that the entire run of Planetary has completed, this is one that every comic lover should enjoy.
Planetary Vol. 1: All Over the World and Other Stories is the story of Elijah Snow, another century baby--born January 01, 1900 like Jenny Sparks from the Authority--who has been twiddling away the time in the middle of a desert eating terrible diner food for an untold number of years. His existence of mediocrity is interrupted when a striking young woman named Jakita Wagner shows up at the diner knowing more about Elijah than he is comfortable with, and with a job offer that he cannot refuse. Elijah agrees to join Planetary, a group of archaeologist that investigate the secret history of the world, the fantastic, the unexplainable and the weird. Elijah learns that Planetary is run by the enigmatic Fourth Man who finances everything, and that he will be joining the three-person team with the nigh-invulnerable and superhumanly strong Jakita, and the borderline insane yet highly intelligent The Drummer (no real name), who talks to machinery.
The team then sets out on their journey to uncover the secrets that others attempt to hide from the world beginning with a World War II supercomputer that should not exist and is still guarded by withered science hero from the past. They travel to Monster Island to uncover a land of giant monsters that have all died, yet are under military guard. A Japanese spirit of vengeance terrorizes the seedy underworld and Planetary needs to understand why. They also meet a man, who was recently empowered by a mysterious unearthed relic, and is in need of their help. But, it is the disastrous meeting with William Leather, one of Planetary's archnemesis The Four, that things begin to change. Elijah discovers that his new teammates are not telling him everything that they know, and he begins to feel that the underpinnings of Planetary are not as strong as he first thought.
Every issue of the series is in some way an homage to a classic type of story, whether it is the pulpy adventures of Doc Savage, or the gothic horror of Frankenstein, or the modern incarnations of Superman, Wonder Woman or Batman. Planetary twists those stories as part of the secret history that Elijah, Jakita and The Drummer need to uncover in hopes of making the world a better place. The main story slowly unwinds through each nearly standalone issue, but this book needs to be read chronologically to appreciate all of the subtle hints as to who the The Four really are, why The Fourth Man opposes them, and the mystery Elijah's predecessor. Planetary is yet another grand entry from Warren Ellis deserving of a spot on people's must-read list, and one that is firmly set as one of my all time favorite comics.
Also more than worthy of attention is the artwork of John Cassaday, who is one of the most important modern masters of comic book art alive today. Each cover in the series could be a movie poster from the time period in which the story is set, and the interior art tells Ellis' story beautifully. The variety of emotions for every character is felt through each illustration and the details in his designs exactly convey the wonder and mystery of the world of Planetary. Very highly recommended and I will be rereading it yet again in the coming months.