Reasons to Love Comics #334

by  in Comic News Comment
Reasons to Love Comics #334

Look at me, posting three times in day!  I’m like Cronin!  This is a pinch-hit post, as I take a look at another Warren Ellis comic that Bill, sadly enough, hasn’t read.  Get that guy a nice Christmas present!


334.  Planetary


Sweet Fancy Moses, I love this comic.  It’s so nifty.

Planetary is Warren Ellis and John Cassaday’s genre-blending tribute to pulp fiction, monster movies, horror stories, Victorian detectives, Grant Morrison, and superhero comics (among other things).  Ellis parodies the whole superhero thing, with the Fantastic Four playing the villains of the book, but it’s more a gentle parody than anything – Ellis doesn’t eviscerate the whole superhero genre, but he does play with it a bit.  His heroes, after all, are superheroes in their own right.  This is a brilliant book, and although the last issue pretty much wrapped things up, there’s one more issue in the pipeline, and maybe we’ll see it before the sun goes cold.

Ellis is really on his game early in the series, which began in 1999.  The first issue sets the stage for the rest of the series, introducing several key concepts and characters, including Doc Brass, who looks suspiciously like a pulp hero from the 1930s.  After that, the first few issues are single-issue stories, and Ellis does a nice job telling them while still tying them into the later, grander storyline.  We meet the three members of Planetary, “Archaeologists of the Impossible,” a group that uncovers the weird and fantastic in the world.  The team is made up of Elijah Snow, the “new recruit” (or is he?), Jakita Wagner, and a bearded hippie called The Drummer.  Damned hippies!  For the first few issues, the team investigates dead monsters on a mysterious island, ghosts in Hong Kong, strange funerals for cynical English magicians (who could that be?), and magical alternate dimensions.  Ellis puts all sorts of archetypes in the book, and some of the fun of the book is figuring out who the characters are supposed to represent.

In later issues, Ellis began to concentrate on a longer epic that still tied into the earlier issues.  We learn more about the history of the team, Elijah Snow’s predecessor Ambrose Chase, and the mysterious “Fourth Man” who is behind the funding of the team.  The identity of the “Fourth Man” is one of the keen mysteries of the book (yes, I wrote “keen” – deal with it!).  Plus, the bad guys are truly evil, which gives the book a nasty edge.  The reason why this is one of my favorite comics, however, is because Ellis never loses that sense of wonder at the marvels of the world – we’re seeing this world pretty much through the eyes of Elijah Snow, who was born on 1 January 1900 (the same as Jenny Sparks!) but doesn’t remember much of the 20th century, so when he discovers something, it’s new to him and it’s new to us.  As Elijah peels back the mysteries surrounding Planetary, we take every step with him, and are amazed or horrified by what we find.  It’s a wonderful journey, and it’s kind of stunning to think that Ellis packed so much detail into 26 issues (plus a few specials, which are great in their own right).

Cassaday became a superstar because of this book, and his art is spectacular.  On the early issues, it’s not as polished as it is now, and that’s a good thing, because he’s become a bit slicker than I would like.  He is called upon to do various stylistic changes and illustrate a multitude of weird and wacky creations, and he’s more than up to the task.  Each issue of Planetary is breathtaking to behold, partly because of Ellis’s sparse scripts that reveal just enough to make us stop and reconsider what has come before, and partly because Cassaday fills in this details of this world and makes it a living thing.  It’s a truly gorgeous comic.

Despite the unfortunate delays, Planetary is one of my favorite comics ever.  I can’t wait for the last issue, not because I think it’s going to be brilliant (it probably will be, but it also probably won’t be the best issue ever), but because then I can sit back, start at issue #1 (which I just re-read; man, it’s excellent), and simply take my time going into this fantastic world that Ellis and Cassaday have created.  It will be a wonderful time.

Buy the trades, people.  Or wait for the inevitable OMNIBUS, which will cost 75-100 dollars and be totally worth it.  And always remember: