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Comics You Should Own – Planetary

Man, it’s hard to write about Planetary. So many others have already done so! But I’ll give it the old college try, just for you guys. I love you guys so much!

Planetary by Warren Ellis (writer), John Cassaday (artist, issues #1-27 and Planetary/Batman: Night on Earth), Phil Jimenez (penciller, Planetary/The Authority: Ruling the World), Andy Lanning (inker, Planetary/The Authority: Ruling the World), Jerry Ordway (artist, Planetary/JLA: Terra Occulta), Laura Martin (née DePuy) (colorist, issues #1-6, 8, 10-27 and Planetary/The Authority: Ruling the World), David Baron (colorist, issues #3, 6-7, 9-10, Planetary/JLA: Terra Occulta, and Planetary/Batman: Night on Earth), Bill O’Neil (letterer, issues #1-2, 11-15), Ali Fuchs (letterer, issues #3-6), Ryan Cline (letterer, issues #7-8, 10 and Planetary/The Authority: Ruling the World), Mike Heisler (letterer, issue #9 and Planetary/JLA: Terra Occulta), Richard Starkings (letterer, issues #16-27), and Wes Abbott (letterer, Planetary/Batman: Night on Earth).

Published by DC/Wildstorm, 30 issues (#1-27 of the ongoing series, plus Planetary/The Authority: Ruling the World, which comes between issues #10 and 11, Planetary/JLA: Terra Occulta, which comes after issue #15, and Planetary/Batman: Night on Earth, which comes after Terra Occulta), cover dated April 1999 – December 2009.

Ah, yes, the obligatory SPOILERS AHOY! warning. There it is! And, as always, click the images (well, most of them) to enlarge them!

Planetary is a masterpiece. It’s Warren Ellis’s magnum opus (some might argue for Transmetropolitan, but I won’t) and it’s one of the best long-form comics ever. Yes, ever. It doesn’t quite reach the levels of Morrison and Case’s Doom Patrol, but it’s up there with Ennis and McCrea’s Hitman, in the rare air that most creators strive to achieve but never do. I’m not sure if Planetary gets the recognition it deserves, and that’s too bad. It’s brilliant, and it deserves to be read over and over, because it will always surprise and excite you. Unless you have no soul, that is. You have a soul, don’t you?

Ellis has often written angry, cynical comics full of bastards, but he’s kind of an old softie at heart. Nowhere is this more evident than in Planetary, which is all about hope. Sure, it’s full of evil bastards, but there’s never a sense that they will triumph. What Ellis does with Planetary (he did this with The Authority, too, but not to the degree he does here) is make it obvious that the good guys will win, but there’s never a loss of tension within the narrative. In regular superhero comics, we know that the good guy will win, but writers often try their hardest to make sure we think they might fail. Ellis doesn’t care about that. The only reason Elijah Snow and his group don’t wipe the floor with the Four is because Snow is trying to regain his memory and he’s not fully capable of going after them yet. Once he is, it’s no contest. Ellis simply doesn’t care about the superheroes-versus-supervillains paradigm that drives the vast majority of comic books (even today, in these enlightened times). Planetary isn’t about that. What Planetary is about is right there on the cover of issue #1: “Archaeologists of the Impossible.” That’s a great tagline, and it explains a great deal of the book. Elijah Snow isn’t about fighting, even though he does his share. In issue #26, when Jakita Wagner complains that in the final confrontation with Randall Dowling, she didn’t get to hit anything. Elijah responds: “You’re thinking like Dowling. Shoot something. Destroy something. That was his concept of power. Knowledge towards destruction. Me? I discovered and saved these people, located a lost ship of the Bleed and pulled it from its tomb. Archaeology.” He’s even more explicit in issue #24, when he talks of the function of century babies (those people in Ellis’s Wildstorm universe who were born on 1 January 1900, which Snow was). Each of them has a function, and Snow’s is to save people. He saved Jakita when the citizen of her birth city would have left her to die (she was the daughter of one of their black women and a white man), he saved The Drummer from Randall Dowling, and he saves Ambrose Chase from death. Throughout the series, he saves people and things, and any bad guys he defeats is merely an afterthought. It’s why Planetary is such a hopeful book and why it ends with Snow saving Ambrose Chase and not with Snow and his team defeating the Four. It’s why Planetary is so much more interesting than almost anything Ellis has ever written (and he’s written a lot of very good comics, don’t get me wrong).

There’s another fascinating subtext at work in Planetary. Perhaps it should go without saying that Ellis’s main villains are the Fantastic Four, but what’s unusual about the Four is that Ellis is not speculating that this is what would happen if Marvel’s First Family were villains, he’s stating explicitly that the Fantastic Four are villains as they currently exist in the Marvel Universe. The FF do exactly what the Four do – they accumulate esoteric knowledge and don’t share it with the rest of the world. The vicissitudes of the Marvel Universe being what they are, no one at Marvel allows the fictional world their heroes inhabit drift too far from the “real” world, so all the fantastic inventions that Reed Richards and his ilk have come up with over the years are doled out piecemeal, and the Marvel Universe still doesn’t have flying cars. This cognitive dissonance is the worst whenever Marvel tries to be “relevant” – the 9/11 issue of Amazing Spider-Man is the apex (or nadir) of this sort of thing – and the readers see behind the façade of “realism” that Marvel strives for (DC is a lesser example of this, as the DCU has never been predicated as much on the “real world” as the Marvel U. is). Planetary is not only Ellis’s commentary on a variety of superhero tropes and Vertigo staples (in the notorious issue #7, when Jakita tells Snow that Margaret Thatcher was “genuinely mad”), but also the concentration of power in too few hands. In Planetary, Jenny Sparks and the Authority are almost villainous – Jakita remarks in Ruling the World that the Authority “fought off an invasion from a parallel earth, re-invaded that world and destroyed their ruling power in less than twenty-four hours.” When Planetary confronts the creatures in the Bleed, they are evil versions of the Authority. Even Planetary, in Terra Occulta, is the ruling power, and it’s not a good thing. Ellis’s healthy skepticism about the powerful, which manifests itself in many ways in his comics, is front and center in Planetary, but Elijah, Jakita, and The Drummer deal with it in the healthiest way possible – not by fighting (although they do plenty of that) but by consensus-building and excavating knowledge. Only that way can everyone be free, and Snow and the gang will strive to their dying breath to bring freedom to the world.

Planetary is so brilliant because it encompasses so much of comics history, and Ellis is smart enough to throw it all in the blender and see what happens. He never turns it into a parody of superhero comics – Jack Carter’s victim in issue #7 is silly, but he’s silly because Ellis is showing how silly “mature” comics are – but instead respects the way the genres he’s using work, be it Westerns or pulps or monster movies or superhero books. Ellis has long been a fan of other genre fiction and has attempted to blend that with superhero books (with varying success), and Planetary is where it works the best. Ellis doesn’t need to make superheroes mature, because he gets the wondrous stories of superheroes and how amazing they can be when a gifted writer gets a hold of them. It’s astonishing that in one series he can skewer Marvel’s first family so well yet give us a superb portrayal of Wonder Woman (even though the Four kill her). Early on in the series, before Ellis really began his mega-plot, we got some of the best single-issue stories of the past 15 years – Doc Brass and his shadow council discovering the snowflake in issue #1, the Monster Island story in issue #2, the ghost policeman in issue #3, the magnificent James Wilder story in issue #4, Jack Carter’s death in issue #7, City Zero in issue #8, Planet Fiction in issue #9: All of these are informed by other diverse genres, from the pulps (issue #1) to John Woo movies (issue #3) to Grant Morrison (issue #9), and Ellis blends them marvelously to create his “strange world.” Even after the malevolence of the Four is revealed, we still get wonderful single issues like the Tarzan story (issue #17). Ellis brings these all together by the end, but you could easily pick up one of these issues and be treated to a brilliant story that doesn’t require further reading (but why wouldn’t you?). Ellis’s mantra – “It’s a strange world.” “Let’s keep it that way.” – remains his ultimate priority, so he never forgets to show how bizarre the Wildstorm world is. This means the Lone Ranger, Sherlock Holmes, Dracula, the Shadow, Swamp Thing, and Superman all existed in the same universe, and Ellis makes sure that he ties them to each other nicely.

He couldn’t do this without Cassaday’s contribution, of course. Cassaday began this series as an artist on the rise and ended it a superstar who doesn’t even need to do interiors anymore because his covers are in such demand. Cassaday’s fine-line technique has its detractors, but in Planetary, he’s magnificent … and the perfect artist for Ellis’s vision – his clean and precise lines show us a world of glory where another artist might sully it. Cassaday also manages the trick of showing a variety of characters from wildly different genres and doing it very well without really altering his style. He has to draw pulp heroes like “Doc Brass” (Doc Savage), “Bret Leather” (The Shadow), “Lord Blackstock” (Tarzan), and “Hark” (Fu Manchu); Godzilla-type monsters; the marvelous shiftship interior; plenty of science fiction; various Vertigo characters (John Constantine, Swamp Thing, Animal Man, Dream, and Death); Marilyn Monroe; a full page of “Green Lantern” aliens; a Steranko-esque spy story; a scene in Frankenstein’s castle; a martial arts battle; and Batman in various stages of his history (among other things). He does all this without using new styles – it’s unmistakably Cassaday – but by drawing the characters with just enough variation to make them his own but still being recognizable and, in some cases (issue #11, the Steranko homage), altering his page layouts just enough to ape the master. It’s amazing stuff, and it’s even more impressive when you consider that Cassaday (or perhaps Laura Martin) used computer effects not to the detriment of the final product (which far too many books do) but to enhance it. Consider issue #9, “Planet Fiction,” which introduces us to Ambrose Chase and his “reality-altering field.” The field is a computer effect, causing the linework to ripple around it, but it doesn’t look fake or even intrusive – it’s just part of the artwork. In issue #3, Cassaday and Martin use the “ghost” effect that was famously introduced (as far as Marvel touted it) in a Joe Mad issue of Uncanny X-Men in the early 1990s (the good old smoke ninja, in case you’re trying to remember). It was cool-ass back then but looks fairly shoehorned in these days in that issue of UXM, but in Planetary, it still looks fresh over a decade later. His crowning achievement might be Night on Earth, the Batman crossover from 2003 (during the Great Planetary Caesura!), in which he gives us Batmans from different times in the character’s history, from the modern (in 2003) take to the Adam West Bats to the Frank Miller Dark Knight Returns Bats to the Neal Adams version to the 1939 original (complete with purple gloves) to a version that looks eerily like the current David Finch redesign, and he nails every one of them without ever letting us forget it’s Cassaday drawing it. Night on Earth is a great story, but it’s a beautiful-looking book as well, and Cassaday gets a lot of the credit for that. (Let’s not forget the amazing covers for the entire series, with the different logos for each one, because that could be a whole different post if I wanted to get into it.)

Planetary, of course, lost a lot of momentum right in the middle of its run, which was very unfortunate. It was part of the Wildstorm Golden Age (1998-2002; you can see a few of the titles that showed up at that time here) and outlasted all of the others, mainly because it took so long to come out. Between April 1999 (the cover date on issue #1, so it could have come out as early as February) and October 2001, fifteen issues PLUS Ruling the World came out. Then, silence. A year would pass before Terra Occulta came out, but as good as the book is on its own, it might be the one issue of this series that you can skip (it’s an Elseworlds tale, after all). Almost a year later Night on Earth came out, and finally, two years after issue #15, issue #16 showed up. The book staggered along through 2004-06, and then issue #27 finally showed up in December 2009 … three years after issue #26. I have no idea why we got the first delay – Astonishing X-Men first came out in 2004, so maybe Marvel had poached Cassaday as early as 2002 to make sure the book came out on time early in its run (it too experienced delays later on). Ellis famously lost his hard drive in 2007, so that’s not it (although it might explain the delay in the final issue). I can’t find anything on-line to explain it, but maybe someone remembers. I don’t know if the delays have anything to do with a dent in Planetary‘s reputation, but that would be a shame (especially because you can read it all at once now). John Layman, the original editor on the series, told me recently that Paul Levitz actually wanted to kill the book around issue #9 or 10, so it apparently didn’t have much of a reputation among the DC higher-ups (Levitz, of course, famously dumped The Boys years later, so that would have been quite a track record if he managed to kill this book), but I can’t imagine that would have anything to do with the reaction of the fans. All I know is, Planetary is a wonderful series and it deserves a much higher profile than I think it has. If it does have that high profile, well, then, I apologize.

I could write a book about Planetary, but smarter people than I have already done so – it’s true! I own that book but haven’t read it yet because I didn’t want those essays to influence this one, but I’m going to as soon as I post this. I know there’s a lot going on in Planetary, but I wanted to write about those few things that struck me when I was re-reading it, and I apologize for not going into even more detail, but that would take me forever. It’s available in a few formats, including two Absolute Editions, which I really want because I imagine that Cassaday’s art is even nicer in the giant-sized format (the Absolute Editions don’t contain the three specials, it appears, which I find surprising – they’re collected in a trade, though, so there’s that). If you ever jumped ship on Planetary because of the delays, now’s the time to get the entire series, sit down, and read it straight through. It’s absolutely wonderful, and it will make you wonder if maybe, just maybe, Warren Ellis is the most hopeful writer in comics. When did anyone ever accuse him of that?

There are, of course, archives, if Planetary isn’t your thing (for shame!) or if you’re looking for other stuff to fill out your collection. Don’t be shy!

48 Comments

My favourite series ever and a reason I’ll always believe in comics.

Thanks Greg!

Hells bells, man! I already owned this three times over. Print, tpbs, and absolute edition.

Give me a break!!!

I bought out the digital version and carry it around to read in quiet times. Awesome book.

[...] Comics You Should Own – Planetary – comicbookresources.com Man, it’s hard to write about Planetary. So many others have already done so! But I’ll give it the old college try, just for you guys. I love you guys so much! Planetary by Warren Ellis (writer), John Cassaday (artist, issues #1-27 and Planetary/Batman: Night on Earth), Phil Jimenez (penciller, Planetary/The Authority: Ruling the World), [… [...]

I love the series, but while the ending is genuinely moving, it’s also a bit too easy a fix. After defeating the Four, Elijah Snow creates a utopia, unleashing all of the technologies they had held back. The emotional thrust of the final issue is Elijah rescuing Ambrose, which is a touching Capra-esque moment, but does creating utopia really work that easily? Can you just dump cancer cures on everyone and call it a day? Wouldn’t there be new challenges trying to get this technology into society? Would everyone embrace so readily?

It’s a genuinely happy ending in a story that presented and embraced the moral ambiguity of the world. It doesn’t quite work for me.

Planetary is in my top five series of all time, easily. I was lucky (unlucky?) enough to have been exposed to the series before the final few issues, and the wait was excruciating. That might sound bad, but the series was so good that finally reading the ending was so satisfying and enjoyable that i really can’t be angry about it. Even though you knew how the series was ultimately going to end, it didn’t matter. The point was getting there, and the final issue, as long as it took, was well worth the wait.

I’ve since reread the entire series multiple times within just the past year. I’ve noticed that, as Greg mentions, you can see Cassaday’s evolution as an artist (and perhaps Martin’s evolution as a colorist). In the first few issues it’s still distinctly Cassaday but grainier and less…clean. But you get to the later issues, such as Elijah’s trip to the underspace of reality (pun intended) and the science-bending finale, and you can see a distinct difference.

I’m probably in the camp of Transmetropolitan being Ellis’ opus, but Planetary is a different beast and belongs in any proper collection.

I was collecting single issues before it fell off my radar due to delays and school.
Now I’m buying it up digitally and am enjoying the experience. Wish I could find those one-shots, though.

The one shots did get collected into a trade, Kelly (as I now see Greg did mention). Not sure how easy it is to find, though. It’s called Crossing Worlds.

There’s actually an interesting disclaimer in that, maybe it’s in the original Batman crossover as well, but it says something to the effect that the Batman carrying a gun is based on a historical depiction of Batman and blah blah. I don’t know if someone complained about Batman using a gun, or if DC thought someone would complain, but it’s rather strange.

There’s a question I want to ask about this series, but I don’t want things spoiled more than I’ve already gotten spoiled (uh, not by you, Greg, just other things I’ve read around, and not just Planetary per se, I tend to “accidentally” read spoilery bits too much). I’ve read the crossovers, the first 3 trades, and a few of the other issues, but I haven’t gotten the whole thing. What I have read is amazingly good, and Ellis definitely is something of an optimist in this book. Maybe I’ll send you an email with my question.

Amazing that it might have gotten killed at some point. Maybe that’s why Ellis hasn’t done much else for DC? However, doing the math, from April 99 to Oct 01, that’s 31 months, and you say 16 issues came out in that time period, so that means the book was essentially a bi-monthly book. Maybe the sales on it didn’t justify, in Levitz’s mind, continuing to do it, especially if he could see the schedule was going to slip so much.

Or maybe he just wanted to dick around with Wildstorm because he could…

Planetary is an industry high water mark…really shows off the magic that is comic books. I got into comics and art right when Planetary, The Authority, and XStatix was coming out….good times.

Yeah, another great “all the heroes are evil” stroy. Personally I’ve alwasy felt these things were lazy writing. There has always been a great deal of technology passed through to people in the “real marvel world” its just that flying cars and jet packs, are likely a) totally impractical, and b) not cost effective for the average person. So millionaires have them just as they have private planes, and your average joe, just drives a ford, which no doubt has dozens of great advantages that you don’t even notice.

I don’t recall Reed Curing Captain Marvel’s Cancer, or anybody with AIDs getting made better by the super scientist they happen to know, and most everything else, unstable molecules, access to the negative zone, etc. are shared within the reasonable limits of the incredibly dangerous technology they represent. Howmany Empire State Unviersity grad Sutdents have access to mutagenic ray guns and what not?

If anything the story of the FF and everyone else is that as much as these guys might have learned, there is still a big gap between theory and application. Heck, the super soldier serum and sentient not crazy AI androids are 1940′s technology in the MU, that have never been properly replicated.

That reality is likely to give a great deal of humility to your average MU scientist before he starts injecting everyone with their latest variation on the theme.

We see routinely, cell phones and lap tops with the power of a crey super computer in the MU, We see people with cybernetic prothesis all over the place, and for goodness sakes howmany people who fought in WWII are still alive to to give Steve Rogers someone to talk to, sure not everybody, but enough that these there are still a good number there to attend the occasional funeral.

And really, if anything is to be complained about its the ammount of tecnological misdistribution in the comicbook universe, it’s that so much of it is put to use rebuilding cities every week.

If a third of your GDP goes to rebuilding your capitals every week, its likely that your have limited resources left for other more frivouls things.

Sorry just had to rant.

There was no panel greater than this in the entire series (AND RESTATING THE ABOVE–SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER!!!):

http://media.comicvine.com/uploads/0/308/212002-187137-elijah-snow_super.jpg

If it makes you feel any better about its standing, i think Planetary is wildly OVERrated. :p Some great art and some clever ideas, but a masterpiece? It reminds me of (most of) Moore’s stuff post Promethea: A half-hearted dissection of genre tropes with nothing new to add. I do agree its outmatched by Morrison’s wonderful Doom Patrol, even with its awful, awful art.

One wonders if Ellis ever paid royalties to Philip Jose Farmer for this book…

After a decade of hype I read Planetary last year or so and found it to be massively overrated. The comics community needs to learn to recognize the difference between a legitimately insightful original work and something like Planetary, which is little more than an author insert fanfiction crossover with the names changed so no one gets sued.

I loved Planetary except for the final showdown with evil Reed Richards. If you tell a guy to show up alone but instead he shows up with two friends then you better search all three of them and NOT just the guy you told to show up. Smartest man in the world. Yeah…

Unfortunately I have to agree with Red Comet somewhat. Is it a great series? Sure. But I think plenty of writers could ve done simliar great stuff by using the same toys that eliis did in this one.

@ Red Comet

Its actually playing into the the “game” of the Wold-Newton Universe innovated by Philip Jose Farmer and still very popular with authors and critics today. You can write Planetary off as “fan-fiction” but I think it goes deeper than such a surface conceit.

Though Transmet was less consistent, I’ve always thought of it as complementary to Planetary: one’s a hyper-optimistic book concerned mostly with the past, one’s a hyper-pessimistic book concerned mostly with the future. Both damn good comics, all things considered.

Cody: I DID plug the book in the post! I just started it, and it’s quite keen.

hugueknot: Oh well, to each his or her own. I will defend Richard Case’s art on Doom Patrol, though!

Red Comet and Ninjazilla: Again, that’s why we’re all different. I disagree that it’s not insightful, although there are comics that are more so, and I also disagree that any writer could have done the same thing with the same toys. Writers these days think “serious = important,” and I’d argue it’s far harder to do what Ellis does here – that is, show the horror of the world but still show the wonder as well – than what a lot of writers do, which is make everything so dark that a shiny character like Superman gets mocked. Ellis balanced the old-school superhero stuff wonderfully with the “realistic” trend, which is why this is so good.

I feel some of the reasons people aren’t big on Planetary is less to do with the story and more to do with their own expectations, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

When Little Miss Sunshine came out (and the Hangover, for that matter), I kept hearing from friends about how funny and great, etc so I was all excited when I went to the movie theater…only to be disappointed, and I always wonder if I hadn’t heard so much hype and developed such a strong preconceived notion in my head if I’d have had the same lukewarm reactions. That is, did I not like the movies of their own merits, or did I not like that they didn’t meet my expectations?

I find that a lot with Planetary and Watchmen and Dark Knight Returns among other classic comic works where there’s so much hype and a lot people go into them expecting one thing, getting another, and then not enjoying the work overall.

That’s by no means ALL those who dislike a given work; some people’s tastes are just different and whether they read it with or without foreknowledge it wasn’t going to be their cup of tea. But, that said, I’ve seen that a lot with regards to this and other works, and have been “guilty,” for lack of a better and less charged word, of it myself, particularly with Grant Morrison’s Doom Patrol.

I like about half of Ellis’s stuff and the rest leaves me cold, but I flat-out love Planetary. The Batman crossover is my favorite thing Ellis has done to date. (The JLA crossover, on the other hand, is the least interesting Planetary story, doing nothing except recasting the JLA as Planetary and Planetary as the Four.)

The problem, for me at least is that to get the book you need to not only be familiar with those characters and genres, but to have some sort of affection towards them. It’s not vacuous, the references do have a point, but I think, most of the time, it is one you could have easily come upon yourself or even have came upon since you must know quite a lot about what is referenced.

I think that something like Miracleman puts things in a new perspective, while Planetary just puts things through clearer lens.

first of all, i haven’t “keeping the world strange…” so if i’m echoing someone’s thoughts here, it’s unintentional…

this is a perfect comic. absolutely perfect.

and it is that way for all the reasons listed in this article but for one major one that isn’t: like watchmen, planetary is about comics as much as it is comics. ellis’ choice of the four as villians isn’t just commentary on how selfish reed apparently is. it’s also a commentary on the state of pulp, pop, and comics culture since august, 1961. of all the genres and stories that ellis plays in, the only one off the top of my head that is post-FF #1 is the Vertigo issue. planetary is about how lee and kirby created a piece of work so brilliant that it practically destroyed everything that came before it, hid them from the world, and narrowed the scope of everything after. where there once was a comics culture filled with genres and stories of every kind, the mainstream industry saw dollar signs in superheroes and never looked back. you could even view the funeral in the Vertigo issue as a funeral for their one strong attempt at something different, an attempt that essentially died when gaiman ended sandman.

it’s a masterpiece of plotting, meta-commentary, and art (note: cassaday definitely gets better over the course of the book; reading the absolutes front to back is a revelation). probably the best mainstream long-form comic since watchmen.

I greatly enjoy (Still!) _Planetary_, but feel they focused a bit too much on the extremely weird just for its own sake.

As for the limited application of super science, I point out in my own Masks online stories (here, about halfway down: http://www.dcr.net/~stickmak/Stories/ ) that much of what super inventors produce is too difficult for ordinary people to use. (It took decades to get general purpose computers out of the hands of experts and dedicated hobbyists in the real world. How much longer to make flying cars safe for people who won’t even fasten their seat belts on their own initiative?)

Alin: When i started reading Planetary i didn’t have very deep knowledge of the genres or characters that were focused on. I mean, i knew who people like Holmes and Dracula were, obviously, but i didn’t know about characters like Doc Savage or the Spirit. It wasn’t until Opak Re when i realized Blackstock was Tarzan that i went back and read the first issue again and saw each of those characters as classical pulp characters in their own right, and that just blew me away.

Dan: I don’t think the funeral was intended to signify the death of “something different” as much as it was the passing of the torch from the Alan Moore Vertigo-ish titles of the 80s, like Swamp Thing, Constantine and Sandman, to new stuff for the 90s like Transmetropolitan (as indicated by “Constantine” becoming someone new – Spider Jerusalem). I don’t mean to make that claim as my own, i think i read it in one of the Planetary trades or something. But after going back and looking at that issue, and the way Jakita and Snow describe all the characters and the general feel of the story, the description fits really well.

I actually tried (and failed) to get into Planetary early on when I started reading comics. I fell in love with Transmet and started grabbing everything by Ellis I could find. But the first few issues fell flat for me. It turns out the problem was that I wasn’t familiar enough with the characters at all. I failed to recognize any of the pulp heroes, probably wouldn’t have even recognized the 4 as the FF.

Later on, I went back, and absolutely devoured the series and loved it and have re-read it as much as anything except for Nextwave.

Nice comment by dan – I hadn’t thought of Planetary in exactly that way before, but it fits with Ellis’ views around the dominance of the superhero genre.

I’ve always liked Planetary more for Cassaday’s art than the writing, but both are excellent.

I’ve tried to read these series several times and could never really get into it. I’m determined to give it yet another shot.

FunkyGreenJerusalem

February 28, 2012 at 5:05 am

Bravo!
Great piece on a great series.
‘Archaeologists Of The Impossible’ was what attracted me to the last copy on the shelf, and boy did it deliver. Helped get me back into comics. Issue three was almost too nihilistic for me as a young lad, but loved having a comic that challenged me, by shining new light on the things I should have grown out of (although issue three was what put me on to Hong Kong action films).
That first delay knocked me out of getting the series, so it’s only recently I’ve read the second half. It’s hard for me not to see the later issues as almost a different work, as the focus shifts to the big picture plot – something I’d always liked the book doing without. But would I have felt that way if it had come out at a steady rate? The book leaves me conflicted overall, to be honest. Still, it’s got great single issues throughout, and probably is a masterpiece. Always good to be reminded of it.

RE: the FF as villains for hoarding technology,

Frankly, Greg, this is a problem with any fictional series that attempts to employ “super-science” whilst retaining an essentially real world setting; why haven’t Superman, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, Iron Man, etc., solved world hunger, energy problems, overpopulation….For that matter, going back 70 years, why didn’t Doc Savage’s* miraculous inventions re-make the world? This is just a convention of the genre, like people not people able to tell that Batman is Bruce Wayne in a half-mask.

*Philip Jose Farmer worked out an explanation for that one in his ultra-dark A FEAST UNKNOWN/LORD OF THE TREES/THE MAD GOBLIN books. Doc Caliban (the real Doc Savage) is prevented by the evil Nine from giving his discoveries to the public, an idea that is somewhat anticipatory of what Ellis did.

Syon: I think Morrison also tried to allude to it in his first JLA arc with an explanation from Superman that mankind needed to live their own lives and not be kept essentially as pets with the superheroes doing everything for them and running every aspect of their lives, as that would make them gods to be worshiped and remove them entirely from humanity.

Charles J. Baserap,

I seem to recall that as well, but, as an explanation, it suffers from serious problems. For example, what defines the boundary between Superman saving a bunch of people who are trapped in a building during an earthquake and not ending famine? Does Superman do a kind of quick moral calculus based on scale, only acting if the numbers of people who will benefit are small enough?The morality of that stance seems rather problematic, to say the least.

I bought the collections at SDCC after a friend told me how good they were. It’s so much more than this, but the phrase he used to bait me was “absolutely evil Fantastic Four”.

Ellis is the poor man’s Alan Moore, lazily riffing on the Wold Newton Universe. For those of us who knew and love the original stories and characters he parodied, PLANETARY is a blatant swipe that goes nowhere until he pulls Ambrose out of his hat at the last minute to give a fake closure to a story that wasn’t really going anywhere, amnesia and grumpiness being overused plot devices. Stand alone issues have no action in them, just exposition disguised as adequately snappy repartie. Not very memorable.

The easiest answer to why “Watchman” isn’t the best comic ever written.

As I recall, Planetary’s publication gap was caused by a combination of Ellis being distracted by his father’s worsening health, his hard drive failing, and Cassaday’s famously slow pace. Guy’s a great artist, but if the Pope had hired him to paint the Sistine Chapel, he’d still be waiting for the job to be finished.

azjohnson, please

Read the first trade, and really did not feel a need to continue. Now Im thinking about giving it another try.

In defense of Reed Richards, aside from the whole meta that’s-because-people-want-comics-that-way, if you had a time machine and a nuclear bomb, would you go back in time and give it to oh say, Henry V? I won’t attack Ellis for taking the contrary position, it’s his book and his argument and he does it well, but there is at least a little in universe rationale for not handing out Skrull technology to everybody.

to Syon:

You are correct, there was a Superman story in the 70s titled ‘Does the World need a Superman?’ in which the writer (Cary Bates? Denny O’neill? Memory’s a bitch) stated that the Hero should let regular people deal with regular problems and focus his extraordinary abilities on extraordinary situations, like stopping earthquakes and alien invasions, so the humanity would not feel dependant on one man, like a disabled person relying on a valid one for their everyday needs and resents them for that. I seem to remember the guardians of the universe brought in to provide some kind of philosophical perspective.
That story should be easy to trace, for anyone interested. Which goes to show Warren Ellis didn’t invent anything. He recycled semi-adequately for most of his career.

I’ll bet anyone five bucks that March’s selection is Promethea.

Tom: Well, I don’t do these just once a month, I just get to them in my own time, and I don’t think I’ll finish the next month this week, so March might get missed. It’s not Promethea, though. I own that in trades, and I’m going through my single issues first and then, someday, I’ll get to my trade paperbacks. That’s not a bad guess – it probably would have been next if I wasn’t sticking to single issues. The next one, however, doesn’t even begin with ‘P’!

Interesting to read all the disgruntled swipes at Ellis’s lack of creativity. Personally, I’ve always thought Ellis’s biggest strength was as a synthesist.

Obviously your mileage may vary, but when I was a kid, I liked science fiction stories where they presented an interesting new technology. But my favorite novels and worlds were ones where the author combined so many different technologies and ideas into one cohesive future world that it was like a trip through the candy store. Sure, maybe the author hadn’t come up with the idea for any of them himself. But fitting all the pieces together into a whole world that’s bigger that the sum of its parts, well, I personally love that.

And that’s what I love about Warren Ellis’s best work, like Planetary. Sure, he didn’t invent The Lone Ranger, John Constantine, Godzilla, Doc Savage, James Bond, Hong Kong action movies, or the Fantastic Four. But he made a world in which all of them made sense together; a world that was impossibly rich with ideas but one that still felt like *a* world. To me, at least, it never seemed like parody or pastiche or simply derivative work, but a loving series of homages, all ultimately in the service of a much larger story.

And the core components managed to be really rich. Instead of the Flash just vibrating in a particular way to get to the next universe over (DC Silver Age), you had the 196-thousand-something-dimensional Snowflake and the Bleed and these amazing Shiftships and so much more rich, evocative detail. The multiverse concept had been around for a long time in comics, but it’s never seemed cooler than in Ellis’s Wildstorm books.

I don’t think this is a better work than Watchmen — Watchmen permanently reinvented what was possible in the superhero genre. But I do think it’s one of the best books ever produced to take advantage of the kinds of stories you can tell in a post-Watchmen world.

not a comic buff, but i love this series. ive read a few times over.

[...] of the Sistine Chapel; because that’s what Planetary is, a masterpiece. To write about such a magnum opus approaches dissecting a snowflake with stove [...]

Didn’t realize that I had posted on this one before, but i just finished reading the final two columes and quite enjoyed it. One of those rare series where i appreciated the long-form story over the one-shots.

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