I never got into Planetary while it was running, despite my admiration for both Warren Ellis and John Cassaday. I remember buying the first trade when I started investigating Warren Ellis's work (I was just getting into Vertigo, and I had enjoyed The Authority). For some reason Planetary didn't grab me, but Transmetropolitan did, and I later sold the trade. So now that the series is finally done, I thought I'd give it another go. I've got all four trades, and plan to read one a week, starting next week. Is anyone interested in reading along, or have read it recently enough that you'd enjoy discussing it?
Chapter Fourteen: "Zeropoint"
The story here starts in 1995, where Snow is shown the true nature of alien abductions. It's actually The Four, taking people and things into the Bleed. Cut to the Antarctic, where we see the encounter with Kim Suskind that resulted in Elijah's memory wipe. Kim's power is invisibility, making her a true analog of The Invisible Girl. The field team (including Ambrose) has gotten the better of her and Leather, when they lose contact with Drums. Snow comes to strapped to a table, and orders the team not to come looking for him. But he also orders them "do not let these bastards win."
Nice to have a bit more action, along with the exploring and talking.
Chapter Fifteen: "Creation Songs"
Now we see Elijah back in the saddle. First he sets to righting old wrongs, starting with Ambrose Chase's wife and daughter. He apologizes for being out of touch since Ambrose's death, and makes them independently wealthy via the Planetary Foundation. He visits Doc Brass: it turns out they've never directly met, but they share some secrets. Then the team travels to Australia to foil the Four's attempt to gate into the Dreamtime. This they do, and when they go big, they go big. It's a stunning visual, one that justifies the cover image and the chapter title.
Planetary/JLA: Terra Occulta
We open on a world where Flashes are used as couriers, Wonder Woman has survived her trip to Earth, and she, Batman, and Superman operate in secret. It's clearly an alternate Earth, which is made even clearer when we discover who the all-powerful overlords are. Their behavior makes them look like the Four: but it's an evil, world-ruling version of Planetary. In this world Planetary has killed the Amazons, Clark Kent's and Bruce Wayne's parents, and all of the Green Lantern Corps. The JLA uses a Planetary teleporter to face down Planetary on their Moon base. The rest of the story is one big fight scene, essentially. We're clearly intended to pull for the JLA, as they are the heroes of the story. And we do, but the JLA's victory comes at a cost. Veteran DC artist Jerry Ordway provides a stunning final splash page.
In a way this is a bit of a throwaway story. Since it's such an alternate world for both sets of characters, it's hard to see how it "matters," in the continuity sense. But it's a convincing demonstration of the range of possible stories opened up by the multiverse Ellis has created in the series. The Batman crossover which came next is even more powerful proof.
Planetary/Batman: Night on Earth
The mission here is to go to Gotham City and track down a serial killer named John Black, son of one of the Camp Zero survivors. When they find Black, they find that he is rotating his immediate vicinity through parallel worlds, which is how people have been getting killed. He can't control it, and it hurts him, too. As Planetary comes along through the shifts they find themselves in various alternate Gothams, each with a different historical version of the Batman. It's brilliantly done, everything the "last Batman story" Neil Gaiman wrote was trying to be.
The only question I have about this story is: is the Earth that Planetary starts from our Earth, or a parallel one? There clearly is no Batman on their Earth (which doesn't stop Ellis from having Dick Grayson and a Joker analog named Jasper appear as the staff of the local Planetary office). But I don't know if the Planetary universe includes costumed superheroes, other than The Authority. And I suppose there's a chance that their crossover took place on a parallel Earth as well, although there are many small details that lead me to believe that Planetary and The Authority do live on our Earth. It's a stunning story, either way.
Chapter Sixteen: "Hark"
We're shown a bit of the Hark family tradition, then Snow offers a hand of friendship to Anna Hark. He knows she has been cooperating with the Four, and that she sent her agent James Wilder into the Hark building bomb site intentionally, in order to create a superhuman. Hark assents, and is reunited with the changed Wilder (in his transformed pilot form).
Chapter Seventeen: "Opak-Re"
The Lost City of Opak-Re has been mentioned previously by Doc Brass. This chapter presents Snow's visits to the city, where he meets the Tarzan-like Kevin Sack, Lord Blackstock, and Anaykah, the first great love of his life. On his return visit he finds the city being sealed to prevent any contact with the outside world. Anaykah presents Snow with her infant child (fathered by Blackstock): Jakita Wagner.
Chapter 18: "The Gun Club"
John Stone tips Snow to a 150-year old orbiting space capsule that is about to make earth-fall. He suggests that the Four will come: probably William Leather, probably alone. He shows, and Jakita immobilizes him with a Harktech device. The launch site contains the remains of a huge gun, used to shoot the capsule into space. One of the members of "The American Gun Club" was Jules Verne.
Thus endeth Book 3: Leaving the 20th Century. The series is still making reference to earlier science fiction and fantasy literature, like the Tarzan and Jules Verne references. But the story is building its own momentum by now, and the focus is clearly on Snow's battle with the Four.
Bump. I'll be reading the last three issues this weekend, if anyone wants to jump in before then.
I've been on holiday Mark, but somehow had no time to post for the last few weeks. Blame the 3 year old and the 18 month old. I'm hoping to post something when I get back to Oz. Much of what I wanted to say related to how the issues looked having read to the end anyway, so probably just as well.
(By coincidence I picked up Ellis' Ministry of Space for a few bucks only yesterday. Looking forward to reading it.)
Book 4: Spacetime Archaeology
In which Planetary saves the world...but I'm getting ahead of myself. Before we get to the big conclusion we watch as Snow strands Greene (the pilot--and The Thing--of the Four) on an interplanetary object that is heading out of the galaxy. Then Snow discovers that he's not really human, and is reminded that his mission is much bigger than defeating the Four. We learn enough about William Leather to almost feel sympathy for him. The Drummer's story is finally told. The team travels to the Brazilian Planetary offices, where Snow reveals the last secrets, just before the Four vaporize the skyscraper above them. It's the last straw. The team takes John Stone down (he had been collaborating with the Four), and Snow forces him to reveal the true story of how they got their abilities. And in the concluding issue, Snow springs his trap on the Four. Dowling and Susskind get the shock of their lives, and Snow delivers their bodies to the parallel Earth they had struck their deal with, warning them to stay away from our Earth.
I thought it was a satisfying conclusion. One could argue that it was a bit abrupt: the big finale happens, and the puzzle pieces required had been in place for some time. But the plan had been Snow's secret, a surprise to the team the the reader alike. As I was mulling that over, I thought "but what about Ambrose Chase?" Asked and answered in the final epilogue issue. We see some of the scientific bounty that Planetary has been sharing with the world. But Snow's main concern is the science that could bring Chase back. It's a time machine, and it's risky, but by now we know that Snow wins his bets. Still plenty of suspense as the scene plays out. Snow's final declaration to the team actually leaves the possibility of a sequel open.
During that final scene, Jakita thinks the form of the time loop looks familiar. It looks like the machine in the JLA crossover, and this is the only crossover reference I can remember. That explains why DC didn't bother including them in the Absolute Planetary collections: they really don't have any effect on the main story. I'm still glad I read them, because they were fun stories.
One last bump. Any final thoughts about the series?
I really thought the defeat of the FOUR was ridiculously easy considering how they were built up, but I loved the ending with Ambrose.
There was some explanation for how Snow was able to pull off the defeat of the Four: the location of the shiftship was a big secret known only to Snow; and the Four (Dowling especially) were tremendously overconfident. But I agree that it still seems like the plan could have easily fallen apart.
Well, I've only had a little time to post lately, but even then, I've been less enthusiastic about posting on the fianl half of Planetary.
Part of it is to do with how I feel about posting at the Captain Comics website at all. I've read a lot of comics over the last 4 years and posted at length on them and I guess I've battered out more or less where I stand on these comics and the aesthetic approaches I appreciate most. I wrote at the beginning of 2012 that I'd be bringing my Morrison posts to an end this year and I think that might extend to posting on lots of other stuff too. Time to move on perhaps?
You've declared disappointment with the feedback you get on some of your posts here Mark, and I'll have to admit that I'm starting to feel the same thing. Up to now, I've been happy to post if I was enjoying discovering new things whether there was much interest in what I was writing or not, but I'm starting to think a bit more discussion from a wider peer group would be more fun. So this might be the last little go round for myself and yourself too, Mark! At least at the level of immersion that I've gone in for up to now.
Part of the problem also is with Planetary itself. The whole series seems to have a trajectory that's established by the end of the 12th issue and then I find that Ellis follows that trajectory pretty closely all the way to the end, with few twists or surprises. It's great to see a superhero series with a beginning, middle and end that feels like exactly what the writer wanted to produce. Still, that makes this quite a 'closed' text that cuts off a lot of the fun of 'filling the blanks' that a certain other writer provides.
But, I'll try to do justice to the back half of Planetary for now! For old times sake! ;-)
Mark Sullivan said:
Chapter Thirteen: "Century"
The cover declares this to be "A complete new Elijah Snow astonishing adventure," so we're back in full recovered memory mode. The story begins with Snow in a castle in Germany in 1919, where he sees what looks like Dr. Frankenstein's lab, complete with some leftover monsters. He uncovers "an electrical picture of the globe as seen by the Conspiracy," the secret map of the world. Cut to London in 1920, where Snow meets Sherlock Holmes and Dracula (who he dispatches in a most undignified manner).
Wow! Original and fun uses of the main character's power-set is definitely a plus. I was puzzled as to what this issue might be 'paying tribute to. Of course the cover points us towards the pulps of the twenties and strictly-speaking the content references a lot of Victorian Gothic, but perhaps what we've really got here is a foloding of Alan Moore's League of Extraordinary Gentlemen into Ellis' tale. Holmes does explicitly refer to his group as "we, the extraordinary".
I guess this kind of rumination on what makes up the spirit of a century, 19th, 20th or 21st, is something that was very much in the air around the turn of this one. Holmes' 'Conspiracy' does look very like the Moore's dark Victorian superteam, but its also problematic. How can a group with this Dracula in it be working for the good of mankind? Holmes doesn't offer Snow any reason not to finally destroy Dracula, which he might have done if old Vlad had been doing anything remotely beneficial for mankind! Your Earthlink summary/analysis does mention that Ellis sets up a lot of questions with a sparse script, and that's what we have here. Power corrupts, be careful what dogs you lie down with etc. In this case, Holmes has seemingly betrayed everything he had previously stood for in his partnership with Dracula.
He got his directions from John Griffin, the Invisible Man: unfortunately we don't see that encounter on-panel. Snow declares it to be a new century, with new rules. Holmes agrees to train him, starting with Snow's backwoods American accent.
Snow blithely mentions torturing Griffin on his way to uncovering this 'Conspiracy'. Consider that Snow's colleagues are dismayed in the final few issues to learn that Snow is torturing people in order to beat the Four. It is justified by saying that Snow had to do things differently to what the Four were expecting to beat them. Still, issue 13 shows that Snow wasn't really tearing up the rulebook in the way Ellis was trying to convey. Torture as a one-off to beat an overwhelming threat might be better than torture as standard operating procedure.
I wonder how Ellis feels about how torture has been portrayed by certain parties in recent history as a necessary evil, something that good men have to do, no matter how reluctantly, for the greater good? Even though the torture actually done in our name in real life has been sordid, pathetic, deeply counterproductive stuff, on the evidence of the couple of issues he raises the topic, Ellis agrees with the views of Cheney and Rumsfeld when it comes to torture.
Torture wasn't such a 'live issue' when Ellis had redneck Snow admit to it in 2000, but perhaps he should have thought through what he was condoning in his fiction when he penned the concluding issues in the middle of Bush's War on Terror?
This is a fun version of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, I'd say. It's enjoyable to see how Snow spoke before he got so worldly and sophisticated.
As I said before, and as illustrated in this post, I found it hard to comment on the single issues without referring to later issues I'd read. It occurs to me that Holmes and Dracula's 'Conspiracy' is very much like the conspiracy that the JLA fought against in the Elseworlds story. Just as there we had the heroes of the main series, Snow & Co, being the villains, here there is a similar confusion about whether the Conspiracy were doing good work or bad. Can someone say off the top of their heads whether the Four are also called The Conspiracy? In the JLA Elseworlds story, are the 'villains' called 'Planetary' or 'The Conspiracy' or something else?
In any case there's something artistic in how all these 'secret societies' of 'extraordinary' individuals reflect each other and reflect on each other.