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?
Happy to see you back in this discussion at whatever level you choose, Figs. It started out with several participants, but before long it had dwindled to mostly the two of us. I gave up when I was about halfway through Book Three and realized that it had been two weeks since anyone but me had posted in the thread. After that I just posted a few observations to wrap things up. So this probably will be the last time I attempt an in-depth discussion, I'm sad to say.
I agree about the dramatic structure of the series. It moves in a fairly straight line after Snow reveals his restored memory in issue 12, and issues his dramatic challenge to the Four. Ellis still throws in allusions to pulp and superhero history, but they don't define the structure of each individual issue the way they did in the beginning.
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.
That's OK, Robin. I understand that there are many reasons why folks didn't participate. I really hadn't planned to say anything about it publicly, but I thought I should comment after Figs brought it up.
Robin Olsen said:
Hey, Mark, I only ever got to read volume one of Planetary, and it was a out-of-town library's copy, not mine. And it was a while ago. I really would have loved to read the whole thing, though. Sorry I couldn't be more helpful here.
I've been following along, but a lot of the later posts seemed like we weren't discussing the stories anymore. I'm halfway through Vol 4.
Not sure what you mean, Richard, apart from the last few posts. There was no discussion at all for a couple of weeks, but that didn't stop me from posting summaries and discussion points on all of the individual issues (at least until my single one on the entire Vol. 4). Feel free read back a few screens and jump in anywhere you like.
Mark Sullivan said:
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.
Fine comics, well told. This issue in particular is one of the ones that show us how powerful the Four are, and make the ending seem too easy. Some of the actual ending of the series replays elements of this comic. Perhaps one reason for the series being delayed was Ellis trying to trump the exciting developments here, but not really settling on anything?
Dowling's reference to their struggle with Planetary being a 'game' does echo how Morrison portrayed the cosmic battle between the forces of darkness and freedom in the Invisibles. This series is a little like the Invisibles, but with a smaller cast and more concentrated storyline.
Mark Sullivan said:
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.
Of course, it's great to see Australia represented in this planet-spanning epic! Especially to see Aboriginal mythology used so well. (It's the oldest still-surviving culture in the world, thought to go back 20-40 thousand years!)
It is a living belief system/religion, which may explain why Ellis is treading softly here. He doesn't name or specify any of the Ancients/Ancestor beings, which might be a mark of respect. Aboriginal mythology is also very vast and complex and involves a completely different worldview to our own, so that might also be a reason he doesn't go deeply into the specifics of it. We just have the typical creation myth and then the unnamed Ancient rising from Ayers Rock.
They consistently use the wrong spelling for the Rock here, btw. It should be Ayers, not Ayres. In any case, it is much more common these days to call the Rock by the local Aboriginal name - 'Uluru'. Wiki uses that name consistently, for instance. It's interesting, and heartening, that Uluru became more commonly used in the short time since Ellis penned this comic.
(As an aside, and with apologies to Richard :-) ,Unwritten is also set largely in Australia these days, Mark, to my immense surprise and pleasure. Even though Brisbane, where I'm typing this from, is referred to as 'the asshole of the world' in the latest issue!)
Creation Songs was the last monthly issue of Planetary that I got/read while it was being published. It made a lot more sense to me this time, than the first time I read it!
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.
Although this story wouldn’t seem to have much to do with the main storyline, I just wanted to re-iterate how it plays well with some of the themes. Whereas the main storyline takes the founding good guys of the modern age of superheroes – the Fantastic Four - and makes them the all-powerful bad guys, who must be faced down by a new team, this little graphic novel presents a world where the new team – Planetary - are the bad guys and it takes a teaming up of the three of the earliest and most culturally significant superheroes – the Justice League ‘Trinity’ - to defeat them. So a circle is closed here.
The idea of the thin line separating good heroes and evil villains has already been presented with the team that Sherlock Holmes founded to do good – the Conspiracy - turning out badly and being shut down by Planetary’s founding member at the beginning of his career.
So this little Elseworlds might be a little more artistic, ‘literary’ and thought-provoking than the general run of Elseworlds stories from this time. Ellis only dips into and out of superhero comics infrequently, and not for long periods. Often he makes a point of ‘showing how it’s done’, and I see a lot of that here. Other Elseworlds stories didn’t manage to add up to much in their 64-odd pages. The ones that worked best imagined Superman or Batman born into different circumstances and showed how that would work out. Ellis very convincingly shows us a world where they are very much the underdogs all the way through, and it tells one novel-like story, where the stakes are high and success comes at a very high cost: the highest cost, maybe, considering what Superman usually stands for.
Other Elseworlds books didn’t build a whole alternate world and lives for its stars as elegantly and efficiently as Ellis does here. 64 pages is a very limited page count and other Elseworlds I’ve read felt like they squandered a lot of space that could have gone towards making their alternate worlds more immersive. There are so many little details that add up to making this a satisfyingly complete little story on its own.
I like how Ellis is trying to show here, as he does elsewhere in Planetary, that superhero comics don't have to have the iconic outfits and fan-comforting assurances that the heroes are always in control, to present strong and satisfying stories. He does it here with the three most iconic superheores in the world! Like their pulp forebears, Diana, Clark and Bruce are presented as being a little more human and vulnerable than they are usually portrayed. The way they have to move in the shadows to fight evil is another reaching back to the pulp age, and is another way this little standalone ties into the rest of the series thematically.
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.
In another way, as you admit above, this is a very significant story. It might be the first crossover between DC and the Wildstorm Universe. We already know that the DCU had a multiverse since the 60s, but this was the first story to show that an alternate DC world and an alternate Wildstorm world could intersect. Ellis had already shown us how this story really exists in the Planetary Universe, insofar as we know that the Snowflake consists of many universes aligned together somehow, so we are now seeing one of them.
The idea of the Bleed, and of the DCU and the Wildstorm U co-existing in a multiverse probably came to full fruit in Morrison’s Final Crisis, which used the Bleed and the alternate versions of Superman to fine artistic effect (according to me, at least, if not according to the legions of raging fanmen!!)
In any case, the DCnU rigmarole recently was a very hamfisted and inelegant way to present us with a new DC Universe. It’s strange how it bulldozed over the great groundwork laid by Fox in the 60s, and Ellis and Morrison more recently. Why wasn’t the new DCU just presented simply as a new alternate reality, a facet of the snowflake, as, on a much smaller scale, Ellis did here? That way DC wouldn’t have just brought all the character development they’d been working on for decades screeching to a halt in mid-flow, as they did, and instead could have left open the possibility that the characters we’d been following, and their various links to earlier comics were ‘out there somewhere’, just not in comics that were being published right now.
Maybe this seems to be off the point somewhat, but I thought it was relevant when placed beside how elegantly Ellis presents us here with a story that ‘counts’ and doesn’t at the same time, whilst allowing that there can be different continuities co-existing without anyone getting their pants in a twist.
This story works well as a standalone story, but I like how Ellis uses so much known DC continuity inobtrusively. This first time I read it, I didn’t know about Professor Erdel, nor did I even get the Flash-couriers reference, or any of the other Easter Eggs. But at no point did the story feel like it was excluding me because I wasn’t ‘in the club’. Reading it now after immersing myself in the DCU for the last several years did make it a more satisfying experience.
I’m glad I reread it just before posting this. There are lots of little details that might be missed on only one reading. I thought it odd that Drums didn’t appear in person at all, but on rereading, there he is spying on Diana at the beginning, (while Popeye makes a cameo too!) Then Snow’s bald head is a reference to Lex Luthor, making this more of a Superman story. Etc.
Planetary/JLA is the last issue in this readthrough that I read back when it was being published. So I have only read the subsequent issues on the quick readthrough I did while on holidays in the last month or two. So, to do justice to the rest of the series, I’ll probably reread and post something on the subsequent issues as I go. Perhaps I was too dismissive of them, based on only a quick read, not having had ten years to mull them over the way I did with the earlier issues!
I didn't realize that the JLA crossover was actually labelled as an Elseworlds tale: the cover reproduced in Crossing Worlds leaves the logo off. I read a lot of Elseworlds at one time, and enjoyed most of them. I always liked the fact that they were self-contained, with no reference to official continuity, and they all had a creative re-imagining of a familiar character at their core. So it's not surprising that I liked this one, without even knowing what it was!
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.
Ellis is quoted on wiki as saying: "I wanted to do something that actually went deeper into the [superhero] sub-genre, exposed its roots and showed its branches." Ellis has used this series to look at what makes superhero comics tick. Most of the issues dwell on where they have come from, and where perhaps they have gone wrong. Here however, Ellis spends time mulling over Batman’s multiple identities. Not that we get any answers, but by showing us our main ‘identification’ characters being confronted with all the different aspects of the one hero, Ellis is highlighting something that isn’t much remarked upon. One of the mysteries of superhero comics that is rarely looked at within the stories themselves is how Batman seems to be the same character, whether we are talking about the 30s gun-toting guy, the cool, sexy guy that Neal Adams drew, the ‘family-friendly’ law-abiding one of the 50s, or Miller’s testosterone and anger-fuelled monster. It’s just entertaining to see them all appearing in the one story, in all their incongruousness, from Planetary’s ‘realistic’ perspective.
The ending does indeed foreshadow that of Gaiman’s ‘Whatever Happened to…’ Batman story. Did you not think that worked, Mark? I liked it well enough. Gaiman has trouble constructing good tight dramatic plots, but it worked for me as a ‘meditation’ on Batman, without necessarily being a great ‘story’. Gaiman’s ending was affecting when I read it, but my admiration is now a little diluted, when I see Ellis did something similar much earlier.
There must have been something in the air around this time, as this story is a little similar to ‘World’s Funnest’, where Bat-mite and Mr Mxyzptlk fight their way through a compendium of the different fictional worlds Superman and Batman have appeared in, leaving a trail of destruction in their wake. (It was another Elseworlds publication, as it happens, so that the continuity-fixated didn’t have to get their pants in a bunch over what went on in it.)
Planetary does keep a scholarly focus on its contemplation of superheroes and their roots. Consequently, although Ellis draws well-rounded realistic characters in just a few lines, we don’t get to see into their private lives any more than the bare plots of each issue allows. Thus, this is the closest we get to an insight into Jacinta’s sex life. Her fascination with Batman and appreciation of someone who can give her ‘a run for her money’ in a fight does ring true. Batman does seem like the kind of lover that an easily bored, virtually indestructible adventuress would be drawn to. Planetary has many understated charms and how this insight into Jacinta’s personality grows from the story at hand is one example.
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.
The Authority and the Stormwatch crew of superheroes they branched out from definitely belong in Planetary's world. Ellis' original pitch for Planetary explicitly sells it as such: "[W]hat if you had a hundred years of superhero history just slowly leaking out into this young and modern superhero world of the Wildstorm Universe? What if you could take everything old and make it new again?"
(I guess this means that the WildC.A.T.s, including Alan Moore's run also exist there. The Image superheroes branch off on their own and come together again in weird ways when you look more closely at them. Supreme, Glory and Spawn may be part of the Wildstorm fictional world too, in some manner. FWIW - I'm currently enjoying the hell out of post-Liefield versions of Supreme, Glory and Prophet right now! Whodathunkit?)
No, I don't believe Planetary and the Authority live on 'our' Earth, Mark. The adventures of the Authority are just way too bombastic and headline-grabbing for that!
Just to move away from Ellis' writing for a bit - Cassaday’s art is really wonderful, isn’t it? It’s just so accessible, for one thing. It’s exaggerated and stylised enough that the drama and emotion is conveyed, but it doesn’t stray towards the overly-stylised cliché-ridden superhero art that probably alienates a lot of would-be readers. I am in the middle of Cassaday’s and Whedon’s Astonishing X-Men run at the moment, and whilst there isn’t a lot to say about it insofar as what you see on the page is what you get, I do think that if more superhero comics were like it, and indeed Planetary, there would be a lot more readers of superhero comics today.
So what if Cassaday takes twice as long or more to produce each issue? (I can see that his work with Whedon is probably one of the factors that delayed Planetary, too!) Superhero comics should have fought for quality to be the benchmark, rather than quantity. Imagine if a fan of the X-Men movies had walked into a comicshop after the first movie came out, and found half the amount of collections there than was the case, but all of the quality of Whedon/Cassaday’s run? As it is, the publishing paradigm comics are stuck in mean that the Big Two have to be content with putting out sub-par product month in and month out.
I was somewhat underwhelmed by the Gaiman story. I only read it once after it got collected; maybe I should revisit it now, especially after reading this one. But I do know that this one blew me away: I just thought it was brilliantly done. The dialog and visuals were both spot-on, a dazzling trip through all of the Batmans (hard to believe it's all the same character). I loved Snow's pokes at Jakita's "bat-friend." With all the serious stuff we usually talk about in this discussion, it's easy to overlook the humor that Ellis uses equally well.
The question about which Earth Planetary is set in is interesting. If you look at it realistically, of course you're right: these big extra-normal events couldn't be happening without it making the news. Same with everything else that happens in superhero comics. But both Planetary and the Four have made a point of operating under the radar, as did all of the earlier pulp heroes. If you leave the Authority out of the equation, the setting could be our Earth. I guess in the end it's like all such stories: an Earth just like ours, but with superheroes. No wonder there's been the urge to posit some kind of multiverse to explain it.
I loved Snow's pokes at Jakita's "bat-friend." With all the serious stuff we usually talk about in this discussion, it's easy to overlook the humor that Ellis uses equally well.
And look how he built Jakita's character, gave us Snow's humerous ribbing, while also showing us the dynamic between him and Jakita, all built around a great well-executed fight scene. A quick readthrough doesn't quite do justice to how well Ellis does all this!
If you leave the Authority out of the equation, the setting could be our Earth. I guess in the end it's like all such stories: an Earth just like ours, but with superheroes. No wonder there's been the urge to posit some kind of multiverse to explain it.
It's funny. As dodgy as the early offerings were from Image, the great differentiator of the Widlstorm Universe was that it was a new universe, without decades of backstory and baggage.
Still, it's funny to see how the tendency was for the better writers to fill in that backstory and add in continuity where there had been none before. I'm specifically thinking of Alan Moore's Supreme, which gave the main character decades of backstory that looked very like Superman's, and even Planetary itself. Both were turn of the century attempts to salvage the good stuff before 'Leaving the 20th Century'.
I think having Planetary set in the same universe as the Authority is largely counter-productive. They are just too brash and noisy to co-exist with Planetary and the Four.
In any case, the Wildstorm Universe is no more, with its heroes now playing third and fourth fiddles to DC's own stable of nearly identcal characters.
However, speaking of Image characters being updated, I have to recommend Glory and Prophet to you, Mark. They are both moving forward into pretty new territory - for superhero comics, I would say - but they needn't necessarily be read as such.
I've heard some other recommendations for Prophet, so it's definitely on my radar. After posting about Gaiman's Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader? earlier, I found a copy on the shelf here at the library, so I read it on my dinner break. It is good: I think I liked it better on the second reading. It's an interesting look at how Batman might have been viewed by the other characters in the various eras. So in that way it's a bit like the Planetary crossover. I still found the ending unsatisfying, though. Much as I like Gaiman's mystical tendencies--The Sandman is possibly my favorite comic--I was looking for some better resolution than the endless cycle of rebirth.