Series Review: Planetary #1

Welcome to the first edition of Billy & Mandy’s weekly series review of Planetary, the best book you’ve ever read about the super hero genre! Better than Dark Knight… better than Watchmen! Yeah, I said… CONTROVERSY!!! We’ll be reviewing each and every issue, beginning at #1, hitting all the spin-offs and even the sneak preview back-up story about the Hulk. We are well aware that the series’ final issue has yet to ship, but we figure that by the time we get to it, Cassaday should be just about finished with it.

WARNING: SPOILERS!!! If you don’t want to be spoiled, please read the issue before continuing. Or, read it along with us! We welcome your comments and hope that you enjoy ours.

First, some background on Planetary from its Wikipedia page, conveniently spoiler free:

Planetary are an organization billing themselves as “Archaeologists of the Impossible”, tracking down the world’s secret history. Funded by the mysterious Fourth Man, who it is said could be anyone from Bill Gates to Adolf Hitler, the field team consists of three superhumans: Jakita Wagner, who is strong, fast and nearly invulnerable; The Drummer, who can detect and manipulate nearby information streams, most commonly used to manipulate computers and other electronics; the new recruit Elijah Snow, who can extract heat from nearby substances at will, freezing them; and the former third man Ambrose Chase, who has a “selective physics-distortion field”.

The series is set in the Wildstorm Universe, along with other titles such as Stormwatch, The Authority, DV8 and Gen¹³. Snow was born on January 1, 1900, as was Jenny Sparks of the Authority, and the two know each other. Planetary rarely crosses over with other Wildstorm series, although references are made to characters in other series, such as Henry Bendix from Stormwatch.

Planetary’s field team travels the world investigating strange phenomena: monsters and other beings, unusual relics, other superhumans, and powerful secrets which certain individuals are trying to keep hidden from the rest of the world. Their purpose in doing this is partly curiosity, and partly to use what they learn for the betterment of mankind. There are, however, groups who oppose their goals, and the organization has a substantial history which is gradually revealed during the series.

The idea of the series is to create a concise world in which archetypes of superheroes, pulp fiction heroes, science fiction heroes, and characters from just about every possible mass media format, live in one large universe while the Planetary team investigates them and ties together the ends. As Warren Ellis wrote in his proposal for the comic series: “What 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?”

Billy: Ok, now that we’ve got some background, you want to give us a quick recap of the first issue?

Mandy: So we’re in the middle of nowhere and this Jakita Wagner chick shows up to offer Elijah Snow a job. First impressions? Snow looks like he might actually have bigger problems than drinking piss and coffee for breakfast… guy needs a shave. And then I find out he’s a hundred and I’m thinking he doesn’t look so bad. This Wagner chick offers Snow a million bucks a year and I’d say be wary of strangers bearing gifts but it doesn’t seem like he’s got much else going on anyway.

 

Mandy: He cleans up nice enough though. So maybe this isn’t all too good to be true. When Wagner shows up with Snow’s first assignment, I’m hoping she has answers about as much as he is. Who is Planetary? What the hell is all this? What world is this? Who is this guy? Why is Snow 100 years old? WHAT. IS. THE DEAL? Snow says, “It’s amazing how you can talk for ages but not actually say one goddamn thing I understand. How do you do that?” GOOD QUESTION, SNOW. This question resonates with my concerns. The helicopter has not yet arrived in the Adirondacks, the destination for their first assignment, and I’m already itching to hit Wikipedia and spoil myself just so I can know what’s going on. So we’re in the action now, with flying out of helicopters and storming a secret compound. BAD. ASS. Creepy crawlies and cob-webs, clearly this place has been deserted for a while… apparently since 1945.

Mandy: Our heroes come upon Axel Brass, who’s been hanging out since ‘45, and he tells them a tale of a 50 year old secret society of men with power who protected the world from monsters. They gathered together in 1945 to discuss SOMETHING BIG. One of their brethren has discovered that the universe occupies all possible positions at once… there’s a snowflake and some words I do not understand… the multiverse! It saves the world!

Mandy: But then people from a parallel universe appear and the secret society must fight them off to the save the world some more… everyone but Brass dies and he knows that he must stay behind in case anyone else gets through, crosses the barrier, etc. Lucky for him, he doesn’t need food or sleep and he can heal all of his own wounds with the power of his mind.

Mandy: So, Planetary to the rescue. Brass gets to go to the hospital and they acquire a giant brain and the secret hideout that houses it. Mission accomplished!

Billy: Dude, do you really think the dog pisses in the coffee… I’ve been wondering that for years.

Mandy: Ha-ha. Probably not. I think that if I’m that waitress and that cranky hack is coming in harassing me everyday, I’m going to bust out the sarcasm too.

Billy: Serious question now, is it confusing in a way that pisses you off like “Lost”, or is the good kind of confusing?

Mandy: I’m not reading to say it pisses me off just yet. One issue in, I’m willing to trust the storyteller at this point. You have to sort of accept the fact that with any story rich with mythology and internal-complicatedness, some of that stuff has to already be in place. Talk to me five issues from now and I might have a different opinion.

Billy: So, 100 year old dudes turn you on?

Mandy: Obv. But you already know this.

Billy: Thoughts on Jakita?

Mandy: Fierce hair. Is this some sort of pre-requisite for comic book chicks?

Billy: Yeah, obv. Comic geeks like chicks with fierce hair and body suits. She is HAWT.

Mandy: No. I mean… she’s weird because she’s obviously the mouthpiece right now, recruiting Snow, but I’m not sure she knows any more than he does. Or it’s all an act. It’s hard to say at this point.

Billy: Well, with this book, everything is conspiracy. Trust no one.

Mandy: Yeah, for sure conspiracy. So, I have a question for you that you’re probably not going to answer.

Billy: Okay, I’ll answer if I can do it without spoilers.

Mandy: Are we ever going to hear from Brass’ gang again? Is that an important thread or was that just the “Assignment of the Week”?

Billy: Everything is connected. Everything is conspiracy.

Mandy: Fabulous. I’m in.

Billy: Man, you are so lucky to be reading this for the first time. How awesome was Brass’ speech about eliminating the need to be human? “I am a god.”

Mandy: So awesome. I was like, “Oh, Axel Brass is Chuck Norris. Hurray.”

Billy: Did you figure out who the “good guys” from ‘45 were, the ones with the secret base and the snowflake?

Mandy: Oh, that was the other part of my question – are those guys people I’m supposed to know? And of course I know that the answer is yes but my history chops are…*hangs head*…weak.

Billy: Yes, they are “literary heroes”.

Mandy: OH MAH GOSH. Shame, shame, shame.

Billy: We have Thomas Edison, Tarzan, the Shadow, Doc Savage, Fu Man Chu and the two others… guy in the blue suit and the pilot are the ones I can’t remember off the top of my head. (I looked it up, the guy in the blue suit is a “Spirit” parody (DUH!) and the aviator guy is G-8, the WWI English fighting ace.) Ellis borrowed public domain characters where he could and changed the names of the characters he couldn’t.

Mandy: Yeah, okay. So Tarzan… got it. Also, Edison I got. Wow. Well, this is just amazing. I approve.

Billy: Now, the easier question… did you realize who the “bad guys” were?

 

Mandy: Obv superheroes? From the other universe?

Billy: But “who” specifically? You should at least get two or three of them. They’re all from the same universe and the same team.

Mandy: Batman. Cap. Your mom.

Billy: You FAIL so hard. Batman is right… it’s the Justice League tard!

Mandy: Yeah. I know. The Cap and your mom part was obv just for you, because your mom and Cap are on the same team.

Billy: Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Martian Manhunter, Flash and Aquaman.

Mandy: I almost said Justice League but you know I get nervous talking about comics in front of you.

Billy: Was that cool for you at all? Or are you not into comics enough to geek-asm over it? Because, I will say, when I first read this, it was the splash page of the evil JLA that completely hooked me. I was in already, but that page cinched it.

Mandy: I was definitely in at that point. I’m a fan of any story that plays with universes or cross-over stories…looking at a story from another perspective or “stealing” characters that the public has an idea about and spinning it, saying “what if?”

Billy: Now, for the major thematic question of this issue and the entire series: is it ethical for guys with this much power to be meeting in secret mountain bases and plotting the course of human history? The JLA stand in for the rest of the superhero community here, be it the Avengers or SHIELD or whatever and Brass and his men represent the pulp heroes or, the more realistic crime fighters.

Mandy: I’ll counter with another question: If power like this truly existed in humanity, is every-man even qualified to question their authority? Are they plotting/altering the course of humanity or are they part of its very fabric? People with that much power have a very different idea of ethics right, because they rewrite it to justify their actions?

Billy: Yes good points (we should read Authority next). I want to revisit them later as we delve deeper into the series. I just want to make a final note here: Ellis introduces this idea in a subtle way. He shows us “good” men trying to make the world a better place and then shows us the apparently “evil” men and women trying to stop them. The motives of the JLA are vague, aside from trying to save their own reality, and therefore so is the morality we attach to them. Again, we’ll see Ellis further explore this issue very soon since it lies at the center of the entire series. And, you should get a better grasp of what the writer is trying to say when you meet Planetary’s opposite number.

Mandy: I have a question for you, since you read lots and lots of comics. How do you approach the JLA in this context? Do you see them in light of how you know them to act from their own books? Does it further complicate your viewpoint coming into Planetary? Do you think that’s the point? I mean, from a writer’s POV, obviously, I think that’s the point… it’s hard to definitively say, “Here are the good guys and here are the bad guys” when everyone is sort of familiar and you’re not really sure what is going on.

Billy: Yes, the entire book has to be viewed through the “pulp comic genre” filter. The JLA have been redesigned here with an evil look about them. The colors, the detailing of their costumes, etc… They look evil. But, we know the JLA are a benevolent force for good in the DCU, so that does complicate my out feelings. So yes, Ellis fucks with us.

Mandy: Obviously. But does it make you question the writer’s intention? Do you have a hard time “believing” them as evil? Do you know what I’m saying?

Billy: Well, the archetypal JLA doesn’t kill. These guys do. Already, they are acting out of character. We see the differences because Ellis makes them glaring. And yet, there are still the similarities…

Mandy: Yes, like, dude, they were fucking with their universe.

Billy: Exactly. So we aren’t sure how to view them. And then we have the old pulp heroes. These guys are all about swift justice, which usually equals killing the bad guys. So, watching the pulp guys kill Flash doesn’t shock me. It’s within the realm of possibility for those archetypes. So, still, we don’t know which is really “good” and which is really “bad”. Overall, I think this is Ellis subtly suggesting to us that Planetary should not be trusted… even if they happen to be the stars of the book!!! That’s actually kind of revolutionary for a comic book. Were the 1945 heroes the evil masterminds? Does that make Planetary the bad guys? We can’t trust the protagonists.

Mandy: I appreciate that. I’m a fan of unreliable narrators.

Billy: Man, that’s how you write a conspiracy story. Just imagine X-Files where you weren’t sure if Mulder was working for the aliens or not.

Mandy: Agreed. I’m impressed.

Billy: I want to talk about how awesome John Cassaday’s art is. It is. Awesome. Every panel is so pretty. It makes re-reading these books quite a pleasure. Issue 13 probably showcases his best work on the series, I think and I can’t wait for you to read it.

Mandy: Yeah, you know that I’m not a hugely visual person but even I was impressed. There’s definitely a connection between the tone of each panel and the art. Even in my limited reading of comics, I’ve come to realize that that coherence and connection doesn’t always happen.

Billy: True. Any final thoughts before we leave off? Like, what is the biggest question you have for issue 2?

Mandy: The Drummer looks like someone famous… and I can’t figure out who it is.

Billy: …really?

Join us next Monday as we bask in the glory of Planetary #2. If you haven’t read Planetary, you can pick up the trades at your local comic shop or order them online from Amazon.com at the following link:

Planetary Vol. 1: All Over the World and Other Stories

read/RANT

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5 thoughts on “Series Review: Planetary #1

  1. I really enjoyed what little of Planetary I’ve been able to read (the first trade, and the Batman issue on scans_daily), and I thought it was a really cool idea. I look forward to reading the rest of these write-ups.

  2. yeah, she knows. also, there’s a 28-week buffer from now till we’ll need to review the final issue, so hopefully, it’ll be out by then. heh.

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