This is Why (Planetary)

I’d always planned to commemorate the long-awaited conclusion of the series with one (possibly two) of these features, digging into precisely why it’s another clear example of the medium functioning at its highest possible level. Problem being that for some reason I thought Planetary #27 was dropping at the end of this month, and not the beginning, which would’ve provided some considerable breathing room between it and the two-week look at Bendis & Gaydos’ Alias I just completed. My editors didn’t think it was a big deal, and that a series like Planetary was well worth it, so I’ve spent the last week reading the entire series from the very beginning, and even without the final chapter, it’s already an amazing piece of work. Truly a celebration of some of the greatest concepts and characters in modern fiction, in addition to being a well-layered conspiracy story with a number of fantastic twists and turns.

Absoluteplanetary

So here’s my notion on how to cram 27+ issues of greatness into two columns—for every issue, I’ll be specifically highlighting one particular moment, happening, or impression that stood out above and beyond all others. In cases where there is more than one worthy contender, a quick runner-up will also be referenced, but in an expedient and concise manner. Also, my favorite line or exchange of dialogue will be included at the top of each entry as well, because the series often featured some great dialogue. Sound good? All right then, let’s get it movin’ on to the good stuff. Ladies and gents, I give you my initial set of thoughts on Warren Ellis and John Cassaday’s legendary series Planetary

All Over The World (Chapter 1)

Planetary_01

“I get bored easily. Planetary stops me getting bored.”

I missed the sneak peek of this series in the previously released Planetary Preview, so this was my first official exposure to the “archaeologists of the impossible” and I was down from the minute Jakita Wagner walked through the door of that diner with the dog urine flavored coffee. In one single issue the entire thing is laid out for you—the fantastic characters, the awe-inspiring visuals, the central mysteries that will ultimately be revealed, and the ideology that will always push the narrative forward. Strange worlds make for strange stories, and what the hell is greater than that? Also worth mention is the first appearance of one Doc Brass, still awake after fifty years for the entire world’s sake, and the explanation of how the Snowflake actually worked.

Island (Chapter 2)

“I see. We are to be executed here in this place of dreams. You too.”

Just nudging past all of Master Storyteller’s insane dialogue here are the first real visual representations of the superhuman abilities of both Jakita and Elijah Snow. In the case of the former, we already knew she was very strong, but here she displays heightened vision and super-speed. Elijah on the other hand, uses a really neat heat subtraction trick to save himself from a cloud of approaching nerve gas. Great seeing a little more of what these characters can really do at this early point.

Dead Gunfighters (Chapter 3)

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“Please tell her…make the most of these days. I’ve seen what happens when we die. Tell her it doesn’t get any better than this.”

Obviously, anything having anything to do with murdered detective Shek Chi-Wai is the clear standout here. A great, yet thoroughly tragic origin story, an important, yet depressing message about what happens when we all die, and a haunting visual supplied by Cassaday and company easily takes the flag. The first time Planetary witnesses Chi-Wai bring the pain to a gang of killers, Jakita, with her eyes buggin’ out and her jaw slammed into the pavement can only say, “Did you see that? That was incredible.”

Co-sign.

Strange Harbours (Chapter 4)

“These are the moments I live for. I put up with all the other crap just to get seconds like this. The moments when you know the world is a better place than advertised.”

Elijah Snow, frustrated by his current role as little more than a well-dressed trash man, takes charge and pledges that Planetary will help Jim Wilder in any and every way they can. We were already getting a little feeling about Snow and his ultimate role in things, but this was the first huge scene that told us straight up something else was going on here. The Drummer winking at Jakita, who was also nursing a strange grin of her own, was the kicker.

The Good Doctor (Chapter 5)

“We cannot allow the world to be this way.”

The “book within a book” concept is something I always love seeing, and it’s used to great effect here, with Cassaday supplying some glorious spot illustrations. Back in high school, I was convinced that I’d write adventure and mystery novels for the rest of my life, so I have a healthy respect for the power of well-written prose. This look into Doc Brass’ rich, adventurous past certainly qualifies.

4 (Chapter 6)

“I don’t enjoy killing people. I want to kill these people.

A game-changing story in every conceivable way. Elijah “learns” about the presence of a quartet of strange adventurers, who have been doing everything in their power to suppress and retard the secret history and possible greatness of the world. Then he comes face-to-face with some of their handiwork, then one of them, who promptly kicks the crap out of Jakita and flings her out of a window. All of a sudden everything was not just strange, but also incredibly dangerous for the people keeping it that way.

To Be In England, In The Summertime (Chapter 7)

“England was a scary place. No wonder it produced a scary culture.”

So after getting a wildly distorted version of the Fantastic Four in the previous issue, this one features a number of stand-ins for some of the more memorable Vertigo characters from the eighties. And a bit of an explanation of how and why certain writers likely gravitated to those characters in the first place. More than a few cool insights and images to be found here.

The Day The Earth Turned Slower (Chapter 8 )

“You know what it was like, living in a country driven mad with fear of nothing?”

Tough choice here, as this entire installment is packed with cool moments and even cooler revelations. In the end though, there is something about Jakita rushing into battle against gigantic sci-fi ants, with an almost as gigantic smile on her face as she proceeds to rip them to pieces. Soon after she’ll emerge covered in bug guts and apologizing for kicking one of their heads through a wall. Great bit.

Planet Fiction (Chapter 9)

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“We’re living inside a science fiction movie. The black guy always dies in science fiction movies.”

One name here is all that matters, people, and that name is obviously Ambrose Chase. Mentioned briefly long ago, the previous Third Man makes a stupendous debut, wearing Elijah Snow’s outfit, distorting reality, and shooting people in the head like it was his job. But like the man says, the black guy always dies in the end, no matter how cool and unflappable he appears to be. Thankfully, this wasn’t the true end to his story, and also clever that Ellis revealed exactly who the Fourth Man was, then took it back a few pages later with a well-phrased sentence. 

Magic & Loss (Chapter 10)

“We’re so proud of ourselves, aren’t we? We must be, to fill the skies with the sounds and shapes of our wonder. We’ve killed ourselves with self-inflicted glory.”

Also known as “the one where the Four assassinates and then dissects the JLA”. This story has the feel (and outcome) of a horror movie, as alien visitors are snuffed out in some truly hideous and unsettling ways. Dowling and company become more and more grotesque with every brief appearance, and have easily achieved the intended status of becoming the bad guys you want to see get their brains beat in. I mean, they killed little baby Superman in his rocket…what’s that about?

Cold World (Chapter 11)

“I know who the Fourth Man is.”

To unravel what’s been done to his memory, Elijah visits the world’s greatest spy and has one hell of an interesting conversation, right after one hell of an exciting flashback. It’s great to see the walls come tumbling down, and you just know some of these color- coded flashes of memory are going to appear in later issues. But what a cliffhanger, setting the stage for the big-time revelation that once again changes everything…

Memory Cloud (Chapter 12)

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“God. I’d forgotten how much I loved putting all this together.”

Of course Elijah Snow is The Fourth Man. It was right there from the very beginning, but Ellis spent the next eleven chapters leading us off the trail, almost as much as he spent hinting that the most obvious explanation was in fact the correct one. Him chiding his associates is great fun, but THE supreme moment is when Snow uses his powers to send a clear message to the people that took his mind away from him…yeah, you ____ed up, and now it’s time to pay for it. Another exciting turning point for the entire series.

Ruling The World (Planetary/The Authority)

“Mr. Snow, I believe these to be negro eggs.”

It might sound silly, but I’ve always enjoyed a crossover where the characters never actually crossover. Turns the well-worn pattern of characters meeting, then having a misunderstanding, then fighting about that misunderstanding, then reconciling, on its familiar head, and that’s what we have here. Without the other team’s contribution, the world ultimately wouldn’t get saved in the end, but the story loses none of its charm by keeping everyone separated.

Century (Chapter 13)

“I want to know what you know. I want to know secrets. I’ve seen the shape of the secret history of the world, and I need to follow its traces.”

The long foreshadowed meeting between Elijah Snow and Sherlock Holmes is only slightly upstaged by Snow taking down Dracula by freezing him solid and then kicking his entire crotch off…but it most certainly is. As Holmes points out, it’ll only grow back later, but the moment was still equal parts funny and awesome.

Zero Point (Chapter 14)

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“We are old and powerful and bore easily. We enjoy the game Planetary represents. But we cannot allow ourselves to lose, Mr. Snow.”

You can see exactly why The Four felt their regime was threatened by Planetary. But you can also see why Snow’s group was ultimately taken down in their first real confrontation. The scale the bad guys were operating on was just too immense for them, with their dead planets filled with weapons, giant flying saucers, and memory erasing technology. My favorite bit though is Snow’s outright defiance in the face of having his mind ripped away from him, and his final orders to his team not to let the bastards win. A powerful emotional moment that makes you anticipate the upcoming rematch that much more.

Creation Songs (Chapter 15)

“Your daddy was a hero. Your daddy saved people’s lives. Lots of them. Including mine. And he didn’t need a red cape to do it. He just had to be him.”

I loved seeing Snow visit Ambrose’s widow and having a little conversation with their daughter. The importance of the Chase/Snow friendship is something that only intensifies into the final arc, but even before we knew all that, it said something that after regaining some critical pieces of his memory, the first thing he did was check in on Larissa Chase. Just a nice moment of genuine sentiment mixed in with all the great action and conspiracy stuff.

Night on Earth (Planetary/Batman)

Planetary_Batman

“Forgive me if I don’t use the presence of inexpensive hookers as the yardstick of a thriving district.”

Really, just the prospect of Jakita engaging in a bit of hand-to-hand fighting/flirting with Batman would be more than enough (and it is), but having the famous Dark Knight cycle through several versions of himself in the process effectively seals the deal. Cassaday has more then proven at this point that he’s capable of drawing anything with great skill, and his impressions here are fantastic, as is the future incarnation of Batman that’s all his own. No idea if Ellis always planned for Planetary to visit Gotham City, but what would an excavation of some of the greatest characters in modern fiction be without a Batman appearance? This is a pairing that manages to easily transcend some common crossover clichés with clever plotting and inspired artwork.

Hark (Chapter 16)

“Your father was a marvelous man, not always surrounded by people of his own caliber. Like yourself.”

There were a number of ways for Elijah Snow to secure the cooperation of Anna Hark in his personal war against The Four, and both of them undoubtedly know this. Flirting with outright intimidation and bribery, Snow ultimately chooses a more thoughtful approach, offering Anna some additional details about her father’s death, and a long-awaited reunion with Jim Wilder. It’s the last bit that proves the kicker, and the smile on Snow’s face in the final shot says it all. This half of the series often featured a more kinder, gentler Elijah Snow, which most definitely provided a stark contrast to the increasingly ruthless and aggressive natures he directed at his enemies. In this case, it was obvious he knew that Hark could be made the former with some gentle nudging.

Opak-Re (Chapter 17)

“He loves us, in his own way. But part of him is a king ape that expects allegiance. And part of him is the white man who believes we are all there for him. One day, I will change his mind, for he is brilliant and valuable. But he is not you.”

Ellis has been hinting that Snow might actually be Jakita’s father for a while now, but the truth as revealed here is a bit more interesting and even tragic. Though Elijah falls hard for Jakita’s mother, she ultimately ends up having a kid with the other white dude periodically hanging around the mystical African city, Lord Blackstock. Who naturally is a bit of an asshole, and initially is puzzled that Elijah would share his bed with an African when there are English girls. So yes, it is hopelessly ironic that Snow will ultimately rescue a young Jakita from certain death, and ensure she’s raised by a family that will turn her into the ultimate surrogate daughter for himself.

The Gun Club (Chapter 18)

“CDC. He has diseases. He gives them to girls. You don’t want to know how.”

The violent and precise takedown of William Leather is a great moment, mostly because of the combination of new and old alliances that make it happen. John Stone provides the intel, Anna Hark supplies some tech, The Drummer handles the explosives, and Jakita Wagner brings the speed and power. After seeing Leather handle Jakita way back in chapter six, it was good fun watching her return the favor. Snow’s little kick at the end reminded me a little of when Cap pounds a defenseless Banner in the face with his boot in The Ultimates #5. It was funny in both instances.

Mystery in Space/Rendezvous (Chapters 19-20)

“Jacob Greene is stranded on that object. It’s on its way through and out of the solar system. The Four are now three. I’m not sorry.”

In the case of taking down Jacob Greene, the trap is even more elaborate, but Snow and company are ultimately no less successful. The major difference is that in the process, Elijah crosses a major ideological line, consciously and aggressively destroying what could be a major archeological find, in addition to marooning a trio of “angels” that Planetary has worked with for a number of years. Obviously, behavior like this is something more synonymous with the actions of The Four, so it’s a huge and slightly out of character decision for him, which is made clear from Jakita’s reaction to it. And from how adamantly Elijah insists that he only cares about the results of what he’s done, when his body language leading up the big explosion says otherwise.

Death Machine Telemetry (Chapter 21)

“This is archaeology, Mr. Snow. Dream archaeology.”

So in the wake of the above event, Snow seeks out scientist magician Melanctha, in an attempt to find some additional perspective, and perhaps a clue on how to proceed next in his personal war against Dowling’s crew. After she drugs him with a cup of tea, two very important things happen, one of them a revelation, and the other a word of advice. The reveal is that Snow’s true nature as a century baby leaves him in a unique position, possibly soulless, and not truly human. Snow and his contemporaries are defense mechanisms of a sort, and she advises him that his ultimate goal in life should not be to simply seek revenge, and that there are much larger things that he’s supposed to do. And so after drugs and deep knowledge rock his world, he vanishes into the cold, ready for the next step.

The Torture of William Leather (Chapter 22)

“Now you’re going to tell me where Suskind and Dowling are. Whether you like it or not.”

Under torture, William Leather gives up everything. Starting with his family’s tragic origins, which effectively melds the backgrounds of several popular fiction heroes, and presumably ending with any and everything pertaining to his super powered teammates. Lot of nice moments and action here, but what’s always given me a little shiver up the spine are the goggles that Elijah Snow places on William’s face. You know the ones I mean— the ones that have pins lining the inside of them? Note to everyone: do not piss off Elijah Snow ever.

Percussion (Chapter 23)

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“Worst. Rescue. Ever.”

Let’s talk about Ambrose Chase again. This is the leg of the series where he becomes incredibly important, and this issue, which also features the origin of The Drummer, has a fantastic sequence of him, Elijah, and Jakita all working together like a well-oiled machine. Obviously, Ellis can do big action, and I think Jakita kicking out a man’s spine, then quickly preventing a kid from getting his head blown off certainly qualifies. Which doesn’t even take into account Chase’s time distorting, or his cool guns, the kid’s final bit of business for Dowling, the escape out the window, the fall into the retrieval net of the giant plane, and Chase’s last second rescue of Elijah. Despite all my yakking about great writing and crisp dialogue, stuff like this reminds you just how powerful a visual medium comics actually are.

Systems (Chapter 24)

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“Because I need you to understand everything now. There’s been a time for secrets and mystery. That time’s past.”

And here all is revealed. Similar to the vibe of chapter 12, when Elijah revealed that he knew that he was in fact The Fourth Man, this timely chat with Drums and Jakita signals that it’s all coming to an end. Jakita learns who her father was, and that The Drummer knew the truth all along. Snow defends his torture of William Leather, and his relentless pursuit of Dowling and Suskind, as they hold the information he needs to find and rescue Ambrose Chase. As he very accurately points out, he’s rescued every other member of his field team at some point in their extraordinary lives, and Chase deserves no less. Anything he has to do to accomplish this is on the table. It’s a classic pep talk to find out if his people are down with him…then The Four attack the building they’re in with a giant death ray, murdering hundreds of innocent people while trying to kill the three of them. If they weren’t already with him (and they were naturally), that was a good way to make sure.

In From the Cold (Chapter 25)

“Well, if anyone was watching, John, they got a good show. I figure you’re covered.”

Just barely edging past the fantastic little sequence where Planetary “retrieves” John Stone, is the big untold tale of how The Four got their powers. To this point we’ve been given many a broken interpretation of a popular character’s origin, and that really culminates here with Dowling intentionally crossing The Bleed into the multiverse. With very little convincing, his shipmates agree to seize powers they obviously don’t deserve, and to sell out the entire population of Earth as well. So a traumatic experience in deep space is not what made them assholes at all, those personality traits apparently came pre-loaded. Combine that with a small description of what Randall Dowling can actually do with his abilities, and you have an obvious winner.

Untitled (Chapter 26)

Planetary_26

Everything comes back around to the beginning, and then ends in absolute excellence.

“Well, I’ve been sitting here pulling together everything we know, and everything we’ve done…and it’s really simple. Make that work. You’ll see.”

“I’ve seen heaven, Dowling. And it’s not a place where you exercise any power.”

“We’re mystery archaeologists. And the last mystery I have to share with you is buried very deep. And it’s a really, really good one.”

“We could agree to work together on planetary defense. Save the world. What do you think?”

“You think this world matters so much, don’t you? There are millions of Earths. Millions. It’s an accident of birth that puts us here, nothing more.”

“Look around, Mr. Snow. A crew of superhuman ancestors of the City Zero survivors, saved by you and Miss Hark to pilot a sailing ship of the multiverse itself. A fine time to be alive: strange and beautiful, and there’s nowhere I’d rather be.”

“Your agents are dead. You are not welcome. Leave us alone. This is your only warning.”

“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.”

“Just one loose thread to take care of. One last thing to take from the soil of the 20th century. And then we spend the rest of our very, very long lives on that strange world we love. Keeping it that way.”

Untitled (Chapter 27)

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“It’s a strange world, Drums. Did you think for a minute that I wasn’t going to keep it that way? Turn up the power, boy. We’ve got an audience now. Bring our man home.”

I will always love great time travel stories. It is the one facet of science fiction that fascinates me the most, so it was very cool to see Ellis and company construct and power a time machine to retrieve Ambrose Chase. Having the stasis field that Chase created around himself actually power the machine was only one of a number of neat touches in this final installment. Couple others were Drums channeling his inner Elijah, Jakita’s fears that the grand adventure is now over, and the Planetary organization quickly improving every area of human life. Obviously, the biggest moment of the piece is watching dozens of iterations of Snow, Jakita, and Drums emerge from time portals, all bearing witness to the rescue of Ambrose. Who also emerges from the future to join his compatriots, but does so without spoiling the big surprise. Great conclusion to a great series, that ultimately concludes on a highly emotional note, with everyone together once again, and truly ready for the next big adventure.

Congrats to the entire creative team for finishing as strongly as they began, and for creating something that will stand as an undeniable classic for years to come. Again, I encourage everyone to re-read the series from beginning to end, as the pacing and development of the characters and central mysteries comes through much clearer. Might have a few additional thoughts in the future once I put everything away, but at this point, all we can do is wait for DC to reprint the first Absolute and hit us with the long-awaited second. Thanks for dropping by, and hope you enjoyed the series as much as I did.

Planetary, by Warren Ellis, John Cassaday, and Laura Martin—this is why I love comics.

Originally published as Ambidextrous 314 & 315 on Newsarama.com

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