Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Planetary surprise

One of my favorite comics of the last decade has been Planetary by Warren Ellis and John Cassaday. Beyond introducing me to the wonderful art of Cassaday, who remains one of my favorite comics artists of all time, Planetary also introduced me to the storytelling style of Warren Ellis, whose work I followed into Stormwatch, The Authority, Transmetropolitan, Global Frequency, Fell, Red, Orbiter, Desolation Jones and other such high quality books. (I recently purchased his first novel, Crooked Little Vein, which I'll likely read soon.)

Planetary is the story of a decades old global organization of the same name, dedicated to the task of being archaeologists of the strange. Beyond the dozens of offices it has in major cities across the planet, from which a wealth of resources can be summoned, Planetary also consists of a team of three field operatives who do the active investigating. As of the first issue, the status quo includes Jakita Wagner, a near indestructible, super-fast woman in an Emma-Peel style leather suit, who is capable of drop-kicking a rhino across the grand canyon; the Drummer, a kid who's more than a bit crazy, but who's capable of conversing with technology and information systems using two drum sticks; and Elijah Snow, a century-old man in a white suit with memory issues and the ability to alter temperature. Set against Planetary as its major adversary is a group called The Four, who basically have exactly the same origin as the Fantastic Four if the FF was staffed by super-genius murderers and sociopaths out to keep all the world's great mysteries for themselves. (Ironically, Ellis eventually was hired to write Ultimate Fantastic Four, Marvel Comics allegedly being unaware of what he'd already done to analogs of the characters for another company.) All of the analog activity makes sense not only in a "let's not violate someone else's copyright, but use their characters anyway" manner, but also in that the concept of parallel earths plays a pretty big part in the story overall.

I've greatly enjoyed the series, but the major drawback to it has been its wildly erratic publishing schedule. Ostensibly a bi-monthly book at its outset in 1999, Planetary became far less frequent pretty quickly due to a variety of reasons, including Ellis' going through an illness and Cassaday becoming more popular and sought-after. But it's slowly but surely kept going, even though years have gone by between issues sometimes. In a month or so, the final issue, #27, is slated to be published, wrapping up the story Ellis and Cassaday started a decade ago. In anticipation of that event, I've been going back and re-reading all my old issues. I don't have any of the earliest six issues, but I do have the first TPB of them (signed by Ellis, even). It's been a great time revisiting the story and discovering new layers along the way, but I made an even more startling discovery this morning when I sat down to reread Planetary #22. Turns out, I'd never read that particular issue the first time. With each page, I kept scratching my head that none of it seemed at all familiar, especially when it came to revealing the origin of the Shadow analog from issue #1, a character I had always wanted to know more about. (The issue also features a dark Lone Ranger style figure that's very well done.)

I'm not exactly sure how I failed to read an issue that I owned of one of my favorite comic books. Most likely, it came out the same week a bunch of other books did and got set into a pile somewhere, forgotten and not uncovered until later on, at which point I probably assumed I'd read it and put it away. It still made for a very nice surprise and filled in some gaps for me in the overall story.

There are currently four collections of Planetary on the market, three collecting the actual series but for the remaining issues, and one collecting the crossovers Planetary has done with the Authority, the Justice League and Batman. An Absolute Edition of most of the current material has also been published, but has been out of print for a while. From what I read, the plan is to rerelease the first Absolute and then publish a second one to contain the rest, sometime soonafter the final issue sees print.

You can take a look at the final cover image at the top of this article. In its details you can see pretty much the whole story played out, though not in such a way as would cause any spoilers. One of them is a dangling plot thread from an early issue that I wonder if Ellis will tie up in the final issue. Not that it will mean anything to nonreaders, but the thread in question can be seen at 12 o'clock in the cover image. We'll see.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Didn't know about the illness, in fact, I don't know too much about him at all, except that he has a bunch of stuff all going at once, also the reason for long waits.

I've been checking at my shop for a new Doktor Sleepless...no dice, but looked at the website b/c of your post...due in stores tomorrow!! Thanks!