Sunday, March 15, 2009

Planetary is Fucking Awesome. Buy it Right Now. [Guest Blogger Alert!]

Brendan returns! This time with some thoughts on Planetary, a series mentioned in After Watchmen, What's Next? If you are looking for something great to read, maybe this is the one for you!




Planetary: All Around The World and Other Stories, The Fourth Man, Leaving The Twentieth Century

Written by Warren Ellis

Art by John Cassady

Let's get this out of the way first: Planetary is fucking awesome. Buy it. Buy it right now.

Yet it's the things that make Planetary so awesome (and it's so, so great) that make it very hard to talk about. Like the series' central characters, archeologists of the unknown, the chief joy of reading Planetary is figuring out who's who. Because of legal restrictions, the Wildstorm comic renames most of the characters and situations the leads find themselves in, though a few are instantly recognizable.

Ellis has created a world where a financially limitless organization (Planetary) and its teams around the world investigate the secret history of the twentieth century – a history that includes heroes pulp and super alike. Some of these appear for only a frame, often without a name. The issue that opens the second trade (“The Fourth Man”)has the team attending the funeral of Jack Carter, a London magician/con artist/chain smoker....and everyone who's encountered him shows up. If you got chills at that last bit – who might show up at John Constantine's funeral, given that the character's appeared in stories by Neil Gaiman and Alan Moore – Planetary is full of that kind of thing. It's not just comics, either – Ellis draws from the entire pop culture landscape of the twentieth century. Our heroes Elijah Snow, Jakita Wagner, and the Drummer can battle giant ants one issue, then find themselves in a John Woo/Hong Kong movie the next.

More after the jump!

I'm a sucker for this shared universe, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Wold-Newton universe crap, so Planetary had me from the concept alone. But if seeing all these characters and genres exist side by side is one of the joys of Planetary, watching Ellis play with them is just as 'fucking awesome'. Again, to go into further detail is to spoil the fun of the series, but Planetary's way of telling stories – weaving the series arc alongside and into various stand-alones – makes each new chapter another adventure. One of my favorite issues so far (at the end of “All Around The World,” the first trade) has Planetary investigating the creation of a Hulk-like character. The story's told in such a way that you kind of figure out where they're going, but the last page is like a punch to the gut. “Magic & Loss,” from the second trade, is probably the best issue of the series, as Ellis reintroduces you to some old friends...some very old and familiar friends. To say anymore would wreck the power of the issue.

The original characters Ellis creates are primarily a vehicle for him to tell these stories, but they all stand out in their own way. Elijah Snow, and his journey of re-discovery through the series, is Iceman by way of Harrison Ford, if Harrison Ford was over 100 years old. (That journey of discovery becomes more prominent around the second trade, and the ending to that reminded me that I should read more comics...because I love when they make me go “Yes!”
) He's a suitably cranky protagonist for the series' outlandish turns, just as Jakita Wagner is suitably bad-ass and tough (without being the kind of exploitative bad-ass and tough that most comic heroines are). The third member of Planetary, the techno whiz 'The Drummer', isn't as memorable, more of a guy for Snow to riff off rather than be his own entity. But he's not annoying – I like him, but not as much as I like Snow and Wagner.

I've liked Jon Cassaday's work for a while, and he definitely knows how to use the splash page and the rectangular panel. One of my most common criticisms in comic art (despite being a guy who knows nothing about these things) is a lack of consistency between panels – a character can look entirely different from one frame to the next. That's not a problem here, and Cassaday seems to be having just as much fun working in the different styles the stories call for as Ellis does making them up. There's a gorgeous issue in the first trade

Unfortunately, there's quite a large gap between the last trade and the end of the series, but investing in the first three are well worth your dollar. It's no surprise that it's listed on DC's site as something to read after Watchmen. I'd actually recommend this as a good transition point between Watchmen and League of Extraordinary Gentlemen – it's subversive like Watchmen but lighter, and it's really smart without having the intimidating intellectual undercurrent that LOEG. You don't need to be familiar with the last 400 years of fiction like you do with that one. The last trade's scheduled for release this summer, but Planetary's so rich and rewarding that I'm going to try and find those issues, oh, you know, tomorrow. Otherwise, I'd just re-read the trades again and again. After diving into the alternate universe Ellis's created, I bet you will too.

And just wait till you see who the chief villains are. Like I said: fucking awesome.

5 comments:

livingtech said...

I definitely wouldn't recommend planetary "after watchmen"... the primary reason being that planetary is one of those comics that shows no sign of impending closure. Recommend V for Vendetta, or Sandman, or Bone, or any number of other "completed" stories.

Don't get me wrong, Planetary is AWESOME, but I'm sick of waiting for more of it. Warren Ellis claimed last summer (at his appearance at Wizard World chicago) than the next issue was due out in the stands before 2009. Well, it's 2009 already, but no new planetary. *sigh*

Brendan M. Leonard said...

I was recommending it based on the fact that it has the same kind of metatextual vibe as Watchmen. Also, a lot of the stories are so self contained, they can be enjoyed without an ending. Sure, I want to know what happens next, but there's so much goodness in the first three that I felt confident recommending it. Especially since there are a number of ongoing series on that "After Watchmen" list, and we've discussed others here. Fables and Ex Machina being a couple of others. I'm pretty sure the final trade is scheduled for June, which will include the epilogue/final issue.

TotoroVSBatman said...

I def think Planetary is a fine choice "After Watchmen..." The only trick about Planetary is that I believe to really get into it and appreciate its references, you should be reading other titles from Wildstorm. Particularly The Authority.

EruditeChick said...

The Authority rocks. I'm sorry, I just can't get over your SCREEN NAME.

Because in my HEAD, right, in my HEAD

what it comes DOWN to

is the fucking BATMOBILE versus the CATBUS and I don't- I DO NOT KNOW HOW TO COPE WITH THIS.

TotoroVSBatman said...

If it were a showdown between the Batmobile and the Catbus, I feel like Bruce Wayne would be helpless before the cuteness of the Catbus. He would be flooded with nostalgic memories of the good ole days before the death of his parents.