Much like 100 Bullets, I got into Planetary, but then stopped because there was too much going on and I wanted to keep track. Oh, there was also the intense lateness of the book by Warren Ellis and John Cassaday that ran from 1999-2009 and only 27 issues came out. I read the first two or three trades while at Wizard, dug the book, but once I realized how slow the book was in coming out and knowing my poor recall, I figured I’d wait for the trades. That was probably five years ago? Not sure. Anyway, I just got the fourth trade and finished Bullets, so I figured it would be a good time to revisit and finish the series.
If you’re unfamiliar with the concept, Planetary is an organization looking to uncover the secrets of a version of the Wildstorm Universe. I say a version because there’s no way to make sense of this book in the context of the ongoing Wildstorm U as it was. There were only a few random references here and there anyway, though the Bleed did go on to play a major part in the Wildstorm and then the DC Universes. Our heroes Elijah Snow, Jakita Wagner and The Drummer work for Planetary and each have super powers to help them on their mission (temperature control, super everything and the ability to read information, respectively). As it turns out, this world is filled with several characters from literary history like Sherlock Holmes as well as analogs for characters like Lone Ranger, Green Hornet and a slew of modern superheroes like Superman, Green Lantern and most importantly the Fantastic Four.
I’m not really sure where to go from here because I’ve got very mixed feelings about this series. I’m not sure if the wait was worth it, not that that really matters for trades, but I still experienced all that as a regular comic book reader. Also, while I really grew to like the three main characters, especially Elijah, but a lot of time is spent on analogs for or versions of existing characters. Part of me wants to say that some of the issues were fun at the time, but wound up not really having much of an impact on the story itself. Another part of me realizes that a lot of these whole issues spent on one thing or the other did actually serve as both interesting one-off stories and building blocks for the series as a whole. The Hong Kong ghost issue? Fun AND served a purposed. The one about people shooting themselves into space in a ball? I don’t think so. Like I said, I still have some resentment for how late this book was and I’m comparing it to 100 Bullets which was such a well crafted and thought out book, that pretty much everything else will pale in comparison to it.
But, like I said, I really liked the characters, two of the three of whom didn’t come off as one-note. Jakita loves to punch things, which is a nice balance to Snow’s machinations and Drums’ craziness. The thing about Snow that surprised me, though, was how good he actually turned out to be. I had him pegged as one of these “I’ll sacrifice anything to get my way” guys, but he actually has a lot of loyalty to his people and truly wants to make the world a better place. The Drummer also really came into his own in the last few issues of the series where his loyalty for Elijah was explained and he took a much more active role in their mission.
I’ve also got a bit of a problem with Ellis as a writer. He often comes off as the guy who likes to write comics about superheroes showing how dumb superheroes can be. But, I’m not sure if any of that is actually in this book or if I’m overlaying my prejudices on it. Were the Superman, Wonder Woman and Green Lantern-esque characters removed so easily because they’re dumb or because that’s what would happen in this world? Was that bit about the funeral for a John Constantine type character who turned into Ellis’ Spider Jerusalem for no apparent reason honest or tongue in cheek? It’s almost impossible to tell anymore. But, I did like that moment where the out-of-nowhere superhero complains about being turned into a complete mess by the man representing Vertigo.
At the end of the day, I think there’s enough here for me to dig into at least down the line for a second complete read through. I haven’t talked about Cassaday’s art, but I think it’s pretty good. I don’t fall over backwards like a lot of people for him, but I think he’s solid and does great facial expressions. Again, I can’t help but look at some of the pages and wonder what took so long, but I don’t know why the book was late and I really shouldn’t care anymore, but it bugs me. There are some beautiful compositions by him in this book, I’m especially fond of the shift ship and its inhabitants which actually looked shiny and bright on the page. So, yes, I’ll keep these books for now to read another day. I’ll leave it up to Future TJ to figure out if he wants to keep them on his shelf for the long haul.