Comic Fodder

Simon's Review of Planetary Volume 1

Planetary Volume 1: All Around the World and Other Stories
by Warren Ellis and John Cassaday

The first thing that hits me when I opened Planetary Volume 1: All Around the World and Other Stories was the foreword by Alan Moore. In which Mr. Moore writes far more eloquently that I can about the underlying theme of Planetary. You see Planetary is not a true superhero story even though the main protagonists have super powers. Rather they are as the cover to the first issue states "archaeologists of the impossible". Ellis uses this setup to deconstruct the super hero narrative and explore various story telling genres on a per issue basis.

All Over the World sets things up by introducing us to our protagonists as Jakita Wagner recruits Elijah Snow to join herself and The Drummer as the three man field team working for the mysterious Fourth Man. The team heads out on their first mission as recently recovered documents point to location of the base of Doc Brass (an analogy to Doc Savage) a 1940's hero. Once there the team discovers Doc Brass still alive only to find out he is guarding "the snowflake" a quantum computer he and his team inadvertently invented back in the 40's.

Doc Brass team is made up of homages to pulp hero's who predated the modern comic book super hero. In turn the idea of a team of pulp hero's is itself a homage to Alan Moore's team of Victorian super heroes The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. In using the computer they inadvertently make contact with a team of super heroes who are meant to be an analogy of the JLA. In true comic book fashion the two teams of heroes fight each other, the irony of this situation is truly sublime, with Doc Brass as the only survivor.

Island finds the Planetary team on Island Zero a small island off the northern coast of Japan. The team is trying to track down a Japanese poet and his followers before he discovers the secret of Island Zero. You see the island is covered with the corpses of giant animals which evokes any number of Godzilla films.

Dead Gunfighters has the team investigating a rumor of a dead Chinese policeman who has returned from the grave in order to get revenge upon his killers. The feel of the issue is like one of a hard boiled Chinese crime movie a la John Woo.

Strange Harbours brings the team to the site of an explosion of an office building. Credit for the bombing is claimed by the "snowflake" group. The story lays down more plot threads and introduces shift ship technology as in The Authority.

The Good Doctor is a conversation between Elijah Snow and Doc Brass where we learn more of Doc Brass' history. The issue is setup much like a pulp novel with good chunks of prose interspersed between the comic pages.

It's a Strange World, the final issue of volume 1, sets up the villains or antagonists of Planetary. They are a group of four astronauts who went into space in 1961 only to return as something more than human. Of course they are an analogy to the Fantastic Four (see related links for more analysis). These 4 are the secret masters of the world their power has made the unanswerable to humanity and it is up to Planetary to take them down. Sadly the team only encounters one of the 4 who easily incapacitates Jakita and leaves Elijah with more questions.

I truly wish I would have been reading this book as it came out in the monthlies as it is exactly the kind of book that works in that format. Each issue is a one and done event while still being able to advance the plot on a monthly basis. This is so difficult to find these days of decompressed storytelling. Characterization is a slow in this first volume as you are introduced to the many mysteries of Planetary which will need to be solved before you can geta true picture of the characters.

I must say that I really enjoyed the first volume of Planetary. The series operates on two levels simultaneously. On one level we have a enjoyable super hero story. On the second Ellis is able to explore various genres and participate in criticism of the comic book industry. This book is virtually dripping in sub-text which is a hoot to discover. For more analysis you should check out the related links and I'll leave you with a quote from the fifth chapter of Geoff Klock's excellent book How to Read Superhero Comics and Why.

Planetary shows comic book history as a battle with an earlier version of itself-pulp novel characters struggling with the golden age superheroes, silver age heroes killing off golden age icons. Planetary culminates this lineage, and places the revisionary superhero narrative in its proper context, with an antagonism between the four member Planetary team and their most present imaginative debt: the royalty of the silver age, the Fantastic Four.

It certainly has my recommendation and I'm already into the second volume.

Related Links

* Warren Ellis Homepage
* John Cassaday Homepage
* Planetary Comic Appreciation Page
* The blog of Geoff Klock author of How to Read Superhero Comics and Why

Thanks for the links, Simon, I just bookmarked them all!


-- Posted by: tpull at August 31, 2008 5:03 PM