Planetary Vol.1 includes issues 1-6 of Planetary which was published by Wildstorm (an imprint of DC Comics) from April 1999 to October 2009 with a preview issue that was released in September of 1998 for a total of 27 issues.
A friend of mine, we’ll call Tony because that’s his name, had originally turned me on to Planetary back in 2011-12 was mad about it. I had never heard of it myself, but he claimed…no insisted it was one of the best comics ever written. Multiple Eagle Award winner Warren Ellis, who is known for his sociocultural commentary and his transhumanist themes, wrote the series. He is often touted as one of the best comic writers of this generation. Ellis teamed up with multiple Eisner Award winning artist, John Cassaday. After some negotiating I agreed to buy the complete run of the series off of Tony. I read them and honestly wasn’t that impressed (don’t tell him, but I in turn sold the series to my local shop for store credit). I was actually a little curious as to why he thought it was so great. The stories were hard to follow and so out there, that I had no idea what was happening or what I was reading.
Shortly before our transaction, we had attended the Boston Comic Con where Tony sparked up a conversation with a fellow comic fan (yea actual comic book fans still went to those things back then), and naturally Tony mentioned our discussion about Planetary with this guy, and just like clockwork, he agreed pretty enthusiastically with Tony about how great Planetary was.
It’s one of those instances where a fan of science fiction should like a science fiction comic. Yea but you see…I’m not necessarily a fan of science fiction. I’m a fan of good writing. As a creative writing major, I’m always on the prowl for good writers and their work. A couple months ago I googled “best comic book writers” Guess who came up? Warren Ellis. Guess what comic they recommended? You got it…Planetary. K…fine. I’ll give it another go. Back to the comic shop I go. I buy Planetary vol.1: All Over The World And Other Stories.
My synopsis is as follows. I liked it. I didn’t love it. It’s definitely imaginative, creative, the art is fantastic. I should mention the colorist; Laura DePuy. She did an amazing job. As far as the art—it goes from having clean lines especially on the female character, Jakita Wagner (it’s almost like she’s little too perfect looking), to giving other characters a rough Man with No Name appearance. The versatility in Cassaday’s work is exceptional.
The story of Planetary surrounds a group of three super human archeologists, but this isn’t your dad’s Indiana Jones. They call themselves “Archeologists of the Impossible”. Jakita Wagner, who reminds me of The Baroness from G.I. Joe sans glasses, is Planetary’s leader and version of the Flash, which is to say she is lightning fast and virtually invulnerable. The Drummer, yes that’s his name, “First name: The. Last Name: Drummer”, has a knack for anything electronic. He has the ability to detect information streams from computers and other electronics. He comes off as the group’s goof-off—somewhat immature but comes through when necessary. Lastly, there is Elijah Snow, (appropriately dressed in all white) who can extract heat and withstand extreme cold. He appears to be as cold and calculating as his namesake
Planetary is an organization whose purpose it is to discover the world's secret history. The organization is quietly funded by a fourth member, conveniently called The Fourth Member. One of the main features of Planetary is that it incorporates well known pup culture icons like Godzilla, Doc Savage, Sherlock Holmes and Tarzan. In one particular story, the trio is sent to Island Zero, which is a contested piece of land between Japan and Russia, to investigate the monsters that live there. Once they arrive the trio run into a group of six Japanese scientists whose leader is one sick bastard (he literally eats a piece of flesh of a dead monster then kills another member of his group when they refused to do the same). The goal was to find the scientists before they discover more of the monsters, who were all presumed dead—until Elijah sees one flying overhead. For unknown reasons the monsters never leave the island. Before the lead scientists can commit any more atrocities, Jakita makes quick work of him and his group.
I appreciate the writing in as much as it takes pop culture icons and uses them as a plot device in an original perspective. Picture a trio of super-human’s meeting up with Doc Savage (who goes by the name of Axel Brass…Axel Brass…aka Doc Savage…aka Man in Bronze…get it?)) and learning that he’s been awake for the past 54 years—waiting for someone to come along to save the world. I got a huge Watchmen vibe in one issue where the character Jim Wilder looks almost identical to the character Ozymandias from The Watchmen despite the fact that his character was based on Captain Marvel.
Those who are more invested in social issues, political discourse, and are interested in where we, as humans, are heading to evolution-wise, especially intellectually will get more out of Ellis’s work. It makes you think sort of like Tool makes you question.
Will I continue reading this series? Probably, but it’s not something I’m running out to the store to find. I recommend buying the trades, which is something I started doing recently with almost all of the comics I read. Reading the stories back-to-back in trade form makes it much easier to follow and stay interested. It’s not so much that the stories are related to one another, but Ellis’ writing style and his way of crafting a story took me a few issues to really get settled in. Reading one story after another helps you to follow the writing path that Ellis paves for you. Once you get into the groove it is smooth sailing from there. All in all it’s a very intellectual thought provoking series.
Eric G. Onkenhout