As we continue into the unbridled realm of Warren Ellis’ mind and the stories of Planetary I am reminded of the sheer enormity of the world that he created. It is safe to say that the series, which ran twenty-seven issues plus three one-shot specials, could have easily had a run of a hundred issues and the stories would not have been lacking for content.
In this third installment of my review of the Planetary series I will cover issues thirteen through twenty. By this point in the series the reader has discovered a great many things. Let me recap: Elijah Snow is the Fourth Man and is over a century old; Ambrose Chase is missing and, until recently, presumed dead; The Four are the arch villains of the Planetary team and have been keeping secrets and technology from the general public for the last forty years.
Additionally, this sequence of issues has the largest group of what I like to call “informational” or “back-story” issues. They are chock full of amazing bits of history about not only the DC/Wildstorm Universe, but of Planetary, it’s members and events that transpired in the past.
We start off today with an issue that fulfills the promise of a random panel in Issue Eleven and a throwaway line in Issue Twelve, “I knew Sherlock Holmes.” It follows a young Snow on an early adventure and the dialogue reads like his notes for or from a Planetary Guide. He visits a castle where “dead men walked” and finds a secret map of the world which leads him to the home of Sherlock Holmes. There he is confronted by another villain of lore, though I won’t spoil that surprise.
Issue Fourteen takes us all the way back to 1995, which is something of the real starting point for the tale that has unfolded thus far. What is experienced in this issue is the pinnacle of Planetary’s battle against The Four. Elijah and his team lure The Four to a remote Antarctic installation where they capture and detain two of the members. But the location is subsequently destroyed and the team captured. It is at the end of this issue that we see how The Four put blocks in Snow’s memory and sent him away from Planetary because they had advanced from cute sparring partner to annoying insect in need of swatting.
Planetary is not a comic lacking for action sequences but Ellis has an uncanny ability to have a war without any battles in this story. I know that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense but as Issue Fifteen plays out we see a lot of build up to a confrontation with The Four but the payoff is short-lived. This is not to say the issue is lacking; it gives wonderful insight in the Aboriginal history of the world, Axel Brass makes a reappearance, Planetary Guide 1932 is explored and another mystery of a strange world is unraveled. Plus there’s a big honkin gun! More than worth the price of admission.
As we know from the first and fourth issues of Planetary the Hark family is both rich and powerful. But what we did not truly understand was the scope of their influence and the history of their ancestry. Issue Sixteen digs deep and also involves a battle worthy of “Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon” screen time. There’s also a confrontation between Snow and Anna Hark; though not physical, there is still a clear victor in the end.
To talk about Issue Seventeen without telling you every detail would be a disservice to you as a reader. But to tell you everything about the issue would spoil the adventure of learning all its secrets for yourself. Thus I will say merely this: the history of Jakita Wagner is explained and it is an amazing story to behold. The issue also involves an incredible adventure that Snow embarks on and bridges the gap of these two characters’ histories. Plus the cover is Snow fighting a lion…it doesn’t get much cooler than that.
It’s hard to pick a favorite issue with a series like Planetary because the whole is greater than the sum of its parts…and the sum of its parts is some freaking amazingly high value. That being said, Issue Eighteen would be close to, if not in, the top five issues of this series. It’s such a simple story, too. It takes the team to the site of one of man’s greatest secret triumphs, the first manned mission to space, which happened in 1851. The site is also being investigated by The Four and it is here that the first member of that brood is captured by the Planetary team. Probably what’s most impressive about this issue, for me, is the fact that it is the writing that captures my attention. In a series so well written, that’s saying something.
Pressing on to issues nineteen and twenty, a two part story spanning both issues, we come upon some of the most inventive stories conceived by Ellis. First, there are angels (or what they at least refer to as angels), beings with the ability to fly and whose sole purpose is to capture, identify and appreciate information. Second, it has an amazing spacecraft adrift in our solar system containing billions of years of evolution within its hull. Third, Ellis presents an astounding theory about the universe, one which I think challenges logic and sanity but does wonders for the thinking man’s vision of reality. Fourth, there’s a giant monster that squishes people’s skulls. Could you really ask for anything more?
That’s all for this edition of Bin Fodder. Check back next week when I continue my review of Planetary!
This is your Bin Fodder Guru Tim Blacksmith signing off.
Playlist: I Fight Dragons – Full Album – “Cool is Just a Number”, Oasis – Full Album – “Be Here Now”, Fairwell Continental – Full Album – “Hey, Hey Pioneers”.