Sunday, November 30, 2014

Planetary Vol. 1 All Over the World and Other Stories Hardcover Review

Planetary Vol. 1 All Over the World and Other Stories
DC Comics - Wildstorm
160 pages
$75.00 (2014) Omnibus
$49.95 (2004) Absolute Edition Vol. 1
$24.95 (2000) Hardcover
$14.95 (2000) Trade Paperback
ISBN 9781563896484

Contributors: Warren Ellis, John Cassaday, Laura Depuy, Bill O'Neill, Ali Fuchs, David Baron, and Wildstorm FX

Reprints: Planetary #1-6; Preview

Synopsis: Elijah Snow has been living in the desert for a decade and avoiding society.  He gets recruited to join the Planetary organization by the beautiful and powerful Jakita Wagner.  Planetary is a largely unknown and mildly covert group which function as 'mystery archaeologists'.  They uncover the secrets of the world hidden beneath the surface of society.  The ground team is always a three-person group which currently consists of:
  • Jakita Wagner - superstrong, superfast, and incredibly bored with regular society.  She is the powerhouse of the team and can handle any situation with a cool head.  Lives for a thrilling adventure or discovering an amazing secret.
  • The Drummer - fan of grunge rock, can talk to machines, and kind of a hipster weirdo.  
  • Elijah Snow - newest member of the group, nearly one hundred years old (a century baby like Jenny Sparks born in 1900), can control temperature absolutely, and an utter grumpy bastard.
Elijah Snow is a cranky old bastard
Snow's first mission with Planetary takes the team to a secret base in the Appalachian Mountains which was home to a group of superhumans from the 1940s.  The group included mystery men from around the world and remained completely undercover.  The secrets uncovered in this long-forgotten base are startling and far-reaching.  What tragic event happened to the members of this secret society to keep them forgotten?

The next mission takes the group to a remote Pacific island where a group of Japanese extremists are about to discover the astounding secret of Island Zero!  We get a glimpse at the Tokyo branch of Planetary.  Then they head to Hong Kong to investigate rumors of the ghost of a murdered cop.  We see Planetary's Hong Kong office and the hidden secrets of the afterlife.  Afterwards the team is investigating a strange object which was unearthed in an explosion beneath an office building of the Hark Corporation.  What happens next is a tragic miracle linked to the Bleed (the space between dimensions of reality).

The final, secret fight of a group of mystery men from the 1940s
Between missions Elijah Snow talks with Axel Brass, the mystery man they found beneath the Appalachians.  Both were born around the turn of the century and Snow finds a kinship with this displaced hero.  They discuss the world and its secrets.  One is cynical and one is a dreamer.  We get to learn the secret origin of Brass, but also see glimpses of other enduring heroes like Jenny Sparks and The High.

The true enemy is revealed at last to Elijah Snow.  A secret division of the United States government has been operating in the deepest shadows since the end of the second World War.  Four individuals became the product of this covert exploration and usurped its power.  These four are now puppet masters within modern society - suppressing knowledge, silencing dissension.  The team storms one of their locations, but are they ready for what they find?  
The true enemy - a group of superhuman adventurers manipulating
the world from behind the curtain.  Look familiar?
Pros: Amazing art by John Cassaday, clever writing by Warren Ellis, big mysteries and exciting adventures, keen homages to many pop culture icons/genres (they change each issue's cover logo and theme to match the different genres), intriguing concept, Elijah Snow is a cool protagonist, despite biting off of many genres it feels original, final villain is really cool, introduction by Alan Moore, nominated in 2000 for Eisner Award as "Best New Series" and "Best Continuing Series", Laura Depuy won the 2000 Eisner for Best Colorist

Cons: Story jumps around a lot, nothing is explained and concepts are just thrown at the reader, practically zero character development, bites off of one pop culture genre to another

Mike Tells It Straight: I found this book to be intriguing and an interesting departure from the typical superhero genre.  Both Warren Ellis and John Cassaday put in some of the best work in their careers in this series and it hooked me from the beginning.  Overall it's a meta-fiction exploration of pop culture genres in both comics and movies.  The biggest draw for me was Cassaday's art which put him on the map as a premier comic book artist.  Ellis had been around for years and transformed Stormwatch (a soon-to-be-cancelled superhero book from Image which was known for flashy art and terrible writing) into The Authority, a genre redefining superhero book which brought widescreen cinematic sensibilities to a stale medium.

Trade Paperback cover
My main gripe about this first volume is the lack of characterization.  We get a small glimpse into Elijah Snow's personality, but Jakita Wagner and the Drummer are both blanks.  They feel like one-dimensional stick figures.  Ellis jumps around with his plot and too many questions are left unanswered.  That's a small list of complaints.  Ellis focuses on several genres in this first volume starting with Axel Brass and his secret society of mystery men  represent the Golden Age superheroes/literary figures (Tarzan, The Shadow, Doc Savage, Fu Manchu), then Island Zero gives us the giant monster/daikaiju genre (Godzilla and it's many sequels), the ghost cop of Hong Kong is hardboiled action films (most notably by John Woo), and four from the black government agency (are a twist on the Fantastic Four).

Despite its flaws I found this book to be a captivating read.  It may be a bit stiff, but Ellis presents a neat concept and Cassaday's art is groundbreaking.  The last issue when the team takes on a superhuman that can actually withstand them was epic.  This collection sets up the rest of the series as Elijah Snow and crew work to find out the secret history of the world.  Includes the preview story which mirrors the origin of the Hulk.  Highly recommended!

TO BUY and Recommendations: