Sunday, December 28, 2014

Planetary: Crossing Worlds Trade Paperback Review

Planetary: Crossing Worlds
DC Comics - Wildstorm
192 pages
$75.00 (2014) Omnibus
$14.95 (2004) Trade Paperback
ISBN 9781401202798

Contributors: Warren Ellis, John Cassaday, Phil Jimenez, Andy Lanning, Laura DePuy, Ryan Cline, David Baron, Jerry Ordway, Wes Abbott, and Michael Heisler

Reprints: Planetary/The Authority: Ruling the World; Planetary/JLA: Terra Occulta; Planetary/Batman: Night on Earth

Synopsis: The Planetary organization is a mildly covert group of mystery archaeologists focused on uncovering the secret history of the world.  Their field team consists of Jakita Wagner, indestructible and perpetually bored, the Drummer, techno-shaman and grunge rock burnout, and Elijah Snow, reclusive adventurer with holes in his memory.  These three pursue an altruistic mission to wrestle secrets from the covert organizations, both private and public, in order to place them in the hands of humankind for a better tomorrow.  Let's just say they're not very popular around town.
The Authority show up to deal with a massive monster terrorizing
a small American coastal town.  Guess who's already on the scene?
While they seek to uncover the truth about our world and the universe in general, sometimes they cross paths with other clandestine groups with similar yet vastly different purposes.  Three of these tales are presented here:
  • Ruling the World - The Planetary field team investigates a strange object in a small town and accidentally unleashes a monster.  It draws the attention of The Authority who are a group of superhumans who have proclaimed themselves stewards of humanity and act above the law to punish those perpetrating evil upon their fellow being.  They are incredibly dangerous and not the sort of people you want to mess with.  Perfect targets, according to Jakita, to have their secrets stolen by Planetary.  The Authority are led by Jenny Sparks who has something in common with Elijah Snow - they are both Century Babies.  Born on January 1, 1900 they age slowly and have incredible powers - Sparks electricity and Snow temperature control.  The field team attempts the impossible and assails The Authority's massive craft which traverses extra-dimensional space.  Seems like a really bad idea!
  • Terra Occulta - The Planetary organization rules the world from the shadows.  They have provided amazing technology to advance humankind including Bleed teleportation for public transit and anti-grav cars.  Despite these advances, Planetary holds the best technology for themselves and crushes anyone who opposes them.  Their base is a citadel built on the surface of the Moon.  Three individuals have comes together in secret to oppose them, but will this coup be any different.  They are Bruce Wayne, playboy heir to a billion-dollar fortune in Gotham City, Diana Prince, beautiful scientist who is secretly from a technologically advanced island of women, and Clark Kent, Kansas-born big-city reporter who possesses incredible superpowers.  Can these three take down Elijah Snow and his crew of super-powered henchmen?
  • Night on Earth - The field team arrives in Gotham City to investigate a series of grisly murders perpetrated by someone with trans-dimensional capabilities.  When they finally encounter their suspect they are taken on a journey through dimensions with one unsettling constant - a strangely dressed vigilante who is vehemently determined to bring this murderer to justice.  Our unwitting group may have met their match!
Batman takes on Jakita Wagner, get ready for a serious battle!
Pros: Some great artists - Jimenez is highly detailed, Ordway is a great storyteller, Cassaday is an impresario, Ellis writes some interesting stories with a few good plot twists and quirky dialogue, I liked seeing the Big Three (Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman) as the underdogs with Planetary as Earth's overlords, Cassaday's portrayals of Batman were great, funny past meeting of Elijah Snow and Jenny Sparks
Three clandestine heroes meet to defy the
oppression of the Planetary organization

Cons: Planetary never actually meets The Authority in their crossover, ending to JLA crossover is a little too neat (plus what happens to Superman), plot for Batman crossover is really simple (could be a good thing), 'villain' in Batman crossover has a slightly goofy character design

Mike Tells It Straight: I've reviewed the first three volumes of Planetary here (Vol. 1, Vol. 2, Vol. 3) and decided to take a break before tackling the final volume.  I read this collection of crossovers which were all written by Ellis, but had a pair of different artists (Jimenez and Ordway) along with co-creator Cassaday.  The three stories were vastly different and of varying quality.  The first story is a crossover between two of Ellis' most successful creations which I expected to be a grand slam.  Oddly enough it was a flop with too much going on in the plot and the two teams never actually meeting.  Planetary started out as a typical in-universe Wildstorm title and it was important they operated completely under the radar from the line-leading The Authority.  While the art by Jimenez was detailed, it just didn't stand up to Cassaday's groundbreaking work and the book was mediocre.  Some good dialogue, but too much crap thrown in to be taken seriously (like what happens to the extra-dimensional Jenny Sparks).
Elijah Snow comes face-to-face with an alternate dimension Batman
(looks pretty similar and just as deadly as a certain Returned Dark Knight)
The next story was an unofficial crossover with the biggest DC title at the time - JLA (Justice League of America).  It was branded an Elseworlds tale (outside of continuity) and gave Ellis a huge sandbox to play in.  He reimagined the Big Three (Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman) as underdogs with Planetary taking the place of The Four, lording it over humanity.  I loved the character redesign of Elijah Snow to look more like Lex Luthor.  It was an engaging story because the reader doesn't know what will happen next and Ellis makes a few bold moves.  I didn't like the neatly wrapped up ending, but Ordway did a great job visually telling the story.

Ellis writes some funny dialogue
Our final tale is considered a classic as it's just received a deluxe hardcover reprint (similar to Batman: The Killing Joke a few years ago).  This story is drawn by Cassaday and excels because it's such a simple, straightforward tale.  Cassaday's art is amazing and he's really at the top of his game here.  The different renditions of Batman are great.  Ellis tells a simple story which works really well with all of the characters.  I don't think it's a true classic because nothing really changes for any of the characters, but it's a good read.  This collection is decent, but you won't lose anything by not reading it with the main Planetary series.  The stories are included in the omnibus and I suggest buying that book if you like the series.

TO BUY and Recommendations:

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Merry Christmas 2014!

Wishing everyone a great holiday with family and friends!  Hope you got lots of trade paperbacks, hardcovers, and omnibuses under the tree this year!

Mike & TPB Reviews

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Planetary Vol. 3 Leaving the 20th Century Hardcover Review

Planetary Vol. 3 Leaving the 20th Century
DC Comics - Wildstorm
144 pages
$75.00 (2014) Omnibus
$75.00 (2010) Absolute Edition Vol. 2
$24.95 (2004) Hardcover
$14.95 (2004) Trade Paperback
ISBN 9781840239768

Contributors: Warren Ellis, John Cassaday, Laura Depuy (later Laura Martin), Richard Starkings, and Bill O'Neill

Reprints: Planetary #13-18
Elijah Snow assails the summit of a creepy castle

Synopsis: Elijah Snow was a mysterious recluse until he was recruited into the Planetary organization as the third man on their field team.  Snow has uncanny abilities and is a rare 'century baby' born on January 1, 1900.  That makes him...really old, but surprisingly spry.  He was an adventurer in his younger days and has significant, unknown memory gaps.  Jakita Wagner, perpetually bored superwoman, personally recruited Snow and the other member of the field team is The Drummer, technology savant and grunge rock burnout.  Planetary is a semi-covert group of modern archaeologists focusing on uncovering the secret history of the world.  They seek to wrest knowledge from clandestine organizations coveting alien technologies, extra-dimensional objects, ancient supercomputers, and more.  The organization is funded by the anonymous Fourth Man.

Snow visits a certain address on Baker Street in London
Planetary has run afoul of the Four, the most powerful superhumans on the planet and the secret manipulators of the world.  They enjoyed toying with Snow before his memories returned, but now he knows who the Fourth Man is and nothing will ever be the same.  We learn of Planetary's history with the Four and what really happened to Snow's memory.  The Four are brutal adversaries and willing to commit genocide to further their goals (or store their weapons), but not above playing with their food.

Snow's memories have started surfacing and we learn of his first encounter with Sherlock Holmes.  The famous detective was embroiled with a group calling itself the Conspiracy.  They ran the 18th century as the Four run the 19th century.  In a modern adventure the Planetary field team interferes with an experiment to access the Dreamtime by the Four causing some spectacular results.  Later Snow meets with the head of the Hark Corporation and wants to parlay a truce.  We learn the secret history of the Harks.

In a secret jungle there exists somewhere the lost city of Opak-Re.  Elijah Snow traveled there and became familiar with its citizens.  A self-sufficient and ancient society, the natives were super-intelligent and highly protective of their ethnic purity.  What happens when a young adventurer falls in love with a beautiful princess?
The Harks are a long family of martial arts masters

An object falls to Earth after 150 years in space.  How did it achieve this incredible orbit 100 years before the invention of rocket propulsion?  More importantly, what are the secrets of 'The Gun Club'?  We see the past and present of the Planetary organization.  They are running headlong into a monstrous confrontation with the Four, but the last scuffle ended in disaster years ago.  Snow's memories are still jumbled and will this time be any different?

Pros: Cassaday's art continues to be wholly incredible, Ellis writes intriguing history and adventure pieces, more secrets are revealed (including Jakita's origin), we get some actual character development, Victorian group the Conspiracy were interesting, lots of cool homages to various pop culture icons/genres (each issue's cover theme and log change to match the different genres)

Cons: Resolution to the Dreamtime episode seemed unrealistic (I don't think the Four would actually tolerate Planetary's direct interference while they were present), final issue to this volume was bland ('The Gun Club')

Mike Tells It Straight: This third volume of Warren Ellis and John Cassaday's Planetary (here are reviews of the first and second volumes) is quite possibly the best yet for the series.  It's difficult to top the second volume's reveal in the final issue, but the reader is treated in this third volume to quite a few important pieces of Planetary history.  Art by Cassaday is top notch and Ellis puts in great writing as the main story progresses amid various flashbacks.
Elijah Snow cock blocks super-spy John Stone

One of the main themes of the series has been paying homage to various fictional pop culture genres (previous volumes covered Golden Age comic book heroes, Godzilla movies, and John Woo action films) and we're treated to a few in this volume.  The Conspiracy are an homage to Alan Moore's The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and Victorian age fictional heroes (Sherlock Holmes actually says the world 'extraordinary' when talking to Elijah Snow).  Additionally we have a pulp adventure story (Lost City of Opak-Re) with the character of Lord Blackstock (a Tarzan ripoff) and medieval Chinese Kung-Fu movies (Hark).

I liked the balance of prior history mixed with current events in this volume.  The reader gets to know Elijah Snow the adventurer and the events leading up to his memory loss.  The Four play a pretty big role in these stories, but they're not the main focus.  We finally get a little character development for Jakita Wagner and Drums.  I'm not sure this trade collection fits the typical six-issue story arc from previous volumes since the final issue ('The Gun Club') was a filler issue.  This series continues to be a great adventure and each issue is a new revelation.  The art and writing are a perfect complement (although the characterization is pretty bland).  Definitely looking forward to the next, final volume.

TO BUY and Recommendations:

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Promethea Book Four Hardcover Review

Promethea Vol. 4
DC Comics - America's Best Comics
183 pages
$24.95 (2003)
$14.99 (2003)
$99.99 (2010) Absolute Edition Vol. 2
$99.99 (2011) Absolute Edition Vol. 3
ISBN 9781401200329

Contributors: Alan Moore, J.H. Williams III, Mick Gray, Jeremy Cox, and Todd Klein

Reprints: Promethea #19-25

Synopsis: Sophie Bangs was a regular college student in a future New York City where technology has advanced at a faster rate due to the influence of science-heroes.  Modern society prizes its sophistication, but Sophie learns of a deeper philosophy which has existed since the beginning of time - magic.  She seeks information on a forgotten heroine and falls headfirst into the underlying tapestry of the universe by becoming that heroine!  Now Sophie shares an existence with Promethea, a demi-goddess of imagination who lives in the Immateria.  Many incarnations of Promethea have existed throughout history and their spirits educate Sophie in her newfound abilities.
Sophie and Barbara continue on to another plane of existence
Sophie left the earthly plane to pursue the spirit of her direct predecessor, Barbara Shelley, after she died.  She drifted off into the afterlife instead of joining the other former mortal hosts of Promethea in the Immateria.  Sophie finds Barbara in the lower planes of reality and the two go on a quest to find Barbara's long lost love who they suspect is on a higher plane.  Meanwhile back on Earth, Sophie's best friend, Stacia, has been bonded with a former Promethea at Sophie's request to make sure New York is safe while she's gone.  The problem is the former Promethea likes being back in a physical body too much.
The two come to a vast precipice and must choose to continue
Sophie and Barbara are near the top of the spiritual structure of reality, but dangers still lurk within its complexities.  The pair must make a profound leap of faith in order to continue and their ordeals will be great.  Will they ever finish their quest and what awaits Barbara at the top of the universal structure?
Meanwhile back on Earth the two FBI investigators interrogate
the Smee from the first issue
Sophie's Mom is worried sick about her and Stacia is running amok as Promethea. Can Sophie regain control of Promethea or will Stacia fight to keep it?  What amount of collateral damage could two Promethea's battling with all their mystical might create?  Get ready for a nasty fight and the aftermath!    
Yet another beautiful and entrancing plane of existence
Pros: Great art by Williams, every issue has a cool new cover design, Moore packs every issue with high concept and metaphysical writing, Stacia's relationship to Promethea is pretty interesting, some great moments for both Sophie and Barbara
Things get really abstract the higher you go
Cons: A lot of spiritual/metaphysical themes from Moore, high concept and a lot of issues covering this story arc (continuing from the last volume), art by Williams is highly creative although sometimes harder to visually read
Two Prometheas spell trouble!
Mike Tells It Straight: Okay, we've got the fourth installment of Promethea by Moore and Williams.  The pair continue their epic metaphysical tale through the myriad levels of existence.  It's a lot of high concept stuff as Sophie and Barbara keep going up and up with each issue dedicated to one plane.  I have to say the ideas are pretty interesting, but it's a lot of issues and a long journey.  Impressive stuff and my hat's off to Moore/Williams for telling such a complex story, but I've got to say it can get a little tedious and I was happy to see the finale.

Trade paperback cover
Getting back to Earth was a nice treat and the reader knows the reunion between Sophie and Stacia was going to be explosive.  The last two issues dealt with the resolution of having two Prometheas running around.  It was a welcome change from the incredibly dense explanations of various aspects of spiritualism.  Promethea is a unique book and transcends the comic book genre.  It's not just about superheroes and exposes the reader to a whole new (for most) set of possibilities for how life works.  It feels like a true labor of love for Moore and Williams is pushing himself to the absolute limit.  No wonder this book got the Absolute treatment.  If you've made it this far then only one volume remains and if you're reading this review before starting the series then go back to the beginning with Vol. 1 Vol. 2 Vol. 3. I'm looking forward to the final volume.

TO BUY and Recommendations:

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Planetary Vol. 2 The Fourth Man Hardcover Review

Planetary Vol. 2 The Fourth Man
DC Comics - Wildstorm
144 pages
$75.00 (2014) Omnibus
$49.95 (2004) Absolute Edition Vol. 1
$24.95 (2001) Hardcover
$14.95 (2001) Trade Paperback

Contributors: Warren Ellis, John Cassaday, Laura Depuy, David Baron, Michael Heisler, Bill O'Neill, and Ryan Cline

Reprints: Planetary #7-12

Synopsis: Elijah Snow was a mysterious recluse until being recruited into the Planetary organization to be the 3rd man on their field team.  The other two members are Jakita Wagner, perpetually bored superwoman, and The Drummer, grunge rock burnout who talks to machines.  Planetary is a semi-covert group of modern archaeologists focusing on the secret history of the world.  They uncover the things governments and other clandestine organizations seek to suppress - alien technologies, extra-dimensional objects, and proof that magic exists.  The organization is funded by the anonymous 4th man.
Who is Ambrose Chase, the Third Man before Elijah Snow?
Snow and crew have just gone up against a member of the Four - the most powerful superhuman group on the planet and the secret manipulators of the world.  The group barely survives and the Four are apparently toying with Snow due to his lack of a complete memory.  He's lived for almost a century, but only remembers patches of it.  Who benefits from his loss of memory and what are his teammates not telling him?
Elijah Snow wants his memory back!
The field team attends the funeral of an occult detective named Jack Carter in London.  They get a look at the dark superheroes of the 1980s who were friends with Jack.  His death is not what it appears and Jakita is determined to find out the truth.  Next they visit the abandoned Science City Zero and learn its secrets from a former citizen.  The site was the dumping ground of malcontents in the US during the Red Scare of the 1950s.  They were regularly experimented on and all of the horrors were under the guidance of Randall Dowling, a member of the Four.

The attendees of John Carter's funeral - anyone look familiar?
 Flash back a few years as the Planetary field team interrupts an experiment by some of Dowling's team.  They created an fictional world and sent in a manned probe to bring something back.  What they bring back is more powerful and scary than they could ever imagine.  The 3rd man at the time was Ambrose Chase, able to distort reality in subtle ways.  He is no longer the 3rd man when Elijah Snow is recruited into Planetary nor does Snow remember ever meeting him.
John Stone, super spy!
We get a glimpse into the terrible acts the Four have perpetrated during their covert reign of terror.  Killing an intergalactic policeman, murdering the last survivor of a doomed alien race, and assassinating the emissary of a secret society of women.  Elijah has been trying desperately to remember something of his past and finally recalls a name - John Stone.  The preeminent secret agent for the last 50 years, former agent of S.T.O.R.M., and unknown to the world at large.  Snow pays him a visit and gets his memory violently jogged.  It's a new day for Planetary, but can they survive the secrets bursting from the darkest corners of Snow's mind?  Will the Four let them live long enough to find out?
It's about to get real!

Pros: Cassaday's art continues to be amazing in this series, Ellis writes a compelling conspiracy tale, more mysteries and adventures, homages to various pop culture icons/genres (each issue's cover theme and logo change to match the different genres), Snow gets even cooler (pun) as his past is revealed, best stories are the ones which advance the main plot (vs. the genre bits), great ending issue

Cons: Story still jumps around a lot, Ellis throws concepts out there without really fleshing them out, genre bits (particularly the 1980s) get a bit stale (too meta-fiction-y), while Snow's character develops a little we get almost zero development for Jakita and Drums

Mike Tells It Straight: This second volume continues Warren Ellis and John Cassaday's meta-fiction opus to comics and pop culture in general.  The first volume (reviewed here) set the story with Elijah Snow coming aboard with Planetary and the greater mystery of his fragmented memory.  Along the way we got treated to a homage of various genres - Golden Age superheroes, Godzilla/daikaiju films, Hong Kong action films, and a dark twist on the Fantastic Four (the big bad of the series thus far).  We get more homages in this next volume and a big reveal to Snow's past.

The issue with John Carter (John Constantine) is a homage to Vertigo style comics and riffs on the 1980s.  Superhero comics are the villain and Ellis portrays both Alan Moore and then Grant Morrison (Moore being supplanted by Morrison in mainstream US comics).  The next issue is based on 1950s science-fiction films with giant ants, a 50-foot woman, and more.  While both were clever I found these types of issues were less enjoyable than the ones which dealt with the real story.
Trade paperback cover

Snow trying to get his memory back was the main event.  Ambrose Chase was a cool addition to the storyline and the issue where he's introduced was intriguing.  John Stone was a riff on Nick Fury crossed with James Bond and also enjoyable to see.  The issue where we get alternate versions of Superman, Green Lantern, and Wonder Woman all squashed by the Four was ironic.  Overall I really liked this second volume and the series has been memorable thus far.  I'm seeing Ellis' formula - genre issues as filler and then a strong finish with a big reveal.  He definitely writes to fill a trade paperback (about 6 issues).  Cassaday's art continues to be spectacular and the covers are great.  Regardless, I give this series a 'must read' recommendation!

TO BUY and Recommendations: