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: