Sunday, January 4, 2015

Planetary Vol. 4 Spacetime Archaeology Hardcover Review + Final Series Thoughts

Planetary Vol. 4 Spacetime Archaeology
DC Comics - Wildstorm
224 pages
$75.00 (2014) Omnibus
$75.00 (2010) Absolute Edition Vol. 2
$24.99 (2010) Hardcover
$17.99 (2010) Trade Paperback
ISBN 9781401223458

Contributors: Warren Ellis, John Cassaday, Laura Martin, and Richard Starkings

Reprints: Planetary #19-27 (of 27)

Synopsis: Elijah Snow started out as a mysterious recluse who was recruited into the Planetary organization, a semi-covert group of modern archaeologists focusing on uncovering the history of the world.  He began as the third member of Planetary's field team including Jakita Wagner, perpetually bored superwoman, and The Drummer, technology savant and grunge rock burnout.  Snow has uncanny abilities to reduce temperatures, is a rare 'century baby', born on January 1, 1900, and ages at a decreased rate.  Planetary's greatest adversaries in their mission to gather secret knowledge is the clandestine superhuman group called 'The Four' who are the unknown manipulators of the world.  They have a history with Planetary, but Elijah's memory has artificial holes and he's been struggling to find out.
Snow begins to pull long buried resources

Now that Elijah's memory blocks are loosened 'the game is afoot' as a particularly renowned Victorian detective would say (who was also Elijah's mentor in the early part of the century).  He's no longer an unwitting pawn, but starts putting the Planetary organization's surprisingly vast resources to use in devising a plan against the Four. It's time for the final reveals as we learn the secret history of William Leather, what Jacob Greene really looks like, Randall Dowling's frightening power, and what price the Four paid to get their abilities.

Even while new mysteries are uncovered, such as a derelict space vessel which apparently transported a god-like being, Snow lays his traps.  Using secret technology, like a trio of cosmic recorders called 'angels' as bait, he prepares for a final confrontation with the Four.  It includes calling in favors from past allies such as John Stone, the ultimate secret agent.  When he comes in from the cold, whose side will he really be on?

Elijah goes to a magician (or maybe a shaman) to get a reading on what the outcome will be with the Four.  He goes on an impossible journey through the inner workings of the universe and comes out the other side with a new perspective.  We finally learn the origin of the Drummer and how he ended up with Planetary.  Just as Snow gets serious, the Four respond in kind.  They're not above using an orbital death ray to vaporize Planetary's field team and they don't care who gets caught in the crossfire.  Prepare for the ultimate showdown with the planet's fate hanging in the balance!

Pros: Cassaday's art at its peak - highly detailed yet very stylized, Ellis writes some complex and intriguing plots with heavy science fiction concepts, the series wraps up and answers all the questions, issues #19-20 were nominated for Eisner award in 2005 for best story, Cassaday won Eisner awards in 2004 through 2006 for best penciller/inker, awesome covers as always, we finally get a Drummer origin and he doesn't seem like such a one-dimensional character anymore
Jakita Wagner takes on John Stone

Cons: Long delay between third volume and this last collection loses some impact to the story (like get it over with already), final confrontation with the Four was somewhat disappointing, science fiction elements are just thrown at the reader and it gets confusing at times

Mike Tells It Straight: It took a long time for this final volume of Warren Ellis and John Cassaday's Planetary to get published (issue 27 came out 3 years after issue 26).  See reviews of the first 3 volumes + crossovers here - Vol. 1, Vol. 2, Vol. 3, and Crossing Worlds.  It's a larger collection than previous volumes (9 issues vs. 6 in each of the first 3 volumes) and I'm really glad DC didn't try to publish this in two volumes (especially considering how long between publication of later issues).  Cassaday's art is at its peak in these issues and he was recognized as best penciller/inker for three years in a row (he worked on other series during this time as well including Astonishing X-Men with Joss Whedon).  Ellis writes some great plot points, fun mysteries, and exciting science concepts.  He wraps up the series nicely with a few big reveals and origins along the way.

First off, we get a two-part space mission which is utterly fantastic.  Ellis writes an amazing science fiction tale which ends up just being a coincidence of Snow's revenge mission against the Four.  It's beautifully illustrated by Cassaday and colored by Laura Martin.  Just amazing stuff and nominated for an Eisner as best serialized story.  Then things get weird as Snow visits a mystic who sets him on a bad acid trip.  He seems to learn some unknown truth of the universe (a common side effect of psychotropic drugs) and continues his mission with greater resolve.  We learn the secret origin of William Leather and the line Snow is willing to cross in order to accomplish his task of ridding the planet of the Four.  Meanwhile Jakita and Drums are getting worried Snow is changing for the worse.  Who wouldn't worry if your associate is doing drugs and torturing people?
A fallen god drifting in space for eternity?
Ellis finally gives us the origin of The Drummer and it's a fun tale.  He's not just a one-dimensional sod who Snow often kicks in the ass.  Things get serious in this final volume as Snow reveals all of his secrets to his team and the Four perpetrate a heinous act of terrorism which the global governments/media completely ignore.  Seems John Stone knows a lot of vital information and doesn't want to share it.  How do you take down Nick Fury/James Bond?  Not easily.  We also learn the secret origin of the Four and it's appropriately evil.  Snow is armed with enough knowledge to confront the Four and it's an intense showdown.  One ingredient is missing and his name is Ambrose Chase.  Wait, Ambrose is dead, killed years ago by one of Dowling's henchmen.  How can he possibly be involved in the final tale of Planetary?
Cassaday's art is extremely detailed!
This final volume is a must-read for anyone who has been following the series.  I really liked that Ellis gave answers to all of the secrets and subplots he presented in previous issues.  Everything wrapped up nice and tidy at the end.  Cassaday's art keeps getting better (possibly owing to the length of time between issues).  Ellis writes some awesome science fiction and references different theories which sets him apart from other writers.  He typically throws a lot of jargon at the reader without much explanation, but we're talking comics here and your standard superhero story doesn't get half that much.
Alternate universe Planetary!?
My biggest complaint with this ending is the showdown with the Four and their final reveals.  William Leather gets the most 'screen-time' during the series and seems like a perfectly wicked version of Johnny Storm, the Human Torch. He's super-resilient and very powerful.  We see Jacob Greene for the first time and he's a wonderfully twisted version of Ben Grimm, the Thing.  Kim Suskind was shown in the last volume as having invisibility and force field powers just like Susan Storm, the Invisible Woman.  Although Kim can't see while invisible and has to wear specially designed goggles (nice touch).  Randall Dowling himself we expect to mimic Reed Richards as Mr. Fantastic with stretching powers, but Ellis gives us something similar yet very different.  It's an interesting twist, but the final confrontation seemed too quick and highly improbable.  Too much buildup for what eventually happens.
Final issue wraparound cover
The series is still one of my all-time favorites and gets a very high recommendation.  It's one of those series which crosses outside of the typical superhero genre.  It started out as a Wildstorm book, but never really got involved with any of the lame crossover stories and kept to itself.  At first I thought it was just a pop-culture rip off, but it evolved into something more after gaining its own voice (at the end of the second volume).  No one draws ominous face-shadowing like John Cassaday and nobody can throw more confusing pseudo-science at a reader than Ellis.  Elijah Snow reminds me of a grown-up Little Nemo as drawn by Cassaday (must be the baggy suit).  I suggest picking up the recently published Omnibus edition which offers the perfect format to enjoy Planetary - binge reading it without any pause to reflect on the actual science behind it.

It's a strange world.  Let's keep it that way.

TO BUY and Recommendations: