Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Episode #30: Imaginative Stories: "Planetary" #10 & "Planetary/JLA: Terra Occulta"

I have always enjoyed reading DC's "imaginary stories". While reading again one of my favorite comic book series Planetary, I came across two stories I thought would be worth exploring on this episode. Planetary issue #10, titled Magic & Loss, is a story about analogs of the infant Kal-El, Wonder Woman and Green Lantern. It can be found in the trade paperback Planetary: The Fourth Man. Planetary/JLA: Terra Occulta explores Clark Kent joining Diana Prince and Bruce Wayne as an underground resistance against a villanous Planetary organization. It can be found in the trade paperback Planetary: Crossing Worlds.

Planetary was created by writer Warren Ellis and artist John Cassaday. Luara DePuy was the colorist for most of the issues. It was first published as a backup story in the titles Gen 13 issue #33 and C-23 issue #6, both cover dated September 1998. Both were published near the end of Wildstorm's time as an Image Comics imprint and before Jim Lee sold Wildstorm to DC. This story involved the Planetary field team exploring the story of David Paine, a brilliant physicist who became an analogue of the Incredible Hulk.

Planetary #1, cover dated April 1999, was first on sale February 3, 1999. The series ended with issue #26, cover dated December 2006, published on October 25, 2006. Warren Ellis has written an epilogue issue #27, and posted the first page of his script on his web site, John Cassaday is drawing the pages to this issue, but there is no information yet on when issue #27 will be published. I will definitely be buying the issue when it comes out. The reasons that there was such a large gap of time between the publication of the first and last issues were health issues with writer Warren Ellis and other professional obligations for artist John Cassaday.
Planetary is the story about an organization by the same name that investigates the secret history of the world. The field team calls themselves "mystery archaeologists". What they investigate involves archetypes of popular culture, from super heroes to pulp characters and classic adventure novels, like the various Edgar Rice Burroughs characters (i.e. Tarzan and John Carter of Mars). Their purpose is to use any advance technology to advance civilization.
The main nemesis of Planetary are The Four. They are analogous to Marvel's Fantastic Four. Instead of being heroes, The Four are villains. They are similar to Planetary, in that they investigate the secret history of the world. However, they horde any technology they find and murder anyone they find who would threaten their place as Earth's ultimate humans. There is no telling how many atrocities they have committed over the decades. Some of them are detailed in various issues of Planetary.
The Planetary organization's field team is led by Elijah Snow, who happens to have an ability that matches his name, heat extraction. He was born in the first seconds of January 1, 1900, and is over 100 years old. He doesn't act like it, and is basically immortal. He shares the same birthday with a number of other people, all of whom have various extra-human abilities. To anyone familiar with the history of popular culture these characters are different versions of familiar icons.
Elijah Snow is joined on the field team by Jakita Wagner, who possesses incredible strength and spped, and a measure of invulnerability, but she can be injured, possibly killed. She also has a pathological fear of boredom, and lives for the moments of excitement that working for Planetary can provide. We learn of her parentage in the series.
The third member of the field team is The Drummer. That is not his code name, that is his name. He has the ability to read any information, electronic as well as genetic. He can also get electronic equipment to do what he wants by using only his mind. We also learn his origins in the series.
There are also some alternate stories that were published together in the trade paperback Planetary: Crossing Worlds. It contains three comics. The first, Planetary/The Authority, involves Planetary involved in a case surreptiously with the Authority. The Authority was also created by Warren Ellis using characters most of whom he created while members of Stormwatch, a title originally created by Jim Lee. Other creative teams have since worked on The Authority in various mini-series.
The second was featured on this episode of Superman Fan Podcast, Planetary/JLA: Terra Occulta, which features Clark Kent, Diana Prince and Bruce Wayne joining forces as an underground resistance to a villainous Planetary organization. In this story, Planetary is analogous to The Four than the Planetary we know from the regular title. Jakita, Drummer and Ambrose are identical to their versions in Planetary, but Elijah Snow is identical to a villain from the regular DC universe.
The third story is Planetary/Batman: Night on Earth, where the Planetary field team travels to Gotham City to find and treat someone who has the ability to "jump" to alternate Gothams in different dimensions. Thus, we are introduced to all of the permutations of Batman thoroughout his history.
What makes Planetary so much fun to read is seeing Warren Ellis's and John Cassaday's versions of characters from the various media of popular culture, and how they weave them into a complex universe, or multiverse. And how they fight against The Four to make the world a better, stranger place creates a great story. If you are looking for a comic book title that is something more than fistfights between superhero tights, something that expands the horizons of the comic book form, Planetary is the perfect title to explore. It's a strange comic book world. Let's keep it that way.

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