Published by DC/Wildstorm
Nowadays Warren Ellis is New York Times best selling crime novelist who is far too busy to write comics. This is to comics great detriment. For a period at the turn of the millennium I would argue that he was the best mainstream comic writer in the world. This comic and its semi companion piece The Authority* are my evidence.
The book opens in the late 90’s with a grizzled old man, dressed in white from head-to-toe, complaining about the coffee in a run-down diner. He’s getting recruited by a tall, dark-haired woman in a leather coat. His name is Elijah Snow and he is as old as the century. Jakita Wagner wants him to join her three-man team of Mystery Archaeologists and aid the Planetary Organization in uncovering the secrets hidden beneath the surface of the world.
“Dawgs gotta go someplace.” Ellis is at his usual snarky best with the dialogue and the hard-bitten characters he creates. I think he is the best around at naming his characters too-Elijah Snow, Jenny Sparks, Paul Moses, Miranda Zero-many have traditional first names tied to a noun as a surname. It works at creating strong characters.
Ellis creates an amazing world filled with apocryphal secrets and hidden wars. Each of the issues here takes a familiar trope from popular Pulp/Sci-Fi culture and weaves it into the tapestry of this story. The world seems so rich and deep, for everything we learn there is obviously much that we will never know. But it’s not just the World that has secrets. Who is the Fourth Man in Planetary? Why does no-one seem to have been there longer than four years?
The art in this book demonstrates why John Cassaday is one of the biggest artists in Comics. He has a thick strong line to his art yet can also manage a wispy etherealness. And his panel selection is great. I love the change of camera angles and shots in the page above. Plus his action scenes kick arse.
Re-reading for this review I came to a great appreciation for the craft of both creators, the pure technical skill. Because I only read trades (collected editions) I don’t often get a sense of individual issues, more the story as a whole. Here each issue is a separate case while still moving the over arching story along, the team are all subtlety introduced each issue, everyone is drawn distinctly there is room in each panel to discern the action. This all adds up to great story telling.
*I found it interesting to read, while the team are unearthing a mysterious tower of information under the streets of Hong Kong, the ghost cop refers to it as God. At the same time in the pages of the Authority, Ellis was writing God as an enormous entity, larger than the moon, returning to cleanse Earth of its infestation by humanity.
Should I buy it? If you would like to get a taste for some excellent pulp/action stories or you just like rad comics, Planetary is highly recommended.