Sunday, December 11, 2011

Graphic Novel Review: Planetary vols. 1-4

Vol. 1: All Over the World
 and Other Stories
On the day that I became an adult reader of comics, I biked to a local comic shop, browsed around for awhile, asked for advice from the guy who worked in the shop, and came away with the first volume of Planetary: All Over the World and Other Stories.  I immediately dove in, and loved what I was reading.  Soon after, I picked up the second volume, The Fourth Man and devoured that one as well.  However, upon reading that second volume, I began to notice some cracks in my memory and decided that myself, and the series would be better off if the whole thing were ingested in one large serving of Planetary awesomeness.

The kicker was that the fourth and final volume wasn't out yet, so I waited.  And when it came out in hardcover, I waited for the softcover edition.  And when that was sold out, waited for it to come back in stock.  Finally, I got my paws on it, and then waited again for the right time to read the whole shebang-a-bang in one mighty chunk.  That time came when I needed something completely different from the epic intensity of Replay.

Vol. 2 The Fourth Man
So what is Planetary all about? Well, that isn't exactly clear after reading the first volume.  The whole thing begins at a roadside diner in the middle of nowhere, where a white suited, white haired man named Elijah Snow is recruited to join Planetary by the sexy-beautiful-dangerous Jakita Wagner (who sorta looks like Baroness from G.I. Joe). Snow is offered the pay rate of one million dollars per year for the rest of his life for the exclusive use of his memory, talents and experience.  Deciding anything is better than boredom, and shitty coffee at a low-rent diner, Snow joins up.

From there the team of Elijah Snow; century baby, aged 100 years old, with the ability to create intense cold, Jakita Wagner; extremely strong and fast, and The Drummer; uncanny knack for manipulating machines and electronics, explore and investigate a variety of amazing and strange secrets around the world.  In the first volume alone they explore a secret cave that once housed the trophy room for a group of extraordinary metahumans, and is now a giant super-computer. They also travel to a remote island near Japan where giant monsters lay dead and rotting, and investigate a revenge minded ghost who prowls the streets of Hong Kong, among a variety of other weird and amazing phenomena.

From reading the first volume I got the sense that the Planetary team is all about uncovering and documenting all the world's secret history that makes the planet an interesting place.  In addition, they seem to be somewhat diametrically opposed to a group calling themselves The Four, who seem determined to unlock and keep the world's great secrets for their own personal gain.

Vol. 3 Leaving the
20th Century
As the story moves along in the second volume, The Fourth Man, the narrative investigates who the mysterious financial backer is for the Planetary corporation.  On top of that, you get a much more in-depth look at The Four, their scope of influence in the course of historical events, and the depth of their evil.  The Four are essentially a pastiche of The Fantastic Four, except in the world of Planetay, they have used their powers, and mental capacity to work evil upon humanity.  As the story moves forward, the conflict between Planetary, and The Four escalates.

Now that I'm a couple years into reading comics as a grown up, and I've read fairly widely across the medium, I gotta say that Planetary is probably the best possible adult re-introduction to comics on the shelf, and I'm thankful this is where I started.  Planetary is proof that comics can be engaging, entertaining, fun and a worthy pursuit for adults.  What is impressive is that this is a comic that doesn't rely on foul language, nudity or extreme violence to get the "mature" tag. Instead, it focuses on having a great story, where every detail is important, and everything that happens, or is mentioned, down to the tiniest detail, winds up having some importance later on in the story.  Mix in some nice nostalgia, and more imaginative and fantastic ideas than a China Mieville novel and you have an amazing comic aimed at a reader who wants to read an actual story.

Vol. 4 Spacetime Archaeology
Though I said it earlier, it should be explicitly noted that Planetary features some incredibly strong writing.  This is Warren Ellis at his peak, and for my money, the best stuff of his I've read so far.  I can't imagine having to read this in single issues though, as it took about a decade for all 27 issues to come out, which is way worse then the year I had to wait for Ellis to produce all four of the Captain Swing issues.

Rate of publication aside, this is some fantastic writing, and Planetery really showcases Ellis' ability to come up with some amazing an imaginative ideas.  Each issue reads like its own enclosed story, yet stays true to comics' episodic roots by simultaneously being a thread that ties into a much larger and more elaborate tapestry. The end result is a story with multiple elements and a payoff that is top notch.

Complimenting Warren Ellis' writing efforts is John Cassaday on art, and the effort here is no less amazing.  Cassaday is one of those artists whose style is so refined and practiced that when you see even just a portion of a panel it is instantly recognizable as their work.  In a medium where the talent is plentiful, and the competition fierce, Cassaday's work on Planetary stands out not only as his magnum opus, but as a landmark work in the entire industry.

So what makes Cassaday's efforts on Planetary so special? The reason is quite simple; the range of things Cassaday is called upon to draw in this series is off the charts.  The man draws everything from mad science constructs, to fantastical otherworldly technology, to metahuman abilities, to giant ants, to steampunk creations, to selective physics distortion fields, to theoretical snowflakes that exist in 196,833 dimensional space...or something like that. (Not to mention frozen vampire nut-kicks!)  The fact that Cassaday can draw these fabulous feats of imagination is impressive, and the fact that he draws them so damn well is astounding.  As much as Planetary is a feat of writing, it is every bit equally a delicious feast for the eyes.

With equally wonderful writing and illustration, Planetary is the total package, and a comic series that I recommend with every fiber of my being.  This is a comic that will impress lovers of the medium, cause comic haters to erase their line in the sand, and flat out entertain and enthrall anyone who loves a good story.  Since this blog caters mostly to fans of the fantastic, I'll add that there's plenty here to wet your whistle.  This is flat out an amazing read.  The best thing I've read so far in the comics medium.


All Over the World and Other Stories: A+
The Fourth Man: A+
Leaving the 20th Century: A+
Spacetime Archaeology: A+

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