Page 45 Review by Stephen
"They killed an entire world...
"So that they had somewhere to store their weapons."
For me this is the work of Warren Ellis's career to date.
Cassaday's and Martin's too
Science fiction at its most wondrous, inclusive, mysterious and thrilling, it is meticulously composed, vast in scope, broad in appeal and spectacular to look at. It also boasts a mordant wit, with superb cadence in conversation as the three members of Planetary's field team play verbal sabres at each other's expense. It's one way of staying sane.
The 20th Century is coming to a close, but it has left scars behind in its wake.
Planetary is a covert, private organisation seeking its extraordinary secrets. Funded by an unseen Fourth Man, they are archaeologists of the unknown, travelling the globe to unearth all the weird science which has been foisted upon the Earth from other dimensions, or which we have visited upon ourselves. Though some of their discoveries prove breathtaking treasures, few are less than horrific, yet Planetary is determined to repurpose as much as they can disinter for the betterment of mankind.
Unfortunately they find themselves up against The Four, astronauts secretly launched into space in 1961 using physics developed by Nazi physicists exported to America and led by a scientific genius in "disciplines as long as your arm". They returned... changed... and they do not have our best interests at heart.
As Planetary kicks off, its surviving field team members Jakita Wagner and The Drummer invite Elijah Snow to fill their recently 'vacated' third place. Elijah Snow is terse, grouchy, suspicious but exceptionally experienced in the arcane and trained by the best in deductive reasoning. Why, then, is he unaware that he has been a member of Planetary for years?
Warren Ellis proves himself to be something of an archaeologist himself, for as PLANETARY proceeds you'll begin to discover that he is digging up science fiction history too. Like THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN, half the fun is in spotting the sly references, though you will lose nothing whatsoever if they elude you. Pulp fiction prose, British gothic fiction prose, American horror prose, Godzilla and other giant monster movies, the more iconic superhero comics (see a previous, precisely-worded paragraph for but one example) and even DC's Vertigo imprint are all referenced and warped to Ellis's own goals. There will be many a smile upon recognition. That last one comes under a mock McKean SANDMAN cover, and includes a certain grumpy and garrulous, uniquely tattooed bald bloke, with a red cigarette lighter held on top a green pack of twenty.
The specifics I leave for you to identify yourselves (I have an extensive list to expound upon if you ever want to swap notes) apart perhaps from Doc Brass (Doc Savage, Man of Bronze) for he appears very early and will prove pivotal to the plot. Like Elijah Snow he is dressed all in white and was born on 1st January 1900. Readers of Ellis & Hitch's THE AUTHORITY might recall another individual with a penchant for white and the same birth date, and you'll be delighted to hear that not only does this massive first half of PLANETARY contain issues #1 to 14, but also PLANETARY / AUTHORITY one-shot and many an appearance by the inter-dimensional Bleed. Here's The Drummer on those auspicious birth dates:
"I got theory about that. I think you're humanity's immune system."
"You want to run that by me again?"
"I think the world grew you all as its defence system for the 20th Century... Without Doc Brass, Edison might still have built their Super Computer. But also without Doc Brass, there never would've been a team in place to stop what came through the Multiversal Gate it created. Therefore, without Doc Brass, humanity would be extinct. Without Jenny Sparks, no Authority. Without you... ah. I see the flaw in my master plan. You don't do much other than use up good oxygen."
Elijah Snow and The Drummer do not get on.
The recurring Snowflake effect of the Multiversal Gate is just one of a myriad of visual triumphs by Cassady and Martin contributing to the series' eye-popping opulence.
Cassady loves to embellish with exquisitely intricate gold, whether it be Flash Gordon's rocket, a certain mythological mallet, a futuristic, altruistic knight's shining armour or the beyond-Baroque bridges, arches, cupolas and columns which rise out of sight to the heavens inside a crystalline, sentient shift-ship buried beneath a city ever since it crash-landed right at the very end of the Cretaceous period.
Through Laura Martin's lambent colours it glows like the ornate stained-glass windows which enhance the sense of awe that any such cathedral induces.
There's a lot of light, a lot of white and a lot of pale blue and gold throughout, but a Hong Kong night might glow purple with neon where you'll find Geof Darrow in the detail of a charging car exploding under the impact of a boot.
The Planetary members have not escaped such sharp design, either. Elijah Snow is dapper in his pristine, loose-fitting, all-white three-piece suit and tie, no-nonsense Jakita strikes a contrasting figure in a red-rimmed, black leather impact-resistance ensemble, while The Drummer provides all the colour.
Even the lettering is used to indicate different languages, and Snow's own speech patterns and vernacular differ dramatically in his less couth youth. There's a lot of ground to cover in 100 years and the series flashes back and forth as Snow searches his past and thinks through his present to uncover what's buried deep within his mind.
It's tightly structured stuff, beginning with self-contained episodes, each ending in a pithy 3- or 4-line reaction before the multiple threads gradually appear and begin to make their weave known. Similarly each team members' preternatural capabilities are only made manifest as each mission dictates their deployment before proving life-savers later on. One chapter flickers on opposing pages between immediate past and reactive present. A conversation may take place between two individuals while action is undertaken by a third. Visual cues and clues are subtle in the form of a previously broken window or a background street sign to denote a telling location.
You'll encounter the most horrific experimental human concentration camp, a German castle in a 1919 lightning storm, a 1969 inter-spy fire-fight with attendant Steranko-riffed cover, a very familiar British study, and the most unusual cross-dimensional weapons-storage facility accessed through the release of kinetic energy, like the bang of stick on stone.
But of all the experiments, this takes the proverbial biscuit.
"We've a strange relationship with our fiction, you see. Sometimes we fears it's taking us over, sometimes we beg to be taken over by it... sometimes we want to see what's inside it.
"That was the initial project profile. To create a fictional world, and then to land on it. A sample return mission.
"To bring back someone from a fictional reality."
Will marvels ever cease? I do hope not.
"It's a strange world."
"Let's keep it that way."