Recently I read an issue of Planetary for the first time. Thankfully it was the first issue. Planetary, for those of you who don't know, is a comic book series written by Warren Ellis and drawn by John Cassaday. It was originally published in April 1999. There are 27 issues in total. The final issue was recently released on October 7th 2009.
Planetary is a series I have heard a lot about during my time on comic websites and discussion forums, though until recently I had very little interest in it. It wasn't until I discovered how great a writer Warren Ellis is after reading some of his run on The Authority and subsequently doing a bit of research on him and his work. When I noticed he wrote Planetary I immediately remembered hearing about how good it was on all those forums. So I did a bit more research (i.e. I went to Wikipedia and CBR) and found out that it had been plagued with delays and that the final issue was due out in a few months. I decided to wait for it to be released before reading any of the other issues, so that I may enjoy the run in its entirety.
Now here we are, issue 27 of Planetary has been released for weeks. So while in my local comic shop (Its an hour and a half away!) recently, I decided it was time I got around to reading what is known as one of the greatest comics series of the last decade. I was not disappointed.
I had bought the first collected edition titled, All over the world and other stories -- it collects the first six issues and the Planetary Preview. The first issue immediately hooks you with the quick introduction of two of the mysterious principal characters, Elijah Snow and Jakita Wagner. Subtle allusions are made as to the superpowers they have, but superheroism isn't the focus of this book. Indeed they have little interest in heroics or directly protecting innocents.We are quickly introduced to the third main character, The Drummer, who can apparently communicate with machines.
They work for an organization known as Planetary, which is dedicated to uncovering the secret history of the world. They are in short,"archaeologists of the impossible", working to uncover and use for the greater good, the fantastical events and supernatural phenomena that have been hidden away from the world at large. Planetary, we are told is funded by the mysterious "Fourth man", who Jakita tells us, "could be anyone from Bill Gates to Adolf Hitler". The identity of the Fourth Man is clearly set up to become a later plot point, as is the history of the organization.
Throughout the series, the characters encounter various alternate versions of popular characters from other companies and pop culture in general, such as the Justice League, Doc Savage, The Fantastic Four and even Sherlock Holmes. The inclusion of these characters is to flesh out the world that the Planetary team is trying to uncover. These are both fun cameos, but also a pastiche of famous pop cultural characters. Ellis also makes use of scientific themes, such as the Monster Group, and he brings in the idea of a Multiverse. Fortunately, through the dialogue, these concepts are easily explained.
Little of the overall plot is revealed in the the first trade -- indeed you are only introduced to the main villains in the final issue of the collection. They are known as The Four, and are a thinly veiled evil version of the Fantastic Four, even sharing a similar backstory. You are only introduced to one of them, the alternate Johnny Storm. He alludes to various plot points and gives just enough to leave you begging for more. It is the mixture of great characters, mysteries and the rich backstory of the world that make Planetary a must read.
But you do not only read comics, you view the art, taking it in as you take in the story. Luckily, the art of Planetary is great. John Cassaday's work is fabulously realistic, and his distinctive style lends itself perfectly to the story. He crafts some breathtaking art, switching between styles for both the covers and interior artwork. The covers never feature a consistent logo or layout, which is parallel to the interior art. Cassaday changes depending on what sources the issue draws its inspiration from.
Overall, Planetary is an extremely well put together comic, with an epic and compelling plot which is complimented perfectly by the art. It is a series that, since it is now finished, should be read by anyone who has an interest in comics. This is not another superhero comic like Superman or Spider-Man, this is an altogether different beast. Ellis himself has said it is, "about the superhero sub-genre, and its antecedents", as opposed to the actual superheroes.
Planetary is a modern classic, that unfortunately suffered from serious delays which may in fact have actually helped the series by heightening the anticipation of its readers. I highly recommend the series if you are looking for something outside the usual conventions.