With so much awesome stuff coming out all the time, sometimes it takes a while to catch up. Maybe you’re reading a big event awhile after it ended. Maybe you just caught a movie everyone was talking about a few months ago. So what? It’s Better Late Than Never.
Planetary, a thirty-issue epic brought to us by the minds of Warren Ellis and John Cassaday launched in 1998 and took over ten years to tell its story. This book wasn’t anywhere close to being on my radar when I started reading comics, mainly because it was in the middle of a three year hiatus at the time. Having borrowed the trades recently, I dove into the series, reading it in a little over two days, and loving every second of it.
The book is focused on three core characters, all of whom are members of the Planetary field team. The first character that we are introduced to is the nearly-100-year-old adventurer Elijah Snow, a man only described as a “cold bastard”. Joining Snow on his adventures are Jakita Wagner and The Drummer. Jakita, a woman with enhanced strength and speed, is the de facto team leader for roughly the first half of the series, before Snow eventually takes over. The Drummer (First name: The, Last name: Drummer), is an insane genius with the ability to talk to machines and decipher any information stream. The mission of this team is simple; to keep and protect the stranger parts of the world from any and all harm, such as a dimensional supercomputer built in the late days of World War II, or an island of the coast of Japan full of kaiju.
As the series goes on, a wonderful adversary is introduced into the book, known simply as The Four. If Mark Millar’s Nemesis was what would happen if Batman turned evil, The Four are what would happen if the genius minds of the Fantastic Four were focused more on self-servingly evil actions and schemes. They’re probably the best villains I’ve ever read in a comic book, mainly because they have no redemptive qualities, but still have incredible depth and complexity. There may be no trace of good in their motivations, but those motivations are still pretty damn interesting.
Planetary is told in a series of twenty-seven one-and-done stories, all of which link together to build the tapestry of the story. No two issues feel the same, since every issue explores some new and strange part of the world that these characters live in and try to protect. Each story felt like a whole arc, with incredible detail and a satisfying conclusion present in each one. I think this shows the strengths of Ellis and Cassaday as artists and storytellers, since something like that has to be hard to pull off. The remaining three issues are crossovers with the WildStorm and DC Universes, and they are completely optional. That’s right, crossovers that are optional, something that is sorely lacking in today’s comics market. The only criticism I can find is in the ending. When people complain about Grant Morrison and Jonathan Hickman getting too “out there” or plain old confusing, they clearly haven’t read Planetary. I still don’t understand the mechanics of the ending, since it pretty much requires a doctorate in theoretical quantum physics to make heads or tails of the ideas that Ellis is throwing around. I know that I could just look up the terms, particles, and theories that Snow and The Drummer are throwing around, but not knowing didn’t bother me, since I have a feeling that none of the characters around them had any idea what they were talking about either.
Planetary is one of the comics that years down the road will still be talked about. It works on practically every imaginable level. If you haven’t read this fantastic series, you’re in for one strange and beautiful story, one that I’m giving 4.5 out of 5 Cold Bastards.
Filed Under: Better Late Than Never