Planetary Book 1: All Over the World and Other Stories

All Over the WorldOrder this bookStory: Elijah Snow is almost a hundred years old, a witness to many of the strange and awesome events that make up the secret history of the twentieth century. Now he spends his time hiding out in the middle of nowhere, until a woman named Jakita Wagner offers him a million dollars a year to join Planetary, a group of ‘mystery archaeologists’ in need of Elijah’s experience. As part of the Planetary field team, Elijah investigates gateways to alternate Earths, mutant Japanese monsters, the vengeful spirit of a Hong Kong cop, and more before turning his attention to Planetary’s opposite number, the Four, who have been manipulating the world for their own ends for decades…and who seem to know more about Elijah than Elijah himself.

Review: Planetary is one of the most addicting stories I’ve ever read, and one of the few serialized comics I make a point of buying on an issue-by-issue basis anymore. The series is not just a great adventure story with terrific characters, outstanding dialogue and stunning artwork. It’s also a commentary and exploration of the twentieth century’s adventure fiction, including comics, monster movies, pulp novels and more.

What’s important is that Planetary works on both levels. Each chapter of “All Over The World” seems like a stand alone story, full of wild action and carried by the interplay between Jakita, Drummer, and Elijah. Snow doesn’t have the highest tolerance for his colleagues’ mysterious ways and seemingly passive response to situations; Jakita and Drummer, meanwhile, appear barely tolerant of the cranky newcomer. The character interaction and inventive plots would be enough to carry the book, but through each chapter a deeper mystery gradually unfolds, and the book ends on a great little cliffhanger that had me eagerly anticipating new chapters.

At the same time, the metafictional commentary is a lot of fun; Planetary is Ellis’ chance to play with a lot of archetypes. Snow’s first case, for example, centers around the final adventure of a group of pulp heroes from the thirties; analogues of characters like The Shadow and Doc Savage gather to save the world from itself, but instead find themselves fighting off invaders from a parallel earth. The invaders bear an obvious resemblance to the central characters of DC Comics’ Justice League of America, so in addition to a battle to save the Earth and its fallout, All Over The World reflects the fading away of pulp heroes and the rise of comic book superheroes in the late thirties and early forties. Planetary’s main adversaries are clear analogues of Marvel’s Fantastic Four; Snow’s hatred of them, and the reasons for that hate, should inspire readers to take another look at the assumptions that allow superhero universes to function. Planetary is a thrill to read, but it’s a very intelligent thrill that proves that action stories don’t need to check their brains at the door.

Equal credit must go to artist John Cassaday and colorist Laura De Puy. This book looks great. Cassaday’s design work is impeccable; the characters’ wardrobes, for example, are highly reflective of their personality, and Cassaday makes the wondrous and strange things that Planetary encounters appear wondrous and strange. His faces convey emotion beautifully; there’s a two-page sequence in a conversation between Doc Brass and Elijah that – despite being well-served by Ellis’ dialogue – could be carried by the art alone. The linework is clean and attractive without sacrificing any detail, and Cassaday has a number of nifty panel layouts, including a large number of page-wide short panels that convey a real widescreen cinematic feel to the action. (This works especially well in chapter three, which evokes Hong Kong martial arts cop films.) De Puy and her fellow colorists take those drawings and make them shine with rich color work that immerses the reader even deeper in the world of Planetary, not just in terms of visual detail but in evoking the right mood and tone for the story at hand. This book is among the best that comics have to offer, and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Year: 2000
Writer: Warren Ellis
Line Artist: John Cassaday
Colorist: Laura DePuy with David Baron and Wildstorm FX
Publisher: DC Comics/Wildstorm
Pages: 144