REVIEW: “Planetary #1”

If you looked up Planetary in my mind’s comic book thesaurus, its most fitting synonym would be “awesome-sauce.” That’s because for 27 issues, Warren Ellis and John Cassaday transformed one hundred years of super-hero history into the most suspenseful, action-packed tale of intrigue ever to hit the shelves.

One of the many things that make this book so memorable is the way it incorporates allegories of the 20th century’s most iconic pop culture hits into Planetary’s wide breadth of characters. In the summary below you’ll notice a character by the name of Doc Brass. Doc Brass is an allegory for pulp-novel hero Doc Savage, the Man of Bronze. In fact, each member of Doc Brass’ team is an allegory for pulp heroes from the same time period. These characters include Tarzan, Tom Swift, The Spider, and more!

A keen eye will note that the invaders who come through the snowflake are actually Ellis’ take on the JLA, with character’s who are reminiscent of Superman, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, and several others. As the series progresses, we see his take on characters like Godzilla, The Fantastic Four, Sherlock Holmes, and Dracula, just to name a few. The tip of the hat Ellis gives to the entire medium, while also giving it its own distinct voice, sets Planetary apart from anything seen before it.

The tone of the series is an ever-present sense of mystery. We are given many questions and very few answers, as numerous plot threads await exploration. This issue, the cast takes a backseat to the ever-forward momentum of the events unfolding, but the taste test we are given of each character is just enough to spark our appetites.

John Cassaday’s work on the series is truly a gift. His résumé includes work on the early Astonishing X-Men arcs, a book considered in many circles to be one of the greatest X-Men stories ever told. Cassaday conveys complex emotion and general bad-assery with ease, no small feat when dealing with dozens of conflicting genres! His contribution to Planetary is priceless.

A deep reflection on a century of great works, Planetary is the missing puzzle piece to your long box. They are “archaeologists of the impossible,” and this is where it’s at!

Summary:

Issue #1 opens on a desert diner near the end of the 20th century. A grizzled man drinks a coffee he swears tastes like dog piss. The man is named Elijah Snow, and he appears to be middle-aged. A beautiful young woman named Jakita Wagner enters the diner, and we learn the two had arranged to meet. Jakita speaks of Elijah Snow’s past, revealing to the reader that he’s spent the last decade in hiding, and he is in fact one hundred years old. In exchange for his unique services, she offers Elijah a job where the record of his existence could be expunged, and he’d be paid the sum of one million dollars a year.

What his talents might be are unknown, with the exception of some foreshadowing when a waitress mentions, “the air-conditioning always freaks out when you come in.” The full extent of the job is also unknown, though Jakita mentions she wants Elijah to help uncover the 20th century’s secret history. The waitress asks if she could get Jakita anything, and we get the first glimpse of Elijah’s dry wit shining through:“Yeah. Get her a coffee. One just like mine.” Elijah soon agrees to join, and the pair exit the diner and board a helicopter bound for New York.

Two days pass, and the scene opens on a freshly-dressed Elijah Snow. Jakita enters and informs him he’ll be starting his first task with Planetary. Elijah, curious as to where his money’s coming from, asks Jakita who’s paying for everything. Jakita mentions the “fourth man,” an anonymous benefactor who “has more money than god, and funds everything [they] do without question.”Jakita also mentions that he’s called the fourth man because “Planetary’s always been a three-person team.” Elijah deduces that he must be the new third member and inquires about his predecessor. Jakita says that she’ll fill him in when she figures it out.

Downstairs, Elijah Snow meets his final teammate, a young, plucky man named The Drummer who has a pair of drumsticks in hand. Believing this to be a codename, Snow asks him what his real name is. The Drummer sardonically replies, “First name The, second name Drummer.” Jakita then informs Elijah that The Drummer has the ability to “talk”to machines.

With the group now assembled, the team discusses their first case. A company has discovered a portion of the Adirondack Mountains to be hollowed out by a man-made complex, and a Planetary mole within the company gives the team this info. Thanks to some KGB diaries Planetary had stolen a couple of years ago, the team also knew the Adirondacks was the last known whereabouts of a man named Doc Brass.

While en route to the mountains, we learn Doc Brass was an adventurer born on January 1st, 1900, and shared a birthday with a handful of other persons of interest to Planetary. The KGB books in their possession indicated that Brass may have found a way to slow down his aging process, as well as no longer requiring food to stay alive. Apparently, this is the exact type of case Planetary is in the business of uncovering. Having listened to Jakita say all of this, Elijah says, “It’s amazing how you can talk for ages but not actually say one goddamn thing I understand.” The Drummer warns him not to upset her, because, “she can dropkick a rhino over The Grand Canyon.” Hovering several dozen feet above the entrance, Jakita leaps from the helicopter, displaying to Snow what is surely some degree of super-human strength. Elijah follows via ladder and The Drummer stays behind.

Once inside the mountain, Snow and Jakita are shocked to discover the mangled body of the still living Doc Brass, who hadn’t moved from a spot on the cave floor in over fifty-five years. As it turns out, the mountain was actually used as a secret base in the 1940s by Doc Brass and similarly talented colleagues who took on all sorts of other-worldly situations. Brass and his team created an interdimensional quantum computer in the shape of a giant snowflake, and its creation resulted in a small-scale invasion by a group of super-powered beings. The battle that ensued took the lives of the entire team but Brass, who vowed to stand guard over the snowflake in case of another attack.

Doc Brass is escorted to a Planetary hospital where he’ll be able to recuperate. Elijah asks Jakita if Planetary got what they wanted out of the endeavor. She answers,“A quantum computer built during World War Two by a secret society of super humans whom we didn’t know existed, plus their hidden headquarters. We did okay.” Snow replies, “It’s a strange world.” And as the first issue comes to a close, Jakita says, “Let’s keep it that way.”