Planetary: Leaving the 20th Century, Volume 3 by Warren Ellis & John Cassaday
In this third volume of PLANETARY stories we not only get to step back for a moment and have a bit of a look at the adventures of Elijah Snow in his century of existence trying to keep the world strange, but we also get more details on the Four and their intersection with the Planetary organization prior to the current story arc. Ellis is able to play in a lot of cool sandboxes as a result and the genre mashing continues much to my personal glee!
Issue 13 – “Century”: Just how did Elijah Snow form the Planetary organization and why did he do it? Well, not all of the answers will be provided here, but we get an intriguing glimpse at young Elijah Snow circa 1919 as he tracks down the members of a secret organization from the 19th century whose goal was to “better mankind” from behind the scenes. Elijah doesn’t like that kind of meddling, but he just might have something to learn from one member of the cabal at least. Really cool stuff involving Frankenstein’s Monster(s), Dracula, Sherlock Holmes, and some shout-outs to other luminaries from the penny dreadfuls and pulp fiction of an earlier day. Cool stuff.
Issue 14 – “Zero Point”: A flashback story showing just why (and how) the Four were able to mind-wipe Elijah. We get to see just how dangerous an opponent Snow and his group can be as they handily take down two members of the Four before being overcome by the ridiculously superior firepower the Four can bring to bear. There is also a chilling opening sequence that pulls some cool references from both Marvel’s Thor comic book and Alan Moore’s more esoteric work in Miracleman that serves to once again highlight the utter evil bastard status of the Four and help explain Elijah’s driving desire to stop them at any cost.
Issue 15 – “Creation Songs”: Back in the present we join Elijah, Jakita, and Drummer as they attempt to intercept the Four who are analysing Ayers Rock for their own arcane purposes. This in turn leads to a flashback story where Snow explains the significance of the place and just how it ties in to the wider cosmology that Ellis has created for his multiverse.
Issue 16 – “Hark”: The mysterious figure of Anna Hark, with links to both Axel Brass’ former team of superhumans and the Four, is brought from out of the shadows to play a central role in this issue. Snow is working hard at consolidating his power and ensuring that his upcoming standoff with the Four is his final one. No mistakes this time. To that end he will need all the allies he can get. Will the enigmatic and unpredictable Anna Hark play ball? This issue also has a cool intro that brings the popular wuxia films like “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” to mind. It’s great to see how Snow is the kind of character who thinks out his moves and is playing the long game, he’s not just going to barge in and try to bash the villain’s head in (though of course if that’ll work he’s not averse to incorporating it into his plan).
Issue 17 – “Opak-Re”: Another flashback to Snow’s earlier journeys and discoveries when Planetary was still a relatively new organization and the fieldwork was primarily done by Elijah himself. Great homage to Edgar Rice Burroughs, Philip Jose Farmer, and the Indiana Jones films. We also get a tantalizing glimpse of Ellis’ Tarzan analogue Lord Blackstone and some significant revelations about Jakita and her very long relationship with Snow. Lots of fun.
Issue 18 – “The Gun Club”: Ellis takes nineteenth century space travel, Jules Verne, and a new plan by Snow to draw out members of the Four and deal with them individually and does his usual trick: incorporate cool ideas from across pop culture boundaries and not only use them to build a strange and wonderful world, but tie them in to an intriguing story of the battle of superhumans for control of the kind of world we live in.
What can I say? Still great stuff. Even when there are weaker issues they’re fun and everything contributes to the wider story arc and the further fleshing out of Ellis’ cool world. Also, Cassaday’s art remains consistently beautiful… this is really some of the best art I’ve seen in the comic book medium and it just makes Ellis’ ideas pop off the page that much more. If you want to see something new being done in comics (even though it ironically makes heavy use of what’s old) then go read it!