Planetary: Spacetime Archaeology, Volume 4 by Warren Ellis & John Cassaday
This is it. The culmination of the PLANETARY series. Does it live up to the hype? Does the climax match the build up? Well, read on and we’ll see.
Issue 19 – “Mystery in Space”: There’s a strange artifact approaching earth from deep space and Elijah plans on seeing what mysteries it contains. Ellis pays homage to the Big Dumb Object in sci-fi and also draws on the ideas of generation starships, orbital habitats, and the remnants of precursor races. Elijah has a plan to draw out the one member of the Four he’s never seen and hopefully deal with him… permanently. We’re getting more and more of a feel for just how extensive the holdings of Planetary are and the resources that Snow can bring to bear when he needs to.
Issue 20 – “Rendezvous”: Jacob Greene, Ellis’ version of the Thing, is in the house. How do you deal with a super-powered killing machine with a planet-sized grudge against the human race who is little more than a weapon of mass destruction in the hands of the Four? Hopefully Elijah has a plan that will work. Snow proves that he can be ruthless in the face of necessity and Jakita and Drummer aren’t sure they like it.
Issue 21 – “Death Machine Telemetry”: In the great tradition of consulting mystics in comic books (Dr. Strange, Madame Xanadu, etc.) Elijah goes to see an old friend who also happens to deal in mind expansion and vision quests. Snow wants to get his memory back and start putting together the pieces of the mysteries he’s been unraveling. Some answers to the underpinnings of Ellis’ universe, the mystery of the “Century Babies” who have been gaining greater prominence in the series throughout, and the nature and purpose of super-powers are all explored.
Issue 22 – “The Torture of William Leather”: Snow once again proves that he’s willing to push the limits in order to get what he wants when it comes to the Four. William Leather (Ellis’ analogue of the Human Torch) has a sad, cynical story to tell and in it we get further revelations about the Century Babies, the nature of super-powers and the agenda of the Four. Ellis also throws in a flashback story that references his versions of both the Lone Ranger mythos and the Shadow and which lead right up to William Leather and the present day.
Issue 23 – “Percussion”: We flashback to see where the Drummer came from, how he got involved with Planetary, and just why he might have a bit of a grudge against the Four himself. It was nice to get this insight into the Drummer and gain a little clearer understanding not only of just how his powers work, but also how they really might affect the way he relates to both other people and the world at large. We also get to see that the Drummer has a pretty good handle on just who Elijah Snow is and how this nature affects the actions he takes and ways he undertakes them as leader of Planetary.
Issue 24 – “Planetary Systems”: Elijah lays his cards on the table for Jakita and Drummer, explaining his moment of clarity regarding his role in the multiverse and the urgent need to deal conclusively with the Four. The Four respond with extreme prejudice to Snow’s recent activities and the stage is set for the end-game.
Issue 25 – “In from the Cold”: Snow confronts an old friend about his clandestine activities and we learn the real secrets of the Four, their powers, and their ultimate agenda. Some very cool nods to Kirby’s Fourth World stuff and of course the obvious Nick Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D. parallels that have been thrown around since we were first introduced to John Stone. Lots of revelations this issue and they were quite satisfying ones at that.
Issue 26 – Untitled: The penultimate issue of the series where the real resolution to the duel between Planetary and the Four takes place. Elijah lays his cards on the table and forces the hand of Randall Dowling, the Four’s evil genius version of Reed Richards. Coming full circle the teams meet up in the desert near the diner where we first met Snow and Jakita way back in issue 1. The confrontation is tense, and the culmination of things wasn’t exactly disappointing, but I have to admit that after 25 issues of build-up to this moment things felt a bit anticlimactic in some ways. Was it too easy, or did the setting up of the pieces along the way point to the appropriateness of the ending? I’m torn a bit, but overall short of spinning out the climax to several more issues of little more than a world-spanning battle (that would have been exactly what DC or Marvel would have done…even making it span multiple comic book series and forcing the reader to jump from issue to issue to get any real clarity) I’m not sure what else Ellis could have done. The elegance of things was, I must admit, rather enjoyable.
Issue 27 –Untitled/ Series Epilogue: One more loose end remains for the Planetary team: what really happened to Ambrose Chase on that ill-fated mission many years ago? We’ll find out the answer to that question as well as to the concerns of Jakita that now that the Four have been dealt with, what’s a girl with an addiction to death-defying thrills to do? Drummer’s new place as a real leader in light of the revelations of the Four’s hidden cache of data and technology, as well as his unique ability to exploit it based on his special skill set, was also nice to see. In a sense the final tag line to this issue could have been “The Beginning” instead of “the End”. Alas it did not lead to a new series outlining the further adventures of the Planetary team , though perhaps given the penchant for comic book companies to spin out the stories of their cash cows until they lose all relevance or interest I should instead say, “hooray!”
All in all this re-read has proven to me that my initial love for the series was well-founded. The ways in which Ellis took tropes from comic books, sci-fi and numerous other elements of pop culture and spun them into an intriguing and fun series still blows my mind. For me this was, and still is, one of the benchmark moments in comics and ultimately showed how you can be meta-textual about the medium without having to be morose or lose all sensawunda. Highly recommended!
Yep, which is why I'm willing to give a sequel a shot
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