Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Planetary Vol. 1 - All Over the World

Planetary Vol. 1 - All Over the World
By Warren Ellis and John Cassaday

Warren Ellis is something of a polarizing figure in the world of comics. A writer who doesn't hide his disdain for traditional superhero stories and who has cultivated an online community is, to put it mildly, a bit prickly, Ellis has nonetheless built a resume that ought to earn respect from all but the most old school, it's-got-to-have-tights-or-it-ain't-comics readers. He has worked in classic science fiction (a genre too infrequently seen in modern comics), risque political and social commentary, horror, action/adventure, and more -- and it's almost always been worth reading. His least interesting work tends to be his traditional superhero stories.

His most acclaimed achievement in comics might be the four-time Eisner Award nominated Planetary, his long-running collaboration with artist John Cassaday. Tough to tell, though, since it's been so s l o w to come out. Though it began way back in 1999, it took them 10 years to release a mere 26 issues. (The 27th and final issue is due out in October 2009).

But with all the accolades this series has received, one has to ask, has Planetary been worth the wait? Is it time for me to take the plunge?

Having only just started to read it, I'm prepared to answer with a solid YES.

Planetary is kind of a superhero book, but only just barely. In fact, I'd be hesitant to categorize it that way, though many people do. Sure, it features people with amazing abilities doing amazing things, and often doing so while where tight and/or colorful costumes, but at heart it's a modern version of pulp science fiction through and through.

Oh yeah, the premise. Yeah, I guess you need to know that. "Planetary" is a secretive organization devoted to investigating amazing events and "the secret history of the 20th Century." The three investigators, funded by a mysterious "fourth man," trot around the globe (or dimensions, or universes) and pretty much do interviews and take notes. Once in a while they save the world.

This volume brings together six stories that give you a good idea of what they do, but even more importantly, provide a window into all the amazing worlds Ellis and Cassaday are going to show us. It probably wouldn't be far fetched to suggest that Ellis conceived of Planetary in part as an excuse to do whatever the hell he wanted to do in a comic, because this thing is all over the map. Even in just these first six issues we get Twilight Zone sci-fi, monster movie mysteries, superhero romps, and more. Whatever pops into his head that day.

Though each story stands on its own just fine, they each take subtle steps forward in uncovering a larger mythology, too. That might be what's most exciting about Planetary. The individual stories here are imaginative and wonderful (often not-so-veiled homages to characters and concepts Ellis clearly loves, such as Godzilla or 1960s superhero origin stories), but they each serve as a tiny part of a jigsaw puzzle. Minuscule piece by minuscule piece, we get the sense that something bigger is at work. A conspiracy, and a mystery, and maybe a threat to the planet. Something that may end up unfolding over the course of the entire series. And that's pretty awesome.

Heck, this whole damn thing was pretty awesome. Not super awesome like I'm Ready To Tell The World That This Is The Best Thing Ever awesome, but certainly This Made For A Good Night Of Reading Imaginative Comics awesome.

Though I could be wrong, I get the sense that a wild ride is ahead.

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