Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Planetary Vol. 3 - Leaving the Twentieth Century

Planetary Vol. 3 - Leaving the Twentieth Century
By Warren Ellis and John Cassaday

Sign that you're reading something that will stand the test of time: It just keeps getting better as you go on.

On the surface, Leaving the Twentieth Century isn't all that different from the two volumes that came before it, All Over the World and The Fourth Man. This is a collection of six stories, each a standalone foray into Warren Ellis' giddy blend of 1950s science fiction, 1990s superheroes, Twilight Zone episodes, 1980s Alan Mooreisms, and 1940s pulp.

We've got a visit with an ancient Sherlock Holmes. A wicked science fiction twist on Marvel's Thor mythology. Explosions of Asian and Australian aboriginal fable. A new take on Captain Marvel aka Shazam. And the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs and Jules Verne contorted into something entirely new.

Clearly, Ellis delights in showings us the familiar dressed in new clothes.

The clothes look better than ever, too. John Cassaday's art has improved dramatically since the first volume. Not sure if it's the inking or coloring or a new approach or a heavier hand with Photoshop or what, but things look just outstanding here. His knack for laying out a page and offering dramatic visuals just EXPLODES here with awesome landscapes and big, expansive shots that could have been pulled out of a David Lean film. Great stuff.

And naturally, these six stories continue to inject small dozes of larger mythology into the series. Things are clearly leading up to some larger confrontation. Some bit o' finality. Yet Ellis never succumbs to the lure of continuity, that great and burdensome beast at whose throne so many comic writers (and fans) worship. Despite having such a deep, rich backstory and mythology, Planetary is a surprisingly light read. You can read any single Planetary story and enjoy it on its own terms. You don't need to unravel a web of who what when where how whys. You don't need to know what happens in issue #312 (second series, not the 1960s original) of the spinoff title featuring the supporting character who now leads his own team, only it's not really him it's the clone featured in last year's epic crossover event. He avoids that trap, and by doing so makes Planetary like a little more awesome than it already is.

Modern comic writers should be taking notes.

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