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You Need to Read Planetary

I recently purchased the omnibus for Planetary and let me tell you. It’s good. You need to read it. Why? Well, primarily, it’s good. Like I said. I suppose I could get into it further, I suppose.

Planetary takes place in the Wildstorm universe (an imprint of DC). It involves a secret organization called Planetary that travel the globe, uncovering the secret history of the planet. Basically, imagine a world busting at the seams with a century’s worth of superhero history, and an organization sets out of uncover it all. It sounds simple, but it’s so jam-packed with twists and turns and nods to every era of pulp and superhero stories.

Now the first thing I should mention, is that the first major work of Warren Ellis I was exposed to was Transmetropolitan. Which is… different. I loved it. I have all the volumes and tore through them voraciously. There are some similarities between Transmetropolitan and Planetary like they both are brilliant pastiches that use Ellis-ized versions of real world counterparts (Hunter S. Thompson and his battles with Nixon for Transmetropolitan and pretty much all of pulp fiction for Planetary).

I was prepared for some vulgar, dark stories as one would find in Transmetropolitan, a kind of chaotic irreverant take on the superhero genre. What I got was much different (although, to be fair, Transmetropolitan — a cyberpunk political drama — is a lot different than pretty much everything else).

The tone was darker than your average superhero fare, sure, I mean it is Wildstorm, but there was a sense of… love? The mainstays were twisted around (a super evil version of the Fantastic Four), but there seemed to be this affection behind the ideas.. In many ways it’s a modernization of the genre, a look at what all our pulp and superhero stories would look like if retold today, rather than a simple deconstruction ala Watchmen.

My favorite sections, by far, are the ones dealing in more pulp-style stories. Here we have everything from Tarzan, The Shadow, The Lone Ranger, and more all reinvented and adapted. It’s like a weird Ultimate Marvel version of stories from the first half of the twentieth century. I understand the mythos of later-day superheroes and comic tropes, but the pulp stories are so much bigger, so much more fantastical. They have computers that use a multiverse to compute, they learn to close wounds with their mind, they’re all bigger.

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Which is another huge reason I’d recommend this to almost anyone. The ideas in here are big. Big. We’re talking Grant Morrison level here. Planetary goes everywhere from explaining souls, to heaven itself, time travel, and everything in between. Admittedly, some of it gets really complex. I had reread panels in order to get all of it. It’s late 90s fringe science, but a lot of it still holds up as pretty out there. It’s awesome.

The book’s main character, Elijah Snow, is an interesting and enigmatic lead. At a century old, working through his past is as fascinating as uncovering the mysteries of the world itself. Especially as it leads to even older literary characters. He and the other “Century Babies” make up a bulk of the second half of the omnibus and it’s a pretty genius way to tie all these adapted characters together.

Jakita and Drummer are both well written characters with cool backgrounds, Drummer especially. Though, they always mention how he’s “super crazy”, but I never really saw that. He just seemed snarkier than the others. Snarkier and smarter. The best part of their characters, however, is that they manage to stay off to the side and let the world take center stage without becoming annoying or pulling the story down.

All in all, Planetary has something for everyone. Fans of everything from old kung-fu movies to superhero comics would love this comic. Plus! It’s self-contained, not packed dense with decades of back story, so even if you’ve never read a Wildstorm comic you can read this.

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