A couple little things about Brass. His eugenic origin story is closer to Farmer’s Doc Caliban than Doc Savage (or even Farmer’s Doc Wildman analogue). Also, I’m not sure if Ellis was aware of this, but eugenics as a pseudoscience taken seriously has its origins in the United States in the late 19th and on into the first half of the 20th century. The Nazis used that as the basis for their own programs.
If you scratch the surface of today’s transhuman or post human movement (really, I think we’re on the far edge of that curve socially anyway - it seems to be dwindling into a nihilistic deadfall), it share some of the same lineage. The Superman as a literary metaphor can be inspiring, but it’s usually been a path to cruelty and tragedy when taken seriously, and that does apply to the story of Planetary.
I really loved this issue.
Planetary #6: Stop Me If You’ve Heard This Before
I like this issue for a singular reason, mainly because as an alternate take on an Earth 3-esque F4 it is really well done. It reminds me a lot, in hindsight, of Hickman’s one-and-done issue from his F4 run with the Nazi Universe Reed Richards. It really hits all of those elseworlds notes in not veering too far but having a distinct mark to it that makes you think about how everything else would play out.
Which is what all great Elseworlds do, they make you think about the world. And so Ellis does a fine job in making this the cornerstone of the world building so far.
The real drawback is that it does come with a large amount of exposition. Of course this is necessary later on, that we are told rather than shown, but it makes the issue feel more like a rundown in essence. With the requisite minor action coming in the final pages. So, really, to sum up - fantastic world building, but maybe a bit of a load to bear first run.
I knew there was something I was to pontificate about on the internet tonight!
Like Issue 2, we’ve got a fictional and a real-life set of references merged in together. Here, the real-world elements are post-WWII rocketry and the conspiracy theories that surround it. The US government did indeed extract Nazi engineers and scientists from Germany as WWII came to a close, but the idea that they ran a secret second space program is pure conspiracy theory. NASA ran no manned military flights during the 60s and 70s, though there were 10 shuttle missions between 1982 and 1992 that have fully or partially classified Department of Defence payloads. The closest thing to actual conflict in space was when the Russians test-fired a cannon in orbit in 1975.. The Russian SSTO seen on a launchpad in one slide is a reference to the Buran, their failed (in our world) equivalent to the Space Shuttle.
The fictional reference is, of course the Four being analogues for the Fantastic Four. Randall Dowling being described as a polymath is a clear reference to the stereotypical super-scientist in SF who can apply themselves to any field. Four Voyagers Plaza is of course a reference to Four Freedoms Plaza (and by extension the Baxter Building). The Subterrans are the Moloid servants of long-time FF enemy the Mole Man, and the universe in a frame that Jakita and Snow walk past is a portal to the Negative Universe.
Moving on to the actual story, we’re into territory similar to issue 2 and 3 that we get a lot of setup and reference, but then the story just stops. 10 pages of the issue are not part of Snow and Jakita infiltrating the base, and of the 12 pages of infiltration, 4 are them getting to Dowling’s lab. And one of those 8 pages has dialogue from Drums’ briefing in it. It’s a very packed issue and the end suffers a bit from it.
While I’m here, I’m going to talk about the end for a bit and then loop back. Because it’s also the end of the beginning for Planetary as a comic. Leather’s line “We’re adventurers, my crewmates and I. On the Human adventure. And you can’t all come along” is the core of the conflict that will define the remaining 75% of the book. The reason we got Snow becoming proactive at the end of issue 4, and his suspicions about Planetary’s agenda in issue 5 were to inform why he’s so angry about the Four here. Snow is part of the Earth’s defence mechanism, he’s there to uncover mystery and bring it to light. The Four want to monopolise that same mystery for their own gain. These are diametrically opposed viewpoints, and Planetary and the Four are on a collision course. This is the end of the first trade paperback (excepting the bundled preview), and it’s a great narrative halt. Around the World and Other stories sets up Planetary, informs us as to what Planetary does, tells us who our protagonist is, and then gives us an antagonist. By the general rules of storytelling the introduction is complete, it’s on to rising action.
And so, as Ellis has given us elements of Snow’s personality in the last two issues to set up his vehemence here, Leather delivers Snow’s motivation towards the plot of the second book: “I’ve known you for far too long.”; “Do you really not remember us? Who benefits from your lack of memory? Who knows the secret history of Elijah Snow? What are your teammates not telling you?”. It’s not a secret that the second trade is called The Fourth Man.
From a technical standpoint, this is another issue that’s firing on all cylinders, Cassaday uses splash pages to great effect twice- the extreme closeup (WOAAAAAH! YEAAAAAAAH!) of an eye with the snowflake reflected in it as the first page, and then by contrast a shot tall enough to show the portal to another universe to the point that Jakita and Snow are tiny figures at the bottom of the page. There’s a few other great uses of perspective to denote power in the issue - Snow and Jakita shot from below as they enter Four Voyagers Plaza. Again, compare these shots with Snow looming over Leather as the former rants and the latter recovers from his bollocks-kicking. Also in that shot the window that was smashed when Leather defenestrated Jakita is back in place, showing that what happened a few panels earlier doesn’t even matter.
In other art awesomeness, the tight closeup on Jakita and Snow’s faces as the lift doors close, their eyes in shadow sets the mood brilliantly, another example of Cassaday’s use of strong inks when necessary. And that rocket behind the Four in their group shot looks like a baroque version of a filtration device I used to use in chemistry class but now it’s a spaceship! The word is photo-reference.
Perhaps spoiler text a bit of that, especially the fourth man bit?
Well like I said, it’s the name of the second TPB
Oh, and @DaveWallace, Do we want to do the preview and Planetary/Authority next, maybe as a twofer as both are standalone, take place in continuity (and Planetary/Authority is set before issue 12), but neither is particularly deep?
Some great big visuals in this story.
The moleoids, The Painting, Snowflake and of course that Kick to the Bollock.
The reveal of the 4 is nicely done. And anyone familiar with the FF. Will quickly pick up on the parallels.
The use of the 4 as hoarders of wonders is a nice twist.
But I’d argue that these are better then the FF.
They at least have set out to keep things form the world for their own use.
Where as Marvel Reed is too busy adventuring to really make his world a better place.
I mean with all his Genius Reeds breakthroughs he never really seems to improve on the world.
It’s a bit like why Bruce Wayne just doesn’t fund a better police force rather than running around kicking people in the head.
Even when Leathers powers up he’s upside down an inverse version of The Torch we know. And again we get the snowflake imagery again.
But again while they info dump on us. They also leave us with more questions!
And don’t really answer a lot.
Reed’s a wanker with an ego and Bruce Wayne is… well, psychotic.
Sounds like a plan.
Yeah, I linked to TVTropes. Goodbye to your spare time!
I couldn’t wait, and have been reading all of Planetary (for the first time) the past week - I’m up to the final issue. I have been re-reading the previous issues though, multiple times, because it’s all quite dense and intricate, and I find myself forgetting what happened to certain people.
So issue 6 just threw up more questions than it answered, which is great.
My biggest gripe was that very little evidence is given to support the idea that the 4 are evil and should be destroyed. This is probably just down to the pacing of the issue.
I do wonder if there is another potential Philip Jose Farmer connection with “The Four.”
Before he introduced the Wold Newton universe officially with TARZAN ALIVE and THE APOCALYPTIC LIFE OF DOC SAVAGE, Farmer did a preliminary run on the same idea with A FEAST UNKNOWN where Lord Grandith (a version of Tarzan) and Doc Caliban (a version of Doc Savage) contended with a group of immortals called “The Nine” who were also based on pulp fiction villains and dominated the world behind the scenes by controlling advanced technological and mystical powers.
Here Planetary is beginning to blur the lines at this point in regard to the question “where is this supposed to be taking place?”
Originally, the conceit was that Planetary takes place in the Wildstorm Universe of Stormwatch and The Authority. However, it’s not easy to square something like The Four or Planetary with those other groups or any of the official titles of Wildstorm and their histories - like WildCATs for example.
At heart, Ellis is starting to imply that Planetary is actually taking place in the real world and we only believe that these fantastic stories are fiction because of some powerful organization that is using fiction for nefarious purposes.
Mark Millar has hinted at a similar metafictional “over-story” with JUPITER’S CIRCLE and JUPITER’S LEGACY implying that his characters are the “real” heroes that the comic books are based on. Also, it might be interesting to bring up THE MONARCHY title here which also tried to do much the same but without any real success.
Well now I just miss The Monarchy.
Something to mention as we move through the issues. I believe Planetary 15 was the first issue to be published after Sept 11 2001 and then there was a gap of around 2 years before #16 hit the shelves.
Therefore, it would be a good assumption that #1 to 15 were written before 9/11 and from #16 on were influenced and also chronicle the cultural shift.
However, what is fascinating is the way the stories in Planetary before 9/11 seem to predict the cultural response to something like it. Many of the “conspiracy theory” ideas that grew up around that event - ideas like “false flags” and “alien interference” - are central to the Planetary mystery just as The X-Files did much the same in television.
Reading these stories, could you tell that they were written before 9-11?
… and I miss The Establishment.
I actually miss that period of comics. From Morrison’s JLA to Millar’s ULTIMATES, there was a lot to get excited about and most of it came through WILDSTORM.