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Millarworld book club: Planetary issue 26 - The end!


#263

True, I think the ideas of the writers were what was left, but the big influences still seem to be Claremont and Wolfman.

At the same time, I really think that the first wave of UK writers and artists petered out in the US for various reasons - a big one being Vertigo’s separation from the main DC titles. However, that really influenced the second wave which has had far wider influences in both comics and movies. For me, that started with Morrison’s JLA but became really apparent in Moore’s ABC, Eills’ AUTHORITY and Millar’s ULTIMATES. When Planetary #7 was written, though, Millar was on The Authority and probably nearing the end before he would go to Ultimate X-Men so Planetary itself at the time was one of the primary books leading the new British invasion even though it is essentially a wake for the first one.


#264

I wouldn’t argue with that, especially in superhero comics, that template remains the main one for the big two. Although I would say that the characters featured in the Planetary parallels were not all of that genre.

I think you can posit some other influences, with the caveat that none of this is ever exclusive, The Beach Boys were innovating as the British Invasion was happening in the 60s, not all the proto Vertigo creators were British just most of them.

A part of that was a place for mainstream but more challenging writing, often outside the superhero genre. Most comics aimed at adults in the US (excepting Frank Miller’s efforts) were either underground Comix style or like Epic Illustrated aiming to emulate mainland European art books like Heavy Metal. While Vertigo is floundering a bit nowadays, at least in terms of sales, most of the pretty wide Image line fits that bill exactly.

The first ‘sophisticated suspense’ or mature readers book in the mainstream was Swamp Thing, now there are several dozen every month.

The other is technical, Moore’s style of juxtaposing image with captions is used extensively, especially by Brubaker and Azzarello, Gerard Way and others borrow heavily from Grant Morrison.


#265

So as we’ve all talked about, this issue is all about the so-called British Invasion, but more specifically Vertigo and that point where the odder DCU comics were shifted over to the imprint.

This starts with the cover, which is a pastiche of Dave McKean’s style. As well as doing the covers for Sandman and many other Vertigo comics, McKean is a comic artist himself, most notably working on Arkham Asylum with Grant Morrison and Violent Cases with Neil Gaiman. He’s also done a lot of album artwork, for artists including Front Line Assembly, Fear Factory, Alice Cooper and Tori Amos, and he’s moved into directing with Mirrormask. It’s worth noting his career to a degree as his style helped to define the era Ellis is exploring here.

Jack Carter is, of course John Constantine, and his funeral sees ersatz versions of the Metal Men, Animal Man, the Doom Patrol, Swamp Thing, The Spectre, The Demon, Brother Power The Geek, and someone who looks like Grant Morrison as The Author in Animal Man, amongst others. Dream and Death are seen on the way into the cemetary, and the superhero seen flying overhead and later in the issue is a reference to Marvelman. And of course, Alan Moore is officiating the funeral.

Drums’ description of magic matches up with the cosmology of a lot of chaos magic and cybermagick practitioners. He sketches out the traditional pentacle shape while talking about it - and of course Grant Morrison and Alan Moore are occultists (and Neil Gaiman frequently uses modern occultists as reference points for his stories)

Carter’s last line - Be seeing you - is a reference to The Prisoner.

Oh, and we’ve got a recurring motif at the start of the comic - Drums throws a bottle of WHAM cola at Jakita and she hucks it back at him, just like Snow did in issue 3.

OK, so my interpretation of this issue is a little different to what’s been discussed so far. It’s not presented chronologically, but Ellis is examining what he sees as three stages of British creators. The superhero, being Marvelman represents the earliest stages of the modern British comics scene - recontextualising older heroes and placing them in a morally complex and darker world - Moore would do the same with Captain Britain, and Alan Davis and Jamie Delano continued this after he left the book.

The second stage is the funeral. This is the point where DC started pulling British creators over to reinterpret their weirder titles, and the formation of Vertigo. Alan Moore is the core of this - hence he’s officiating - and everyone at the grave is solely a DC character. Dream and Death being on the edge represents their one foot in the DCU, one foot out status.

The third stage is Jack’s reappearance at the end of the book. This is Vertigo moving away from DCU and pseudo-DCU books into wholly original stuff. Apparently, Carter was originally meant to resemble Grant Morrison, but Cassaday changed it to Spider Jerusalem. This works to fit the metaphor as I see it, because Transmet started the year after Sandman finished.

So what does it all mean? Well it’s Ellis commenting on his disdain towards work for hire, or working with corporate characters in general. Using John Constantine as the core character is particularly pointed as this issue was only a year or two after he quit Hellblazer over the school shooting issue DC refused to print. Personally I think it works, even if it’s a bit soapboxy.

And as a result of all this, I really like the issue! There’s a huge amount to unpack here, between the pitch-perfect Hellblazer pastiche scene in the middle, the cameos in the funeral scene, and Cassaday’s art is increasingly confident. Now tonally it doesn’t do great as a follow-up to issue 6 - I wonder if it was originally planned as part of Book 1, but Ellis decided to have a cliffhanger for the trade? there’s more I want to say about this, but it’s going to have to wait until the end of book 2.


#266

Interesting choice of the name Carter, as well, as two famous pulp fiction characters use the name: John Carter and Randolph Carter.


#267

I was considering mentioning John Carter actually, especially as Jack is often a nickname for John in the US.


#268

Though Constantine’s character has more in common with Randolph Carter in his occult connections. However, I believe John Carter secretly does appear later in Planetary though that’s still a few issues away.


#269

Are you thinking of Carlton Marvell in the Ayres Rock issue?


#270

Whaaa? I had no idea!


#271

Oh yeah, check it:

Those are two of the most Dave McKean covers he’s done for them, but he was their primary artist up until 2010.


#272

I think of him in the same category but more Adam Strange than John Carter.


#273

I should go through my old collection and read the pamphlets…


#274

Issue #7 was a bittersweet farewell to a phase of life and pop culture, a time that had a rather distinct identity, and, as the metaphor goes, died. How appropriate the funeral! Endings must always contain beginnings, or else the whole Universe would collapse on itself with a big farty sound.

All this is well and good, but it takes the reader a bit away from following what they might consider “the Planetary plot”. Of course all the elements are interconnected, but it was the years reading those stories (and our lives the stories reflected) that gave them impact. As we read through, I for one got the feeling of putting that final tape on the cardboard box of all those years of favorite comics and shutting the closet door. They will still be there, but the time will never be the same - or even similar - again.

Bittersweet.


#275

Last call for issue #7! And then shall we move on to #8 later today? Ok? Ok.


#276

Planetary #8: “The Day The Earth Turned Slower”

(Thanks for the title edit Lorcan.)


#277

This is one of those deceptively simple issues that on the surface reads as very ‘straight’, perhaps even too straightforward and uneventful. The Planetary team get called to a mysterious location, get its entire history explained to them by a mysterious stranger, and then the stranger disappears. Oh, and Jakita fights some giant ants.

In that way, it follows a similar template to some of the earlier issues. But when you dig a bit deeper into the subtext, I think there’s some really interesting stuff going on here.

Pulp films of the 1950s seem to be the subject of the day, whether it’s giant insects, ghosts, Attack of the 50 foot woman style giant humans, invisible men, aliens, or whatever.

But Ellis ties it all in cannily to a secret history that not only fleshes out some early backstory for The Four and their ties to the Hark Corporation, but also ties it in with real-world Cold War paranoia, the ‘red scare’, McCarthyism and the Hollywood blacklist, as well as ends-justify-the-means justifications for inhumane science, while also foreshadowing the birth of the Silver Age comics boom as those atomic 50s concepts were parlayed into hugely successful superhero franchises that are still going strong today.

I really like the way the subjects of the experiment are depicted in such a horrifying way: it shows how those pulp concepts can be turned inside-out and made very disturbing, just by shifting your point of view (which is very much in keeping with the general ethos of the book).

Also, Allison is an interesting character - she seems to represent a glamorous 50s starlet type, with echoes of Marilyn Monroe (especially when she talks about being targeted for sleeping with the wrong people).

Although the phrasing of the ending of this issue has always bugged me - with a “radioactive half-life of 50 years”, shouldn’t Allison have just dimmed in potency by half over 50 years, rather than disappearing altogether at the 50-year mark? :slight_smile:


#278

You’ve pretty much covered everything I was going to say.

Maybe the fact that Allison has a ghostly appearance is her being diminished.

I think, beyond kicking the car in the Hong Kong story, this is the first real example of just how powerful Jakita actually is. It is also quite telling that she is feeling quite frustrated about not being able to cut loose, in the way she does here, more often.

I quite liked the invisible man sequence as it plays on something I always felt wasn’t well explained in HG Wells book. How/why does the scientist become crazy? At least here the fact the process made him blind and was excruciating explains his pleading to be killed.

I am enjoying these issues which reference old pulp/b-movie themes.


#279

Science City Zero also continues the exploration of the connection between fiction and fact. The simplest being the implication that the monster movies about giant men, creatures and scientific experiments giving people monstrous appearances and powers were made to cover up the truth. If you heard reports of a colossal man in the desert, you’d think it was a story about the movie you saw.

Science City is a reference to the Soviet Naukograd, basically classified cities where their scientists worked on their nuclear weapon program and other classified projects. Other than the Manhattan Project which was similar, the US didn’t have the same sort of secret communities, but if they did no one would really know. The average Soviet citizen didn’t know about the Naukograds.

The movie matinee monsters grew out of the general culture of fear that pervaded during the Cold War and continues today long after. Ironically, filmmakers would make the stories about giant ants, lizards and men in monster suits because it made it easier to do optical effects rather than building a complex monster model that needed to be animated. However, at the time, the exterminator business was booming as suburbs expanded in the 50’s and bugs, lizards and wildlife were major problems to property values and living standards. I’m surprised THEM! wasn’t about giant termites.

In this regard, I also wonder if by turning these monsters into superheroes like Spider-Man and The Hulk, young boys weren’t also attracted to the fact that their heroes were things that worried their mothers. In Star Wars, Darth Vader is by far the most popular character among children and Lucas himself suspects that it is because of the power he represents. Children are very aware of how powerless and dependent upon their parents they are, so they are naturally attracted to things that have some power over their parents.

Also, the nuclear testing in Nevada was a source of fear for residents and in general as people would see newsreels about giant irradiated tomatoes and carrots and, of course, wonder what all that radiation was doing to the biology in the region.

Also this:

There is a lot of evidence that the CIA was directly interested in manipulating popular culture for Cold War purposes. Under the category of “this explains a lot” there was this story a few years ago about how the CIA funded some of the abstract art movement to counter claims that creativity in a capitalist society was dying out.

In some ways, they proved the opposition’s point. :wink:

Also, in a more mysterious story, there was a top secret, fully functional movie studio in Laurel Canyon.

Now owned by Jared Leto, reportedly. I’ve also seen reports that many movie stars and directors (like John Wayne) had passes to go to the location to participate in productions there. It’s probably innocuous, but the CIA has had a long relationship with the movie business at least for operational purposes. You can see this in something like the relationship between Tony Mendez and John Chambers (from ARGO):

https://www.wired.com/2007/04/feat_cia/

To build his cover, Mendez put $10,000 into his briefcase and flew to Los Angeles. He called his friend John Chambers, the veteran makeup artist who had won a 1969 Academy Award for Planet of the Apes and also happened to be one of Mendez’s longtime CIA collaborators. Chambers brought in a special effects colleague, Bob Sidell. They all met in mid-January and Mendez briefed the pair on the situation and his scheme. Chambers and Sidell thought about the hostages they were seeing each night on television and quickly declared they were in.

Recently, the CIA got into some controversy over the information they released to the producers of Zero Dark Thirty. It indicates a much more porous back and forth and that the agency is very interested at least in how it is portrayed in films and culture in general.


#280

I hadn’t thought of it like that. That’s a really interesting take.

Do you think the universe of Planetary had those movies too? I guess I think of the book as taking place in a world where all our fictions are real, but I guess the fictional world of Planetary must have plenty of its own fictions too. I wonder to what extent they were the same as ours?

I like the idea of the fictions being covers for the real thing, anyway.


#281

Exactly, I think the growing implication as the series continues is that in the world of Planetary, actual events have been covered up (or delivered) as fictional in some form or another and some fictional events actually occurred in another reality. Similar to the way Moore’s recent Providence handles Lovecraft or Philip Farmer put together Wold Newton.


#282

Hey, @BeingHenning. I really like your new avatar. Suits you, sir!