Almost there: Issue 18!
Reference wise, we’re clearly in Jules Verne territory, From the Earth to the Moon being an effort to travel to the Moon via ballistic launch, though there’s a fair bit of HG Wells’ First Men in the Moon, notably the spherical nature of the ship, plus La Voyage Dans la Lune by Georges Méliès (which was partially an adaptation of From the Earth to the Moon and Around the Moon by Verne).
The idea of using a gun to fire a projectile into orbit has some basis in fact. Verne did some calculations to at least suggest there was feasibility to the idea, and there were a few attempts to build a ballistic launch system in the 20th century. The Germans experimented with it in WWII, A US project in the 80s managed to launch projectiles at speeds up to Mach 9 (which Snow refers to in the issue), but did not successfully get anything into orbit, and the infamous Iraqi supergun in the first Gulf War was an attempt to build a space gun.
In fiction, HG Wells used a similar concept for the Martian attackers to reach Earth in War of the Worlds, and many SF writers have had mass drivers or railguns on the Moon used to launch payloads towards Earth or other deep space destinations, including James P. Hogan’s The Two Faces of Tomorrow, and Allen Steele’s Lunar Descent.
The first line of the issue sees John Stone using James Bond’s idiosyncratic way of introducing himself to a young woman, who’ he’s presumably intending to bed.
Drums mentions LaGrange points when he’s explaining the capsule’s translunar orbit to Snow. These are 5 points in the orbit of a smaller object around a larger one where the gravitational pull of both objects negate each other. L1 is halfway between the smaller and larger object, L2 is half the distance again out in a straight line that starts at the larger object and passes through the smaller one, L3 is the opposite point in the smaller object’s orbit, L4 and L5 are about 30 degrees in front of and behind the smaller orbit, in the same orbital track. Drums’ comments suggest the capsule is passing through one or more of the Lagrange points, but the diagram of the orbital path doesn’t look to back this up
The Capsule destroys the Hubble space telescope on the way back in. I think something else destroyed Hubble during The Authority, but given that the Wildstorm universe had a massive orbital station which was sending regular flights to the moon, it’s possible they had more than one such telescope in orbit (or nobody in the creative team cared)
There are clear parallels between this story and issue 10. In both cases a space capsule lands on Earth, and William Leather intercepts it. He has a snarky conversation with Dowling, and there’s soldiers and helicopters there. But this time the soldiers and helicopters are Planetary’s rather than The Four’s. I wonder if their defeat at Uluru has dealt them a more severe blow, resource-wise than the story lets on?
An interesting point to consider is that early in the issue, Stone tells Snow that he should consider asking for help, because he’s got the whole planet on his side. This suggests that Planetary fought a shadow war against the Four and may have won if they’d asked for help. It also suggests that he’s unaware of Snow’s alliance with Anna Hark, which has borne fruits in the shape of the weapon Jakita uses to disable Leather.
I’m going to take a moment quickly to note the art, which is superlative this issue. I especially love the page where Leather lands beside the capsule, he’s got great expressions, there’s always a little bit of him on fire, and the colours are breathtaking. I also love the sepia-toned flashbacks at the back of the issue. And the expressions on Snow and Jakita’s faces when they move in to capture Leather are phenomenal.
This issue marks the end of book 3: Leaving the 20th Century. Each issue has been set in the book’s past, or has had a flashback or been centred around an event in Snow’s personal history. Like I said at the end of book 2, the Four represents unfinished business for Snow, and he’s gone from sending them threats to actively going after them, foiling their plans and diminishing their numbers. The last line of the book shows that everything is changing now as we move into the new millenium: Strange world, and it’s always going to be that way. The mantra has changed - does that represent a more forceful restatement of Planetary’s mission, or is it acknowledgement that because Snow never knew about the gun club, the world will be strange regardless of how much effort he puts into documenting it and the Four try to suppress it?