Starting from the cover, we’re deep into psychedelic territory. the limited colour palette and the integration of the logo into the design remind me a lot of classic concert posters, especially from bands like Pink Floyd. There are other influences in here, especially Doctor Strange, which is signposted in the middle panel of page 1, with the window on Melcantha’s door resembling the traditional design of Dr. Strange’s sanctum sanctorum.
The bottom of the second page reinforces what I’ve seen as Snow’s modus operandi the term steal a march comes from military strategy, being when you would accelerate the pace of your forces so they reach an objective ahead of when everyone expects them to, changing the tempo of the battle as a result. Melcantha knows that Snow will use unconventional methods to gain the knowledge he needs.
Richard Feynman is, of course a real person. His field was quantum physics, he made a number of significant breakthroughs in his life, and remains one of the best known scientists thanks to his prominence while alive, and his sharp wit. Eric Drexler is also a real scientist (who is still alive) who did come up with the concept of molecular nanotechnology, building on Feynman’s work on subatomic physics.
While some of what Melcantha says is genuine, not everything is - picotechnology and femtotechnology are still hypothetical, though scientists are user excimer lasers to alter matter on the nano scale, such as this human hair, approximately 100 micrometers thick, etched with the initials IBM twice
But even weirder - there was really an earthquake in Antarctica in 1993 which we think was caused by strangelet interaction.
As the issue progresses, it descends further into metaphysics, and this is where the rest of the references come to play. We’re deep into 70’s weird fiction here, and the crossover between it and pharmacological pioneers like Ken Kesey and Tim Leary, and so-called scientific philosophers (and SF novelists) like Robert Anton Wilson. I got huge vibes especially of Wilson’s Prometheus Rising (itself based on Leary’s 8-circuit model of the human brain) and Cosmic Trigger when I first reread this a few months ago.
The whole idea of the world having a driving intelligence or intelligence-like system at the subatomic level also dates back to that era of weird fiction and the hippie movement, but was undergoing something of a comeback at the time Ellis was writing this issue, noted Cyberpunk author and journalist Bruce Sterling was running the Vidirian movement at the time. This was about primarily increasing the aesthetics of environmental themes, but definitely had an undercurrent of the old Gaia idea. Sterling would frequently post about the movement on the WEF back in the day.
The last segment in Snow’s vision is full of imagery and metaphor. The floor of melted mirror could be a reference to Magic Mirror, a substance that magicians report emerging from them during spellcasting. It was seen repeatedly in The Invisibles. And it should be noted that Robert Anton Wilson had links to esotericism and the Magick scene, so there’s a link.
The life forms that emerge from the melted mirror aren’t a direct reference to anything, but they communicate primarily through symbolism, which Snow interprets on the page - except the close-up panel. The letters on the life form are how we represent DNA - the 4 letters C G A and T represent the 4 nitrogen containing nucleobases - cytosine ©, guanine (G), adenine (A), or thymine (T). My dedication to this post does not go so far as to enter the chunk of DNA we can see to figure out if it’s actually part of a sequenced genome or anything.
And so, some analysis.
This issue is building on two conversations - Snow, Jakita and The Drummer in Planetary/Authority, and then Drums and Jakita in issue 20 about Snow’s role in the world as the world’s immune system. Snow rejected Drums’ theory the first time around, and he wasn’t privy to the second, but here he’s basically told that not only was Drums right, but that he’s an actual construct rather than a human, or even superhuman. He was made by - call it the 20th century, or the world, or something - to defend it from threats. There’s a suggestion that the other century babies - Jenny Sparks, Brass, Blackstock and all - died because their missions were done. Sparks was born to kill God, Brass, Hark and Blackstock to defend the Earth from the ersatz JLA. And then is Snow still alive because the Four is? Will he die on their final defeat?
Another thing to consider is the page layout as the story progresses. The first three pages are 9-panel grid. Page 3 begins to break this when the top row is a single panel. Still maintains the grid, but it signals that reality is about to shift. It’s also the panel where Snow is first shown drinking the drugged tea.
The book shifts into six-panel grid next, as Melcantha begins to weave a trance to trigger Snow’s trip. We get 6 pages - double the last section - and it ends with Melcantha telling Snow he’s been drugged.
And then we get 12 pages of three-panel grid which ends with Snow coming down from his trip. There’s numeric sequences there - 3 - 6- 12 and 9 - 6 - 3. They don’t map perfectly but they’re all factors of 3. In an issue that references Robert Anton Wilson, who popularised the 23 coincidence, it has to be deliberate.
The sequence is designed to show the perception of time. Snow enters Melcantha’s place at one speed, he begins to slow down as the drugs start their work and he’s drawn into Mel’s voice, and slow down even further when he’s fully into the hallucination.
The last page shows how quickly he comes back to reality. 4 panels in the 6-panel grid style as he retreats from the house, and 3 in the 9-grid as he leaves.
While there’s not a lot in this issue beyond saying “So yeah, The Drummer’s right”, it’s as pretty as Planetary gets, and has wonderful imagery. It makes me think of Promethea, but not as deep. Which is kinda appropriate for Planetary?