OK, let’s get back on track. hashtag making an effort
The references here are pretty obvious - John Leather is The Lone Ranger, his origin tweaked slightly (in the original material, the Lone Ranger was the only survivor of a group of six Texas Rangers, though he did have a hidden silver mine, and cast bullets from said metal). The Potwatomi tribe that Ellis’ ersatz Tonto is said to hail from is a real tribe, though Wiki doesn’t mention any settlement in Texas. There are roughly 28,000 Potwatomi alive today
By comparison, as noted back in issue 1, Bret Leather is based not on The Shadow but on another pulp hero, The Spider, who first appeared in 1933. The Spider of the Pulps has none of the Shadow-like abilities here - and neither of the influencing characters were newspaper publishers in their civilian lives. That last point might be a reference to the radical progressivism of the earliest Superman stories, but that’s quite a stretch, really.
The back chunk of the story - when William Leather talks about himself - isn’t a specific callback, though the setting of his conversation with Dowling calls forth images of movies like Casablanca. The narration saying it was after the war makes me think of treaty cities like Tangier, but it could just as easily be a dive in America. Dowling’s rant about punishing the world by becoming great calls forth Syndrome’s motivation from The Incredibles, of course, but it has parallels with many supervillians, most notably Lex Luthor.
Like many issues of Planetary, this has a three (and a half, sorta) act structure. 11 pages for John Leather, 7 for Bret, and 3 (or 4 if you count the first page) for William and his interactions, such as they are with Snow.
And there’s a defined colour palette for the transitions. The present is blue, not only for the lighting in the torture chamber, but also the background behind Leather in the first two panels of page 1 - being the two times he’s appeared in the present of the comics - issue 6 as he burns off his beard and his arrival at the Gun Club’s launch site in issue 18. John Leather’s section opens with a page that affects black and white photoraphy, complete with three panels affecting an early cinema look, with a rounded border, a silent movie-style caption, and film scratches. Only a splash of blood breaks this tone. When the story switches to Bret Leather, the first two pages have a red wash, only broken by the cold blue of the mansion interior in the last two panels, the red exterior spilling inwards through the open door and windows of the last panel. Finally, the page showing Leather and Dowling’s meeting after WWII is presented in a more sepia-tinged monochrome. Square panels and no scratches compared to the rough cinematography of the Western.
One more thing to note on the transitions. they all take place on three panel pages, with the transition panel - the blue closeup of William Leather’s face - getting lower each time. The first page of Bret Leather’s story has the panel at the top. The page where Bret’s story shifts to William’s has it in the middle (and one can argue that the panel of Brass and his company is more part of William’s story than Bret’s), and the page that shifts from William’s past to his present has it at the bottom of the page.
This issue raises a lot of questions. There’s some similarity between Frank Dowling - Paul’s killer and John’s first victims - and our old friend Randall Dowling. Is there a familial link? If that’s the case is Randall’s recruitment of William a symbolic subversion of an old family foe? It’s clear that Randall knew who William’s purported father was, and he used William’s resentment of that lost legacy to recruit him, so it’s not unrealistic to think he’s know one more generation of family history, especially if he was already planning to take over the Secret World hidden inside the Mundane one.
Secondly, there’s a nature vs nurture thing going on with William’s last lines to Snow. He says how he struck out on his own, how his legacy should be more than just Dowling’s heavy, but it’s ended with him in Planetary’s custody. So was he doomed to fail because he doesn’t have John and Bret’s genetic legacy? Or maybe it’s because Bret neglected him and then vanished?
It’s interesting to note that Snow uses the phrase “this is the news” when he starts to speak on the second-last page. This was also used in the second issue of his run on Stormwatch, right in the middle of a moment of brutality. And then the next page happens. And this last page has our last callback - to an event we’ve seen a panel or two of but know no details of. The Nautilus, which weighed heavily on Snow’s conversation with John Stone back in issue 11. It’s clear that whatever happened there - we know know Leather shot someone Snow cares or cared about, and it’s colouring his actions here. He doesn’t have to hurt - to torture Leather, but he does it anyway.