“Let’s keep it that way.”
So ends the first issue of the comic series Planetary, script by Warren Ellis and art by John Cassaday, published by Wildstorm comics. Planetary started in 1999, and I’ve been reading it since about 2001, just in to the second trade’s materials. The 27th issue and series epilogue was released today, and now the series is officially complete.
For those who don’t know it, here’s the premise: John Elijah Snow is recruited by the Planetary Organization, a rich and influential group that acts as Mystery Archaeologists, uncovering and documenting the secret history of the 20th century. In the first six issues alone, they find 1) the sole survivor of a pulp-era superteam who just barely stopped a cross-dimensional Justice League analogue from conquering our planet 2) A Hong Kong ghost cop seeking vengeance 3) the Monster Island where the remains of Godzilla-style monsters are treated as sacred relics by a Japanese terrorist and his sychophants, 4) Radioactively mutated people and giant ants, and much more.
Part of why I love this series is the way it interfaces with genre. The series takes the popular literature/culture of the 20th century and says ‘what if this were all true, but it was secret?’ A sense of wonder and deep fascination with the past permeates the book, and in this case, the past is our cultural heritage, and most specifically the cultural heritage of the superhero genre (since the series is published in the medium associated with supers, by a publisher known for superhero comics) — even though in the world of Planetary, superheroes don’t exist in the public eye (Well they kind of do, as Kevin says, but that depends on how much one considers it to be in synch with other Wildstorm continuity). Snow and the other members of the Planetary Organization go around the world and discover the wonders that were and those that could have been. Popular literary genres are positioned as thrusts and ripostes of cultural warfare to control the earth.
Each issue tends to focus on one of those genres, with a cover stylized to match. Atomic SF here, Hong Kong action there, and then over to silver age superheroes and back to pulp mystery.
So if you haven’t read Planetary, you might give it a chance, especially if you like any of the following: 1) genre studies, 2) superheroes, 3) deeply intertextual literature.
I received no free copies of anything from this series, so don’t bother trying to fine me, ok FTC?