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Planetary and the Secret History of the Wildstorm Universe

Warren Ellis and John Cassaday’s Planetary is a must read for every comic book fan. It is one of the greatest uses of the comic medium ever conceived and it was Warren Ellis at his absolute best. I remember stumbling onto Planetary since I’d already fallen hard for Ellis’ the Authority so it just seemed logical to my LCS that I pick up Planetary as well so they put the first issue on my pull list and I have always been grateful for that. I was hooked from the opening pages, as I had to know what was going on. Thankfully Warren Ellis and John Cassaday were more then willing to keep me enthralled for the entirety of the series.


The Field Team: Elijah Snow, Jakita Wagner, and the Drummer

On the surface Planetary was the investigation into the secret history of both the super heroes as well as the pulp heroes of the Wildstorm universe. But that was just the surface. What Planetary really was is Warren Ellis playing with every corner of comic book history with wonderfully crafted analogs to the big two’s stable of super heroes as well as their predecessors, the pulp heroes. Over the course of the book you get Ellis’ alternative take on Superman, Green Lantern, the Fantastic Four, Nick Fury, the Shadow, as well as countless others under different guises. Any reader who knew their comic history was enthralled with how Planetary played, respectfully, with comic’s heritage. Anyone not familiar with this rich history was no doubt compelled to investigate where all of these beautiful ideas were coming from and they hopefully fell in love with what had come before. That was the beauty of Planetary.

A team of classic pulp heroes

I still remember the emotional response I had reading that first issue. While Ellis and Hitch’s the Authority made me feel like a kid again reading my first epic super hero tale. Planetary on the other hand reminded me of the first time I read an alterative super hero story, like when I first discovered Miracleman. 1999 was a good year for Ellis, his best in my opinion as he gave us the Authority and Planetary. Planetary #1 is Ellis at his best. He is both concise and elaborate. Concise in the fact we meet two-thirds of our core cast in the first four pages. We find out Elijah Snow is a century-child who has dropped out of society for at least ten years and frequents a diner where there may or may not be dog piss in the coffee. Jakita Wagner offers him a job to explore the weirder side of the world for a very lucrative sum of money and we are off. Within a few pages we meet the last member of the team, the Drummer, who talks to machines. These three for twenty-seven issues and three specials are the Planetary Field Team, the secret organization that investigates the weirder side of the world.

Doc Brass and a 70 year showdown with the dangers of the Multiverse

The mission for Planetary #1, investigate the last know location of Doc Brass, another century child who is Ellis’s stand in for the classic pulp hero Doc Savage. Over the next pages we find the secret society of pulp heroes, who helped create a multiverse machine until there is a crisis and the pulp heroes must do battle with a seven-member pantheon that resembles some silver age heroes who will replace the pulp heroes. By the end of the issue we have a resolution but also a bigger question, what else is going on we don’t know about. And that is how Ellis sucked me in since I wanted to know. No, I needed to know.

The Four: the Anti-Planetary Team

The beauty of Planetary was that each issue could be read as a stand-alone issue but for those of us who read it every month there were multiple long running plot threads that were masterfully wrapped up. These plots involved the mystery of who was the Planetary benefactor who financed every investigation. What happened to four space explorers who returned to earth with super powers and used them to try and rule the planet? A perfect take and twist on the classic Fantastic Four concept. Planetary dealt with the Multiverse, with what would really happen if an alien child was sent to earth as well as so many other classic comic themes. It was the perfect blending of old and new and thankfully Warren Ellis and John Cassaday were both there for the entire journey. Planetary also allowed Ellis to play with the Pulp heroes of the ‘30s as the book was full of stand ins for the Shadow, Tarzan, Fu Manchu, and Doc Savage and there’s even an appearance by the greatest detective of all time. He also played with Sci-Fi-fi tropes of Giant Monsters and Human Science Experiments in hidden Soviet Cities. Each issue was something new and constantly wonderful.


The Authority vs. Cthulhu

Another bonus of Planetary was that Ellis used the publishing gaps in the main title to supplement the story with three prestige format specials. One of these was a crossover with his other Wildstorm classic title, the Authority in Planetary/Authority: Ruling the World, with gorgeous art by Phil Jimenez that saw the team deal with Cthulhu as well as ramifications from the multiversal bleed from Planetary #1. A second one-shot was the merging of the JLA and Planetary in Planetary/JLA: Terra Occulta with Jerry Ordway but my personal favorite Planetary/Batman: Night on Earth. It didn’t hurt that this one-shot was by the series regular creative team but the real treat was that due to a distortion field Batman morphs with every encounter so we have every variation of Batman appear in the title. We get the Neal Adams version to the ’66 Adam West pudgy Batman as well as the Dark Knight Returns universe larger than life Batman that is really quite intimidating when compared to actual comic book heroes.

The Wild Storm is coming and Warren Ellis is once again putting his signature style as he updates the classic Wildstorm Universe. I’m torn on whether or not we have any hints of Planetary in this new title. As much as I would love to see the classic characters part of me wants Planetary to stay in the past as it was such a perfect series and wrapped up beautifully that there isn’t a need to revisit the book. But any fan of Wildstorm will tell you that if you are interested in what is to come you must read what has been and Planetary should be near the top of your pile. Luckily DC released an omnibus a few years ago that collects every issue as well as the special one-shots in a beautiful hardback. If you’d rather read the trades they are never out of print and the entire run is on Comixology. Do yourself a favor and delve into the secret history of superheroes and take a wild ride into the weird and unknown and read Planetary.

John Burkle holds a BA in Political Science and a MA in Education. He spends his day teaching Politics and Government as well passing on a love of comics to the next generation. When not teaching he reads as many comics as he can, both current and…

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