Review: Planetary #27

by

Or – “A Long Wait Always Sets High Expectations…”

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Earlier this year, in anticipation of this issue, I reread my issues of Planetary, and was surprised to remember that it debuted a full ten years ago last April.  It started out very much as an artifact of its time, with similar themes to other stories: League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and Big Numbers, both likewise created in the 90’s, as well as echoes of the X-Files and even threads of Farmer’s Wold Newton family.  Each issue was something unique and odd, and the book managed to create quite a following of fans, many of whom have angrily noted the increasingly long hiatus between issues.  Jakita, Elijah and The Drummer have finally dealt with the Dowling faction, and now they have to deal with the fallout of their victory…

Pl2.jpgPreviously, on Planetary: In 1999, the mysterious heat manipulator called Elijah Snow was recruited into the Planetary Organization to serve as the Planetary field teams ‘Third Man,’ tracking down the “secret history of the world.”  Snow was introduced to many of the strange power players of his universe, but it soon became unclear whether Planetary was about protecting such arcana, or about controlling them.  As things unraveled, Elijah learned about the previous Third Man, Ambrose Chase, who was lost on a field mission.  He learned about the Planetary Guides which illuminate the hidden corners of reality, and of the mysterious Fourth Man, who provides the money and defines the mission.  As more and more of his missing memory returned, Elijah became certain that he knew who the Fourth Man was, and finally confronted the other members of the Planetary squad with the truth:  The Fourth Man is… ELIJAH SNOW.  Snow himself wrote the Planetary Guides, formed the Planetary Organization, and eventually ran afoul of a man named Randall Dowling.  Dowling’s motives were similar to Elijah’s own, save for the fact that Dowling used his knowledge for personal gain.  Having captured Snow, Dowling wiped his mind and sent him out into the world without memories, to eventually be “recruited” by his own agents…  Snow and his team have finally defeated Randall Dowling, but what happens to warriors when the war is over?

We start this issue roughly a year after the previous one, as the Drummer announces that they’ve worked their way through roughly 20 percent of Dowlin’s database, with Planetary using the knowledge for public gain, creating cures for disease, “life stations” that provide water, heating, light and sustenance for anyone at no cost, traveling to Mars and more.  It’s nice to see Steve’s thought process in action, as the advanced science quickly improves technology around the world, and makes a difference in the lives of millions of people.  Still, Elijah isn’t happy with their progress, wondering how much more could have been done, and wondering about the final fate of lost Planetary agent Ambrose Chase.  Elijah and the Drummer have a tense discussion during which Drums explains high-level reality-warping quantum theory, theoretical physics and temporal mechanics, while Elijah tersely tries to get him to explain.  A glowering Jakita Wagner finally interrupts their volleys, archly asking Drums, “Why do we keep you, again?”  Elijah is sure that Chase is still alive, having frozen the timestream seconds before his injuries would have killed him, and wants to use Dowling’s knowledge to retrive Ambrose from his reality bubble.  Drummer drops two huge bombs:  Dowling’s files contain schematics for a working time machine, but starting it could result in the collapse of reality.  Elijah orders him to build it and save Chase.

There’s a lot of talk here about Quantum Foam, and Cherenkov radiation, and more high-level physics stuff which, in less skilled hands, could be a turnoff.  Here, though, it works perfectly, with Drummer providing the technobabble ala Geordie LaForge, and Elijah refusing to play the cabbagehead, having down his own research.  The team discovers that Snow is correct, Ambrose’s energy field is still extant in the hallway where he fell, and immediately swings into action.  “This is now a rescue mission, people!” hollers the Drummer to his science teams.  While the science guys do their thing, team muscle Jakita Wagner has a crisis, realizing that things are changing so fast that her fighty-fighty seems to have no more use, like the adventure is over.  The Drummer powers up his massive time-shifter (and it’s design is fascinating, great work from Cassaday) and Elijah Snow makes the decision to push the button himself.  If the entirety of reality is going to collapse, he’s going to be the one responsible.  Rather than the end of the world, a series of time vortices open all around them, the side effect of the creation of the Time Machine…   The first one opens, and out steps Elijah Snow.  Then the second reveals… Elijah Snow.  And the third, and the fourth, and the fifth…  All the future realities contain the Planetary team (including an older version of Jakita, who assures herself that the really good stuff is still to come) which somehow means that the timestream HASN’T collapsed.  The time machine is about to, however, but Jakita’s superhuman strength holds it together just long enough to pulls Ambrose Chase out of the bubble, as the med-teams run in to help him.  From out of the time vortex comes a another figure, a Fourth Man, if you will, a smiling Ambrose Chase.  “We thought it’d be funnier if I waited.  Sorry…”  The Planetary team gathers around their injured member, and Elijah assures the now stable Ambrose that the adventure is just beginning.

For me, Planetary has always been more than just another comic series, serving more as a meta-statement on comics history, the super-hero as a genre, and even about the pulps that inspired them.  Previous issues have given us doppelgangers for Doc Savage, The Shadow, Tarzan (indeed, the pseudo-Tarzan was Jakita’s biological father), the Justice League and more.  Randall Dowling was a super-genius who could “stretch” his mind, with an invisible lover, a monstrous best friend, and a little brother type with energy powers…  The analogues of ‘The Four’ should seem obvious, although I find it funny that they end up taking over the world and using it for their own gain.  All in all, the big overarching plot really ended in issue #26 with the fall of Randall Dowling.  This issue is about family, about endings, and serves more as an epilogue to the previous issues than a climax to the story.  Even the ending of the story isn’t really an ending, something that I think works well within the structure of Planetary as a whole, seeing as how it’s a comic book that’s actually partly about comic books (and we all know that comic stories never really end.)

I went into this book with super-high expectations, all the while knowing that it was highly probable that the book wouldn’t live up to the hype, but in this case, I was happy to be wrong.  This book wasn’t what I expected (indeed, I had kind of forgotten that Dowling was defeated last time) but it was an enjoyable issue nonetheless, giving closure to each of the four main characters, finalizing the respect between the different methods of Snow and Drummer, and finally closing the one remaining open case in the Planetary ledgers.  John Cassaday’s art is stellar throughout, especially the subtle differences between the various alternate reality Planetary teams, and Ellis delivers a script that is complex without devolving completely into “technojargon as dialogue,” a common problem with futuristic/super-sciency storytelling.  This issue’s only real weakness is that it gives a reader almost no guideposts to the story, relying that we’ve all read the previous 26 issues (which, given that this is the last one, and the previous one came out in 2007 or so, is probably a pretty realistic assessment of the situation.)  I finished the issue with the same sort of enjoyment that came with reading the preview back in 1998 (the only reason that I, possibly that ANYONE, ever bought an issue of somethin called ‘C-23′) and believe that it serves as an excellent bookend to the series as a whole.  Planetary #27 earns a more-than-impressive 5 out of 5 stars overall.  Part of me thinks that I’m awarding it out of nostalgia, but given the enjoyment I’ve gotten out of this book over the years, I’m not sure there’s anything wrong with that…

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