For this edition of the Wednesday slot, something a bit different – as Seb (ordinary text) and Julian (italics) discuss Planetary – its final issue and the series as a whole – in a conversational kind of way.
It’s finally here, then. And while there will be those who’ll angrily claim that the final issue of Planetary deserves little in the way of attention – considering the apparent lack of attention its readers have been granted by it in the last few years – we love it too much to do that. It’s our first and only opportunity to talk about a new issue in the life of this site – and that’s why we’re sharing the responsibility.
Also, the workload. Given how utterly unremarked-upon the first three year gap in the series’ lifespan was, it’s a pleasant surprise to see Warren Ellis working a distinct gap into the narrative, opening with a montage of images which show the Planetary organisation making good on Elijah’s previous boasts about how he would distribute The Four’s treasures to humanity. It may only be a token inclusion of the broader picture in what turns out to be a very character-lead conclusion, but it’s a welcome recognition of the series’ broader picture, and interestingly fits very well with the aborted Grant Morrison-driven direction of the Wildstorm universe. It’s a very atypical issue to close the series on. The absence of the trademark one-off cover designs which have characterised Planetary is initially masked by a spectacular gatefold from John Cassidy, but it soon becomes apparent that it’s a deliberate choice. More than any other issue, this coda is distinctly forward looking, with none of the distillations of twentieth century icons which have taken up the bulk of the stories. Even the Four-focussed issues stayed true to the idea of unearthing the past. Ellis may have not created the time-travel theory he expounds here, but it’s certainly more outward looking that the earlier issues’ high concepts.
The idea that the latter half of the series is, in fact, still true to the series’ original ethos is an interesting one, and not something I’d really considered before; the thing I’ve always said about Planetary is that it can be compared to TV shows like The X-Files, in that when it was focused on individual, standalone stories it was at its best, and the switch to an ongoing arc harmed it. But perhaps it’s not that after all – perhaps it’s just that the Four were never really the compelling threat they were built up to be. Their dispatch was an anticlimax – it’s only with them removed from the board that we see a sense of wonder and awe (and wonder and awe and discovery and joy in the secrets the world has to offer is, of course, what Planetary is all about) restored. The series was always very much about a certain type of adventure, and it’s not one that involves going and smashing up your foes (as elegantly constructed as Elijah’s plans were). Part of what makes #27 strike home a bit more is that it’s an adventure of discovery – unlocking the secret of time travel, venturing into the unknown to try and bring back a lost comrade.
Ah, but doesn’t the very fact that “it’s only with them removed from the board that we see a sense of wonder” support the view that Ellis knew what he was doing all along, and decided to embody his pet theory that Stan Lee’s creation were strangling a much broader cannon of popular fiction? I’d argue that the only real difficultly that the series encountered was Cassidy’s evolution in art style over the course of the issues. Most of the designs he came up with in his earlier pen and heavy inks phase have stood up well, but Elijah has never really looked right in the last third of the stories. Interestingly, Cassidy masks this well in this issue, with a lot more close-ups of the character to minimize use of his overall sillorette. And isn’t that last page just wonderful?
Yes, there’s no doubt that the issue looks as incredible as ever (from a technical point of view, easily far superior to the first few issues if you go back and look at them now). And yet, yes, I think you’re right – Cassaday hasn’t really nailed the true look of the characters, arguably for a while now. It looks more like his Astonishing X-Men than the issues of this series in which he and Laura Martin really hit their stride (for the sake of argument, let’s say that pinnacle was reached with the Batman one-shot). Still, it does seem slightly churlish to complain about the visuals when, after all, there are so few comics in the world that look this objectively good.
You mentioned after you first read the issue the interesting fact that the uniformity of the “visitors” suggests that the Planetary Foundation will not share the time-travel technology with the world. To retreat into fully-fledged fanboy mode for a moment, we never really had a resolution to the fact that Randall Dowling could reproduce himself psychically. Do you think that we’re supposed to conclude that a little of the mad scientist has tainted Elijah?
Heh, not a bad idea, and indeed the sort of thing that leads to frustration that the series only consists of 27 issues – it’s just so damned short, and feels like so much was left unexplored – such as, for example, never learning who the fictionaut is/was. And yet, now that I say that, it occurs that I’ve always thought of it as a far more deep and involving world than that encountered in series that got twice or three times as long a run. This is why Planetary was so wonderful – even in that short span (of issues, if not publication time) there was just so much to immerse oneself into. I think of issues like “Opak-Re” or “Century” – so much character and world background clearly fully realised in Ellis’ head, and he communicated a lot of it in a very effective and concise manner; but still, one feels, not enough. I want there to still be loads more of this to come – the ending, such as it is, is utterly lovely (and rewarding for the fans), there’s no doubt about that. It just feels – and I’m aware of the irony, given that it’s taken ten years to get here – like it’s come along too soon.