Ambidextrous 314: The Complete PLANETARY Pt. 1

Ambidextrous: Complete PLANETARY Pt. 1

This is me, apologizing in advance for the crushing onslaught of words in this week’s dual installments, all devoted to Ellis & Cassaday’s soon to-be completed comic book epic Planetary

I’d always planned to commiserate the long-awaited conclusion of the series with one (possibly two) of these features, digging into precisely why it’s another clear example of the medium functioning at its highest possible level. Problem being that for some reason I thought Planetary #27 was dropping at the end of this month, and not the beginning, which would’ve provided some considerable breathing room between it and the two-week look at Bendis & Gaydos’ Alias I just completed. My editors didn’t think it was a big deal, and that a series like Planetary was well worth it, so I’ve spent the last week reading the entire series from the very beginning, and even without the final chapter, it’s already an amazing piece of work. Truly a celebration of some of the greatest concepts and characters in modern fiction, in addition to being a well-layered conspiracy story with a number of fantastic twists and turns.  

So here’s my notion on how to cram 27+ issues of greatness into two columns, both of which are posting on site this week. For every issue, I’ll be specifically highlighting one particular moment, happening, or impression that stood out above and beyond all others. In cases where there is more than one worthy contender, a quick runner-up will also be referenced, but in an expedient and concise manner. Also, my favorite line or exchange of dialogue will be included at the top of each entry as well, because the series often featured some great dialogue. Sound good? All right then, let’s get it movin’ on to the good stuff. Ladies and gents, I give you my initial set of thoughts on Warren Ellis and John Cassaday’s legendary series Planetary…  

All Over The World (Chapter 1)

“I get bored easily. Planetary stops me getting bored.”

I missed the sneak peek of this series in the previously released Planetary Preview, so this was my first official exposure to the “archaeologists of the impossible” and I was down from the minute Jakita Wagner walked through the door of that diner with the dog urine flavored coffee. In one single issue the entire thing is laid out for you---the fantastic characters, the awe-inspiring visuals, the central mysteries that will ultimately be revealed, and the ideology that will always push the narrative forward. Strange worlds make for strange stories, and what the hell is greater than that? Also worth mention is the first appearance of one Doc Brass, still awake after fifty years for the entire world’s sake, and the explanation of how the Snowflake actually worked.  

Island (Chapter 2)

“I see. We are to be executed here in this place of dreams. You too.”

Just nudging past all of Master Storyteller’s insane dialogue here are the first real visual representations of the superhuman abilities of both Jakita and Elijah Snow. In the case of the former, we already knew she was very strong, but here she displays heightened vision and super-speed. Elijah on the other hand, uses a really neat heat subtraction trick to save himself from a cloud of approaching nerve gas. Great seeing a little more of what these characters can really do at this early point.

Dead Gunfighters (Chapter 3)

“Please tell her…make the most of these days. I’ve seen what happens when we die. Tell her it doesn’t get any better than this.”

Obviously, anything having anything to do with murdered detective Shek Chi-Wai is the clear standout here. A great, yet thoroughly tragic origin story, an important, yet depressing message about what happens when we all die, and a haunting visual supplied by Cassaday and company easily takes the flag. The first time Planetary witnesses Chi-Wai bring the pain to a gang of killers, Jakita, with her eyes buggin’ out and her jaw slammed into the pavement can only say, “Did you see that? That was incredible.”


Strange Harbours (Chapter 4)

“These are the moments I live for. I put up with all the other crap just to get seconds like this. The moments when you know the world is a better place than advertised.”

Elijah Snow, frustrated by his current role as little more than a well-dressed trash man, takes charge and pledges that Planetary will help Jim Wilder in any and every way they can. We were already getting a little feeling about Snow and his ultimate role in things, but this was the first huge scene that told us straight up something else was going on here. The Drummer winking at Jakita, who was also nursing a strange grin of her own, was the kicker.

The Good Doctor (Chapter 5)

“We cannot allow the world to be this way.”

The “book within a book” concept is something I always love seeing, and it’s used to great effect here, with Cassaday supplying some glorious spot illustrations. Back in high school, I was convinced that I’d write adventure and mystery novels for the rest of my life, so I have a healthy respect for the power of well-written prose. This look into Doc Brass’ rich, adventurous past certainly qualifies.

4 (Chapter 6)

“I don’t enjoy killing people. I want to kill these people.

A game-changing story in every conceivable way. Elijah “learns” about the presence of a quartet of strange adventurers, who have been doing everything in their power to suppress and retard the secret history and possible greatness of the world. Then he comes face-to-face with some of their handiwork, then one of them, who promptly kicks the crap out of Jakita and flings her out of a window. All of a sudden everything was not just strange, but also incredibly dangerous for the people keeping it that way.   

To Be In England, In The Summertime (Chapter 7)

“England was a scary place. No wonder it produced a scary culture.”

So after getting a wildly distorted version of the Fantastic Four in the previous issue, this one features a number of stand-ins for some of the more memorable Vertigo characters from the eighties. And a bit of an explanation of how and why certain writers likely gravitated to those characters in the first place. More than a few cool insights and images to be found here.

The Day The Earth Turned Slower (Chapter 8)

“You know what it was like, living in a country driven mad with fear of nothing?”

Tough choice here, as this entire installment is packed with cool moments and even cooler revelations. In the end though, there is something about Jakita rushing into battle against gigantic sci-fi ants, with an almost as gigantic smile on her face as she proceeds to rip them to pieces. Soon after she’ll emerge covered in bug guts and apologizing for kicking one of their heads through a wall. Great bit.

Planet Fiction (Chapter 9)

“We’re living inside a science fiction movie. The black guy always dies in science fiction movies.”

One name here is all that matters, people, and that name is obviously Ambrose Chase. Mentioned briefly long ago, the previous Third Man makes a stupendous debut, wearing Elijah Snow’s outfit, distorting reality, and shooting people in the head like it was his job. But like the man says, the black guy always dies in the end, no matter how cool and unflappable he appears to be. Thankfully, this wasn’t the true end to his story, and also clever that Ellis revealed exactly who the Fourth Man was, then took it back a few pages later with a well-phrased sentence.   

Magic & Loss (Chapter 10)

“We’re so proud of ourselves, aren’t we? We must be, to fill the skies with the sounds and shapes of our wonder. We’ve killed ourselves with self-inflicted glory.”

Also known as “the one where the Four assassinates and then dissects the JLA”. This story has the feel (and outcome) of a horror movie, as alien visitors are snuffed out in some truly hideous and unsettling ways. Dowling and company become more and more grotesque with every brief appearance, and have easily achieved the intended status of becoming the bad guys you want to see get their brains beat in. I mean, they killed little baby Superman in his rocket…what’s that about?  

Cold World (Chapter 11)

“I know who the Fourth Man is.”

To unravel what’s been done to his memory, Elijah visits the world’s greatest spy and has one hell of an interesting conversation, right after one hell of an exciting flashback. It’s great to see the walls come tumbling down, and you just know some of these color- coded flashes of memory are going to appear in later issues. But what a cliffhanger, setting the stage for the big-time revelation that once again changes everything…

Memory Cloud (Chapter 12)

“God. I’d forgotten how much I loved putting all this together.”

Of course Elijah Snow is The Fourth Man. It was right there from the very beginning, but Ellis spent the next eleven chapters leading us off the trail, almost as much as he spent hinting that the most obvious explanation was in fact the correct one. Him chiding his associates is great fun, but THE supreme moment is when Snow uses his powers to send a clear message to the people that took his mind away from him…yeah, you ____ed up, and now it’s time to pay for it. Another exciting turning point for the entire series.

Ruling The World (Planetary/The Authority)

“Mr. Snow, I believe these to be negro eggs.”

It might sound silly, but I’ve always enjoyed a crossover where the characters never actually crossover. Turns the well-worn pattern of characters meeting, then having a misunderstanding, then fighting about that misunderstanding, then reconciling, on its familiar head, and that’s what we have here. Without the other team’s contribution, the world ultimately wouldn’t get saved in the end, but the story loses none of its charm by keeping everyone separated.

Century (Chapter 13)

"I want to know what you know. I want to know secrets. I've seen the shape of the secret history of the world, and I need to follow its traces."

The long foreshadowed meeting between Elijah Snow and Sherlock Holmes is only slightly upstaged by Snow taking down Dracula by freezing him solid and then kicking his entire crotch off…but it most certainly is. As Holmes points out, it'll only grow back later, but the moment was still equal parts funny and awesome.

Zero Point (Chapter 14)

"We are old and powerful and bore easily. We enjoy the game Planetary represents. But we cannot allow ourselves to lose, Mr. Snow."

You can see exactly why The Four felt their regime was threatened by Planetary. But you can also see why Snow's group was ultimately taken down in their first real confrontation. The scale the bad guys were operating on was just too immense for them, with their dead planets filled with weapons, giant flying saucers, and memory erasing technology. My favorite bit though is Snow's outright defiance in the face of having his mind ripped away from him, and his final orders to his team not to let the bastards win. A powerful emotional moment that makes you anticipate the upcoming rematch that much more.

Creation Songs (Chapter 15)

"Your daddy was a hero. Your daddy saved people's lives. Lots of them. Including mine. And he didn't need a red cape to do it. He just had to be him."

I loved seeing Snow visit Ambrose's widow and having a little conversation with their daughter. The importance of the Chase/Snow friendship is something that only intensifies into the final arc, but even before we knew all that, it said something that after regaining some critical pieces of his memory, the first thing he did was check in on Larissa Chase. Just a nice moment of genuine sentiment mixed in with all the great action and conspiracy stuff.   

And right here is where we break for a couple days. Look for the conclusion (which will naturally feature impressions from the final issue out on Wednesday) either Thursday or Friday of this very week. Until then, take care, and thanks for stopping by.

The Fiction House

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