Graphic Novel/Comics Review

Planetary: Leaving the 20th Century

(2005) Warren Ellis and John Cassaday, Titan Books, 8.99, trdpbk, 136 pp, ISBN 1-84023-938-7

This is volume 3 of the collections, containing issues 13-18 of the ongoing title. Planetary is an organisation headed by Elijah Snow, one of many extraordinary individuals born on January 1st 1900, able to subtract thermal energy from his environment. His teammates are Jakita Wagner, possessed of enormous strength and speed, and The Drummer, who is able to converse with all information systems. Together they are archaeologists of the unknown, digging down through the secret history of the world, and they oppose The Four, genocidal superhumans remade in The Bleed (cf. The Authority). Having started to regain his memory at the end of volume two, this collection contains a number of 'flashback' episodes that fill in the intriguing decades-long story of Elijah Snow, including his meeting with Sherlock Holmes and Dracula in 1920, his defeat by The Four (Challengers of the Unknown/Fantastic Four analogs) in 1995 - after mastering the Bleed-opening properties of a weapon (Thor's hammer analog), and his 1933 visit to Opak-Re and his meeting with Kevin Sack, Lord Blackstock (Tarzan analog).

This wonderfully written series mines the whole history of fantastic literature and comics and, for a certain age of comics fan, will be utterly delightful. I'm sure younger readers can enjoy it too and, hopefully, it might even inspire them to read the stories that inspired Ellis. Cassaday's art also has a lovely quality of being both original, when concepts are stretched beyond the point they would normally go, but also evocative of several great comic book artists, such as John Bolton, Paul Gulacy, Neal Adams, Richard Corben, Howard Chaykin, Bernie Wrightson and others. It's frightening how effortlessly Ellis can, in this and previous volumes, bring together such diverse elements as Doc Savage (Axel Brass), the incredible Hulk (David Paine), John Carter of Mars (Carlton Marvell), and the Godzilla monsters in one mind-boggling epic. It's just as well John Cassaday has what it takes to keep pace while adding his own re-imaginings. Writing and art are complemented and enhanced by Laura DePuy Martin's vivid yet subtle colours. Taken all together, this makes for a brilliant comic. So, if you've missed the delights of this one, take the plunge and catch up before it gets so far ahead that it becomes expensive to do so. Especially recommended for widely-read middle-aged fans!

Tony Chester

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