On Planetary

Planetary is the greatest work of comic literature ever produced.

That might not be true, but I do believe that it’s at least in the top five. There’s something visceral about it that I can’t really wrap my head around. Maybe we need to do a quick recap, and I will, but if you care more, then you can do the wikipage.

The idea is that there is a secret history of the world, and Elijah Snow has to chronicle it. That’s all the plot that you need–the plot is largely irrelevant, actually. The meat of the book is the secret history that it teases out. It’s a secret history that includes Sherlock Holmes, Dracula, and others in a cabal to save in the world during the 1800s. It’s the kind of history that features Galactus discovered by datatransmitting angels sent from the center of our galaxy to spy on our spiral arm. It’s the kind of secret history where the Fantastic Four are the worst people the human race have ever produced. Those things are fantastic to me, but more than that, there’s a kind of running commentary and criticism  to the whole thing.

What I’m really trying to get at is that Planetary is an artifact that comments on other artifacts. It is firmly in the early 2000’s as far as comics writing is concerned, but it comments all the way back to the 1930s. It is a comic that’s pretty much shit unless you’re familiar with the past eighty years of comics. And that makes sense to me. That makes me want to know more, to learn more, to think more about comics themselves. In one issue, John Constantine turns into Grant Morrison–and I have no idea what that actually means. It’s a throwback, a settling in time of the whole work.

So it’s something that’s interesting. It’s something that matters a little bit. It’s creative and it imagines the death of every important hero in favor of bringing back the 1930’s.

I just have a soft spot for any comic book that drops a Reed Richards hundreds of meters into the ground by displacing a bleedship.

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2 Responses to On Planetary

  1. Ross says:

    I don’t want to be asinine, and I hate to keep bringing it up, but are you SURE Carter turns into Morrison, and not Spider Jerusalem? If you look at the scene where Carter takes off his jacket, you can see tattoos on his chest–look at who else has those tattoos: http://tinyurl.com/26jqu6p

    On another note, I think it’s too limiting to say that Planetary is just a commentary on comics. I’m not saying that’s not a big part–and the part where the Fantastic Four kill Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, and Superman is one of the best–but I think it’s more popular culture as a whole. I mean, you’ve got Kevin Blackwood and Doc Bronze (pulp novels), giant monsters and nuclear Cold War ghosts (50s sci-fi),and Hong Kong vengeance spirits (John Woo movies). Also John Stone, but I don’t know if he’d be James Bond or Nick Fury.

    • kunzelman says:

      Comics aren’t just superheroes. Sure it’s different genres, but I think it’s a specific response to those genres represented in comic books, and even it it’s not specifically that, you can read it in that way.

      Also, we’re talking about different panels. The character is representative of a lot of different things, and if you pay attention, he’s drawn differently on purpose in different panels. The issue is all about British Invasion, so you have it working out that way: the funeral is a commentary on Gaiman and Moore (Superman above, Death+Dream, Swamp Thing), then there’s some history, then Constantine story, then the deconstructed hero (commentary on Moore again, I think)–and in the first shot of the John after the shotgun murder, he is pretty specifically Grant Morrison, which I think is commentary itself. Ellis saw GMo as critical to the new comics movement that got rid of the deconstruction problem by reconstructing fantastical things.

      In the later panel, yeah, he’s obviously Spider Jerusalem. But if we’re reading it correctly, it makes sense: Ellis is part of the British Invasion too. The dialogue of the panel is part of it too. “Not like I ever claimed to be a role model” is something that speaks for that whole wave of comics. The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen were not meant to create the bullshit that they did, and neither was Transmet (though I think Ellis is projecting a hope here; Transmet didn’t do what he thought it would.)

      tl;dr is that we’re both right, but saying that it’s one or the other misses the point of the whole issue.


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