Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Planetary (comic book series)

In the last couple of weeks, I read four trade paperbacks that collected a series of 27 comics. The comic book series is Planetary.

Some people refer to these collected works as graphic novels, others disagree with that definition. But for the purposes of this review, I consider them graphic novels. Each of the collected books covers a set of stories that work together. They are titled:
Planetary Book 1: All Over the World and Other Stories

Planetary Book 2: The Fourth Man

Planetary Book 3: Leaving the Twentieth Century

Planetary Book 4: Spacetime Archeology
I have always enjoyed comic books, but reading comic books has not been a constant in my life. I read comic books as a child... I was always a reader. Little Lulu, Richie Rich, Mighty Mouse, and Katy Keene. When my son was younger we read all kinds of comics: Disney comics like Donald Duck and Uncle Scrooge; the Archie Comics with Betty, Veronica, Reggie, Moose and Midge. I loved the Archie universe. Also Superman, Spiderman, and Batman. In later years we graduated to alternative comics like The Tick, Usagi Yojimbo, Flaming Carrot, and Xenozoic Tales.

My son has continued to read various comics, especially Manga. He recently purchased the 4 volume set of graphic novels that collect all of the Planetary comics. There are only 27 comics in the series and he previously had read less than half of those. After reading them all, he encouraged me to give them a try.

You would think 27 comics would be a snap to get through but the overarching story is complex and I am out of the habit of reading comics. So I ended up doing a bit of rereading of the first couple of volumes.

The protagonists we follow in this series of comics describe themselves as “Archaeologists of the Impossible." They are trying to discover the world's secret history. Funded by a mysterious Fourth Man, they include three superhuman beings: Jakita (super strong and nearly invulnerable); The Drummer (the techie of the group); and Elijah Snow, who is picked up to join the team, somewhat unwillingly, in the first story. Elijah can create intense cold and extract heat.

As the stories move along, we realize the overall story is about a universe that pulls together new (and very different) versions of comic book heroes from many universes (DC, Marvel, etc.), pulp fiction heroes, and even heroes from detective fiction (Sherlock Holmes). This is not a spoof, but a retelling and a different vision. I am sure those more familiar with the comics universe would get even more of a kick out of this. To be honest, I did not recognize the origin of a lot of these alternate heroes or villains, but the story was still meaningful to me. In my opinion, it can be enjoyed on various levels.

Each comic is a stand-alone story, but as the books progress, the reader can see that each mission leads the heroes toward a goal which they are initially not aware of. I liked the slow development of the story, the extracting of the origins of the heroes and what they know and what they have “forgotten.”

Quote from a review at
I find that the true mark of a long-lasting, high-quality book is its ability to strike a chord long after the dust has settled upon its pages, and the creative team has scattered, moving on to new and different projects. Planetary was a sporadically running series that ran from 1999 to 2009, which consisted of 27-issues residing well within the trenches of the Wildstorm Universe.
Over the years, Planetary has developed enough of a following to justify the release of several editions collecting the issues over the years. There is the four book set I read, another two volume set published later, and a final set that collects them all in one volume. The story by Warren Ellis is excellent, as is the artwork. The penciler was John Cassaday; the comics were colored by Laura Depuy (also credited as Laura Martin); with David Baron and Wildstorm FX.

Another graphic novel that my son has recommended is Watchmen. I will be reading that sometime in the next year.


Prashant C. Trikannad said...

Great post, Tracy! I read all kinds of comics as a kid and I still read them now. Batman was and is a favourite followed by the Hulk. I'm not fond of graphic novels because I don't like the artworks or the stories. Frankly, I shouldn't be judging them as I've read only a handful that includes the "Watchmen" series you mentioned. Besides, graphic novels in India are expensive and they occupy a lot of space. I'm not familiar with the "Planetary" series but it sounds exciting. I still prefer the early 20-odd page A4-size comics printed on thin paper, staped at the spine, which used to sell for a few cents or rupees. Now these have been replaced by glossies with complex artworks and stories revealed in several parts across weeks.

I agree one needs to refamiliarise with comic-books after all these years. A good test would be to pick up any vintage "Classics Illustrated" comic and see if the illustrations hold up; chances are they don't, in spite of the top value of these comics today. Those were, and are, real comics.

Anonymous said...

Tracy - What a terrific post! And timely, too, as Comic-Con 2013 has just ended. Interesting too about how comics and graphic novels have held people's interest for such a very long time. Absolutely fascinating! There's something about that visual mode that really does draw people in.

TracyK said...

Thanks, Prashant. We loved the Hulk too. Comics and graphics novels are very expensive. And I too liked the stories that would be complete in one comic. I (and my family) have some boxes of old comics that I can go through and enjoy. Planetary was interesting because of the references to other comic heroes, etc., even though I did not get a lot of it.

TracyK said...

Thanks, Margot. I had forgotten that Comic-Con was going on; so much of it features TV and movie tie-ins. I always enjoyed the art of the comics as much as the story.

Sergio (Tipping My Fedora) said...

I used to love Marvel comics when I was growing up in the 70s, along with Lee Falk's MADRAKE and THE PHANTOM, but I've never gone back to them since though things sure have changed! Sounds fascinating - thanks TracyK for the illumination!

col2910 said...

Tracy, I'm not that big a fan of comics/graphic novels to be honest. I do admire the artwork in them and the skill involved in creating a piece. Glad you enjoyed them though.

TracyK said...

Sergio, comics have changed a lots. More glossy and expensive. Too expensive to keep up with, but this series was great for dipping back into that medium.

TracyK said...

The artwork is the biggest draw for me too, Col. There are some stories I have enjoyed in graphic novels, but I can't (financially or timewise) keep up with both books and comics so it is the same old story... too much I want to read.

Sarah said...

Interesting post, Tracy. Comics have never really been my thing but it's interesting to read and learn more about them. Thanks

col2910 said...

I forgot to say, Warren Ellis has written a couple of novels also, I tried and enjoyed the first though the title escapes me... Crooked Vein, maybe

TracyK said...

Thank you for letting me know about those, Col. I had no idea. I looked them up...They are Crooked Little Vein and Gun Machine. Both sound good, although maybe darker and more thrillerish than I usually read. I will try one or both.

TracyK said...

Thanks, Sarah. I agree, it is interesting to learn about all types of writing and art.

srivalli said...

I could never read comics as a kid. Strangely enough, I found the artwork distracting and I couldn't concentrate on the text. I did read a Manga version of Romeo Juliet recently. Though I enjoyed it, I haven't read anything else. Maybe it's time o pick up one more.

TracyK said...

Valli, I am thinking I will try to read 2 or 3 graphic novels a year. I am sure there are others I would enjoy.