Launched in 1999, Planetary helped catapult its writer, Warren Ellis, and its artist, John Cassaday, to comics super-stardom. Its initial format of focusing on a different genre with each issue also helped several of these genres gain mainstream traction among super-hero readers. This was especially the case with the pulp heroes Planetary introduced in its first issue. The way the title’s covers felt free to alter the Planetary logo, adapting it to the issue’s contents, also proved influential, although America’s Best Comics (especially Promethea) also began doing this around the same time.
The series began with a central mystery: the identity of the team’s so-called “Fourth Man.” Ellis wisely chose not to drag this mystery on too long, resolving it in issue #12 (Jan 2001). From then on, the series would focus on Planetary’s battle with the Four, the team’s villainous counterpart introduced in issue #6 (Nov 1999).
Unfortunately, the series increasingly ran late. After publishing six issues with 1999 cover dates, five with 2000 cover dates, and four with 2001 cover dates, the series took a long hiatus between issues #15 (Oct 2001) and #16 (Oct 2003). Initially returning as a bimonthly, the pace slowed again, with only two issues (#22 and #23) published in 2005 and three (#24-26) in 2006. Another long delay followed before the final issue (#27, Dec 2009). These delays didn’t hurt the series’s popularity, however; if anything, they only increased it, and Planetary assumed a kind of legendary status as a special series that shouldn’t be assigned to another creative team and should be allowed to conclude as intended. The publication of an issue of Planetary became a significant event in itself, and both Ellis and Cassaday were frequently asked about the series, even as they worked on other titles.
Planetary began as a series firmly set in the WildStorm Universe and designed to explore elements of that universe’s past which had not otherwise been shown. Early issues referenced the Wildcats as well as Ellis’s own The Authority, published concurrently with early Planetary. As time went on, however, Planetary ran late and, perhaps because of its sterling reputation, was allowed the continue without reflecting subsequent events in the larger WildStorm Universe. By the time Planetary concluded in 2009, the WildStorm Universe had been through several soft reboots and universe-changing events, none of which had been reflected in Planetary. Complicating matters, Planetary concluded with its own world-changing events, which wouldn’t be reflected in other WildStorm titles.
In 2011, the WildStorm Universe was incorporated into the DC Universe as part of its line-wide reboot. So far, the characters of Planetary have yet to appear, but that may not always be the case.