On Planetary #18

Planetary #18
DC Comics / Wildstorm – Warren Ellis (w); John Cassaday (a)Maybe you didn’t notice, but most mainstream comics stopped having letter columns on their back page a year or two ago. For a little while, there was a bit of a tempest in a teapot, as a small contingent of older readers pitched a fit over it, as if comics somehow NEEDED letter pages. Now, I’ll admit that I personally wish Marvel and DC had left them in, but that’s because sometimes a trip to the john takes longer than you expected and if you only took one comic in there with you, your options for amusing yourself are pretty limited once you’ve read it. With the letter column, it was like, “Hey, another page of stuff to read. Rock on.”

But I digress.

Planetary currently makes me wish that letter columns could have an emergency reinstatement, but for an entirely different reason, one completely unrelated to my geriatric bathroom trips.

I want to write Warren Ellis a letter. And I want it to say one thing and one thing only:

“Where is the fucking conspiracy, Warren?!”

‘Cause here’s the deal, man. When you spend fourteen issues of a book laying the groundwork for an epic, X-Files-style conspiracy plot, then go on hiatus (for, what, two years?), you damned well need to make with the payoff when you come back. Especially when you’ve said that the series is only twenty-four issues long, so now we’re officially three-quarters of the way home, and nothing seems to be getting resolved.

OK, less rambling / ranting, more reviewing.

The gist of this issue is that an object orbiting Earth is found to be in a state of gradual decline. Its reentry trajectory is plotted by Planetary, the organization founded by Elijah Snow for the purpose of uncovering the “secret history” of the entire world, and its projected crash site ascertained. What makes this case fall into the purview of the century-old Snow and his cohorts is that the mysterious object is returning to its point of origin (somewhere in Texas, as it so happens) over one hundred and fifty years after launch. Faced with hard evidence that someone in America put an object of substantial size into orbit roughly seventy-five years prior to the first known space launch, Snow and company stake out the crash site, waiting for agents of The Four to make a grab for the module when it lands.

Then they kick his ass. Then the issue’s over, basically.

So. That brings us up to speed, pretty much; back to me complaining.

The book is gorgeous. That much is simply undeniable. You’d be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t think John Cassaday is half the reason this book is so successful. I mean, pretty much anything this man sets his mind to working on is going to be at least interesting to pick up, visually speaking. Hell, he was the only bright spot of the Marvel Knights Captain America relaunch (it sure as hell wasn’t that heavy-handed storyline of Rieber).

The book is also entertaining, no doubt about it. No one has ever accused Ellis (or rather, justifiably accused him, I should say) of having a lack of quality ideas. Again, that much is undeniable. The high concept of this issue, that of a 19th-Century “gun club” creating an enormous cannon, the projectile it shoots being a manned space capsule, is simply cool. It’s the sort of story that made this book famous to begin with, taking a known concept and spinning it in such a way that it seems original and fresh again.

So what’s with all the complaining, after all? You’ve got Ellis writing completely enjoyable stories, backed up by eye-popping art from Cassaday. Sounds like a winner.

And it is, really. The problem is that I’ve waited two fucking years for the conspiracy to finally start winding its way towards some semblance of a conclusion and so far, since the book came back from hiatus, the only nod towards that conspiracy that I’ve gotten has been the summary ass-kicking that Jakita gives to Four-member William Leather this issue. That’s it. Last issue was a Tarzan story masquerading as the pseudo-origin of Jakita Wagner and the issue before that was a kung fu story dressed up as the origin of Anna Hark. Sure, there are passing references to The Four in those issues, but mostly they’ve come off as very pretty, relatively entertaining space-fillers. Like there’s a twenty-four-issue order to be filled and if some throwaway stories have to be shoehorned in before the grand conclusion so that that order can be met, then that’s the way it’s going to be.

I should probably be very happy that Planetary is even seeing the light of a Wednesday morning on a regular basis right now. And I am. If I seem dismissive of the recent issues, it’s not because they aren’t good. It’s just that, quite frankly, they aren’t the sorts of stories that I’ve waited well over two years to be reading right now.

But what’s making this the most frustrating, and probably the real reason for this extended bitch-fest that I’m going to laughably call a review, is that the book is rumored to be due for another extended hiatus, as John Cassaday moves on to a more high-profile gig as regular artist for New X-Men. So what we, as readers, will have really gotten these past couple of months is an interlude. No plot movement at all, just further promises that someday the story will actually be resolved.

So here’s the final analysis: the issue is still beautiful and it’s still fun. Does it amount to much in the grand scheme of the series? Not really. But a bad issue of this book is still worlds better than most other books on their best day.

Hopefully, however, when Planetary returns (again) in another two years (AGAIN) it’ll be with some meaningful action.

The Warren Ellis following of the internet will probably eat me alive for this…


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