From left to right: Jakita Wagner, Elijah Snow, and The Drummer.
"It's a strange world. Let's keep it that way."Comic Book
series written by Warren Ellis
and drawn (mostly) by John Cassaday, focusing on a team of "mystery archaeologists" employed by the eponymous "Planetary" organisation, who were on a quest to expose the secret history of the Wildstorm
comic book universe and harness the fantastic technologies and advances that had been hidden by various malevolent forces. The main characters were:
- Elijah Snow — A reclusive and grumpy "Century Baby"; a super-human born at 0 Midnight on the 1st of January 1900 which, as with others sharing that birthday, had granted him virtual immortality and special abilities — in his case, the ability to freeze things with his mind. In the first issue, he's recruited by Jakita as the team's newest member.
- Jakita Wagner — A beautiful and easily-bored superstrong speedster who worked with the organisation primarily because it stopped her from getting bored (by, among other things, giving her the opportunity to beat up various monsters, aliens and giant ants).
- The Drummer — A mad technophile who had the ability to visualise any and all forms of information and to communicate with computer systems and other forms of technology.
- The Fourth Man — A major mystery in the comic. He funds Planetary and hand picked the field team, but remains behind the scenes.
In their exploits, they were opposed by The Four, a quartet of super-powered ex-astronauts who were at the centre of a deep under-government conspiracy
to keep the various wonders and marvels of the universe hidden from the population, and who bore a disconcerting resemblance
to a certain family of superheroes
who can be found in the Marvel Universe
The series is essentially Ellis' exploration of popular culture, and the "real-world" ramifications of many of the more far-out concepts that could be found within a century's worth of Speculative Fiction
, comic books and popular culture, as seen through the distorting-mirror lens of the Wildstorm Universe. As such, as well as the alternate versions of the Four, an entire back history is composed linking the pulp fiction heroes of the 1920s
(including versions of Doc Savage
and The Shadow
) with The Silver Age of Comic Books
and, eventually, The Modern Age of Comic Books
, with tangents into 1950s
sci-fi movies, 1960s
spy movies, Japanese monster movies, the Vertigo Comics
of the 1980s
(including versions of The Sandman
and John Constantine
) and countless more besides. In fact, pretty much the only appearing characters who aren't
based in some way on existing characters are the main characters themselves (except for a special issue which featured different versions of Batman
, and a League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
homage which, wittily, used the actual Sherlock Holmes
, Frankenstein's Monster
, and so on).
The final issue was released in October of 2009, tying up the series' run.
In addition to the main series, there were three crossover one-shots: Planetary/The Authority: Ruling the World
(2000), Planetary/JLA: Terra Occulta
(2002), and Planetary/Batman: Night on Earth
. (Alternate universes were involved for the two DC Universe
Provides examples of:
- Affectionate Parody: A lot, with special mention going to "To Be In England, In The Summertime," an only slightly over-the-top recreation of a Delano-era Hellblazer story.
- All Myths Are True: A notable modern take on this concept: not only are most myths true, but a great deal of classic fiction is true as well (in some form or another), and almost everything that 21st century pop culture loves to obsess over (superheroes, space travel, suave superspies, giant radioactive monsters, mystical martial arts, etc.) exists in some form. The conflict comes from the fact that most people are unaware of this, since it's all kept under lock and key by The Conspiracy.
- Alternate Company Equivalent: Pretty much every character who appears apart from the main ones, including versions of the Fantastic Four, Superman, James Bond, and more besides.
- Alternate Universe Reed Richards Is Awesome: In the Elseworlds JLA crossover "Terra Occulta", Planetary have massively altered society by making super-technology publicly available, unlike in the main Planetary timeline where it's all been hidden away.
- An Ice Person: It's right there in his name! It's a more low-key variant than most examples, though, described as "heat subtraction": he can't shoot ice at people in a fight or generate dramatic-looking "ice beams", but he can freeze anyone/anything solid in just a few seconds.
- Anonymous Benefactor: The Fourth Man, whose identity constitutes a major portion of the plot.
- Anti-Hero: Elijah Snow is grumpy, world-weary and quite ruthless, especially during his quest for revenge against the Four.
- Anyone Can Die: "Terra Occulta", being set entirely in an alternate universe, doesn't have to worry about keeping the regulars alive. It kills nearly every DC character seen in it except for Batman and Wonder Woman.
- Arc Words: see the page quote, above.
- Artificial Limbs: John Stone's hand is not as ordinary as it looks.
- Badass Crew: Though Planetary and the Four definitely have their badass moments, the real standout is the Secret Society, a team of adventurers who were almost entirely killed in the line of duty in 1945. The team's roster is essentially an all-star lineup of early 20th century Two-Fisted Tales, including obvious Captain Ersatzes of Doc Savage, Tarzan, Fu Manchu, The Green Hornet, James Bond, Biggles and Tom Swift.
- Big Dumb Object: "Mystery in Space"
- Bizarre Baby Boom: Happens once a century every century in the Wildstorm universe. These "Century Babies" (such as Elijah Snow himself) are born a second after midnight on the first day of a new century and usually grow up to be immortal and superpowered. They're said to be unliving, artificial constructs made for the purpose of preserving and advancing life on Earth.
- Black Best Friend: A rare totally platonic example between Jakita and Ambrose. There's no romantic tension from either side (he's happily married with a daughter, and Jakita is insinuated to have a pretty healthy sex life) but assorted flashbacks show that Jakita considered him her best friend, with perhaps only Elijah being closer to her, and he more as a father figure.
- Black Dude Dies First:
- Ambrose Chase, originally a member of the group, had the bad fortune to wander into a universe where Horror Tropes were laws of physics, explicitly including this one. Of course, they Never Found the Body. The trope is Invoked by the villain of that issue; Chase even notes that under normal circumstances he would be unkillable.
- In the final issue, the above example is subverted; it reveals he activated his time field and was perfectly preserved before dying, allowing Elijah to revive him.
- The Can Kicked Him: A guard suffers this fate thanks to Elijah and his freezing powers.
- Captain Ersatz: The heroes of the past are often pastiches of iconic comic book characters or of present ones.
- In a flashback in the first issue, a quantum computer creates an imaginary Earth with a set of Justice League analogues. Ellis even asked Cassaday to draw them as such. Other instances are The Four (of Marvel's Fantastic Four) and a technological take on Captain Marvel (DC Comics).
- Not to mention the ersatz Superman, Wonder Woman, and Green Lantern that get brutally murdered to demonstrate how evil the Four are.
- The Planetary field team are like a photo-negative twist of the original Fantastic Four. Specifically:
- The Thing, a slow and hideous mutated strongman who desperately wants to be normal again, becomes Jakita Wagner, a sexy woman in a sleek jumpsuit, and is superhumanly fast and strong at the same time, and revels in her superhuman status and constantly seeking new strange thrills.
- The Invisible Woman, the team mom who could make herself and other things invisible, becomes The Drummer, a boy sidekick who perceives things all around him that most people cannot — namely, information. For an added bonus, the Invisible Woman has often been written has having some strong emotions simmering under a calm surface. The Drummer, on the other hand, is a Cloud Cuckoo Lander with a calmly idealistic center.
- Mr. Fantastic is a white man, who creates strange gadgets and distorts his own body via stretching. His counterpart is Ambrose Chase, a black man (who falls victim to a weaponized Black Dude Dies First trope, see above) who uses normal semi-auto guns, and distorts physics and reality *around* himself rather than distorting his own body.
- The Human Torch is the youngest member, impulsive and brash, who throws around fire, and is pretty much just fire support for the others, strategy-wise. Elijah Snow is the oldest member of his team, is a thoughtful detective, *subtracts* heat from his environment to freeze things, and is the true leader of the team.
- Between the faux Justice League in issue 1, the death of the High mentioned in issue 5, the caped hero in issue 7, and the star child in issue 10, various ersatz versions of Superman pop up disturbingly regularly. They all die.
- Jakita Wagner's (adoptive) parents, though never shown, are likely intended to be parallels of Jonathan and Martha Kent. It's explained that they had an 'unfortunate incident' with a downed spaceship shortly before she was adopted, making Jakita an ersatz Superman of sorts as well.
- John Stone is the Steranko version of Nick Fury, complete with psychedelic 1960s adventures in flashbacks. His Red Right Hand is very specifically based on the Satan Claw, a power glove used by Fury's foe Baron Strucker that Fury himself memorably used in one of his better-known stories.
- Even many minor and background characters fall into this. For example, Axel Brass is Doc Savage (AKA "The Man of Bronze"), the Dead Ranger is The Lone Ranger, Hark is Fu Manchu, Lord Blackstock is Tarzan, the caped man in the Vertigo homage is Miracleman, and the Bride is Madame Hydra/the Viper.
- Bret Leather, the second Dead Ranger, is a subtle Captain Ersatz of Brit Reid, the Green Hornet. Bret Leather is the original Dead Ranger's son, just as the Green Hornet was originally the Lone Ranger's nephew. His hallucinatory abilities come from another mystery man of the era, The Shadow.
- Catch Phrase: "It's a strange world."
- "Let's keep it that way."
- Chainsaw Good: Fully-automatic chainsaw bullets.
- Cloud Cuckoo Lander: The Drummer.
- Coconut Superpowers: Perhaps the only time this has happened in a comic — Dowling's scary-ass superpower is going to cause everything to go straight to hell, right? Right? Well, they apparently ran out of page space to show it.
- Combat Pragmatist: Elijah Snow isn't hesitant to kick someone in the unmentionables, or to use his cold power to simply freeze an opponent solid.
- Or do BOTH at the same time, resulting in an opponent's crotch region smashed off their body entirely — as Dracula found out first-hand. And that was when Elijah was still a kid. If anything, he's gotten more ruthless with age.
- Continuity Snarl: Early on there were multiple references to events in The Authority and even a crossover. But as the Planetary storyline continued to develop, cross-references ceased and even world-shaking events in The Authority were never referenced. And don't even try to reconcile it with other Wildstorm series, particularly since they eventually became an After the End setting, while Planetary actually had a Happy Ending.
- Corrupt Corporate Executive: Anna Hark. She gets better.
- Crossover: Two with DC Comics, both via alternate universes. In "Night on Earth", the Planetary team pursue an antagonist who keeps flipping them into alternate universes, where they meet various versions of Batman. "Terra Occulta" is set entirely in an alternate universe that contains both a version of Planetary and a version of the Justice League of America.
- Curb-Stomp Battle: The anti-climax that was the final confrontation with the Big Bad.
- Ambrose Chase Vs. Kim Suskind. Poor lady never had a chance.
- In the Alternate Universe JLA/Planetary crossover, Elijah Snow vs. Bruce Wayne. Snow never had a chance.
- Cure For Cancer: The final issue includes a string of news reports about major technological advances Planetary has been able to make with access to the Four's hoard; one is, of course, the development of a cure for cancer.
- Decompressed Comic: Notable because Ellis was one of the first to do it in major Western comics.
- Deconstruction: In some cases just outright demolition.
- Even Deconstructions are deconstructed; the widescale Darker and Edgier trend in superhero comics in the 1980s and 1990s is deconstructed with the appearance of a former Cape who, having apparently suffered one of these during that period and angrily blaming the John Constantine Expy for it for whatever reason, angrily rants that he didn't want or need such a deconstruction just for the hell of it and liked his former, more innocent life perfectly fine, thank you very much.
- Deconstruction Crossover: The Planetary universe as a whole.
- Deconstructor Fleet
- Empathy Doll Shot: In the "Planet Fiction" issue.
- Everybody Lives: The end of the series as a whole. Ambrose Chase is revived and the full team go off into the sunset on their shift-ship. This wouldn't be quite as notable if Warren Ellis didn't have a Tomino-esque reputation for Kill 'em All endings.
- Explosive Leash: In one issue, the Planetary field team raid one of the Four's facilities, where a group of child prodigies in explosive collars are being forced to subvert the internet.
- Expy: In an odd double way. Jakita's ex-lover Jack Carter is a blatantly obvious (London-based, blonde-haired, trenchcoat-wearing magician) one of John Constantine. Then at the end of that story, he's shaved his head, changed his trenchcoat for a black jacket, and gotten tattoos reminiscent of Spider Jerusalem. (Though he was originally meant to be King Mob.)
- Eye Scream: The way they torture William Leather in the final volume.
- Flash Step: John Stone has his Blitzen Suit which enables short-range teleportation◊.
- Flying Brick: William Leather clearly won the superpower lottery on his team: speed, strength, flight, durablity and pyrokinesis.
- Genre Shift: Every issue has Planetary encounter a different genre. Some of these are even "remixes" - Planetary #3, for instance, is The Spectre done as a Heroic Bloodshed story, and Planetary #19 is Galactus done as an exploratory Big Dumb Object story.
- Getting Crap Past the Radar: The Tarzan Expy, Lord Blackstock, mentions he's never slept with a black person his whole life so far - "Why bother, when there are English girls?" Elijah questions it, since Blackstock was raised in Africa and went through puberty there. Blackstock is just barely hinting that his first sexual experience was probably not human when circumstances cut him off and save him a lot of embarrassment.
- Gilligan Cut: In Night on Earth, after he sees what the issue's antagonist is capable of, the Drummer announces that this time he's going to stay in the base where it's safe. Turn the page, and the next panel is him out in the field with Jakita and Elijah, complaining loudly.
- Groin Attack: Against Dracula. Somewhat less successfully against William Leather. Which is not to say that it worked poorly against Leather - it incapacitated him for a realistic time while Elijah got in a good rant, but nothing could be as successful as the one against Dracula.
- Guns Akimbo: Both the ghost cop and Ambrose are fond of this.
- Hell-Bent for Leather: Jakita Wagner.
- Hidden Elf Village: The lost city of Opak-Re.
- His Name Really Is Barkeep: First name: The, last name: Drummer
- Interplanetary Voyage: The Gun Club attempt to land on the moon using a Verne-style cannon. It doesn't work.
- Intrepid Fictioneer: One issue features an expedition to a fictional world that brought... something... back with it when it returned.
- Jumped at the Call: Jakita Wagner
- Kaiju: Complete with homages to Godzilla, Mothra and Rodan.
- Karmic Death: Dowling and Kim in the climactic showdown.
- Laser-Guided Amnesia: In issue #12, Elijah is revealed as a victim of this. He's the Fourth Man, and the founder of the Planetary organization, but Dowling erased his memories to make him forget this.
- Lawyer-Friendly Cameo: Of course, these alternate versions, whilst recognisable, are entirely distinct from the originals.
- Legacy Character: Again, Jakita Wagner.
- Lightning Bruiser: Jakita Wagner is durable enough to survive being defenestrated from a skycraper without harm, strong enough to "...drop-kick a rhino over the Grand Canyon" and fast enough to out-run trigger-pulls.
- Locked Out of the Loop: See Laser-Guided Amnesia, above. All the other regular characters know what that character's forgotten, but have their respective reasons for letting the situation continue.
- Man in White: Elijah Snow and Ambrose Chase.
- Martini-flavored Spy Fiction: John Stone's entire existence.
- Metafiction: In additional to all its other themes, you can read Planetary as a metacommentary on 20th century North American comics, in which the superhero genre eclipsed all other genres (crime, horror, spy, western, pulp sci-fi etc.) at the start of the Silver Age with the release of the Fantastic Four. See this review.
- Mind Virus: While the other members of The Four get their Marvel counterparts' powers, Dowling gets this: "Anyone who's ever been within a hundred feet of Randall Dowling... probably is Randall Dowling." This is an interpretation of Reed Richards' physical stretching ability mixed with his superintelligence — Dowling can 'stretch his mind.'
- Mirror Universe: "Terra Occulta", an AU in which evil versions of the Planetary central characters are the villains, and versions of the JLA are plotting to bring them down.
- Mysterious Employer: The Fourth Man
- No One Gets Left Behind: Lampshaded.
Elijah: He's getting away!
The Drummer: Leave me behind! I'll only slow you down!
The Drummer: I didn't mean it, you evil old geezer.
- No Poverty: The home of Jakita's mother.
- Nonhumans Lack Attributes: Averted. The Green Lantern Expy who falls on Earth naked has vagina-like genitalia.
- Nostalgia Ain't Like It Used to Be: Subverted in "To Be In England, In The Summertime"; the Affectionate Parody funeral for the John Constantine Expy and the reverent reminisce of the 1980s and 1990s Vertigo Comics (and the political subtexts of them) is undercut when Snow points out that, being relics of a particular time divorced of their cultural and political contexts, they can't help but look a bit ridiculous. Although she passionately defends and supports them, Jakita is forced to concede he has a point.
- Papa Bear: Elijah, eventually.
- Pedestrian Crushes Car: In issue 3, a guy attempts Car Fu on Jakita Wagner. She kicks him and the engine out of his vehicle.
- Production Foreshadowing: In the What If? story "Terra Occulta", part of the plot involves the creation of a time machine. Seven years later, in the main story line, the final issue revolves around the creation of a time machine of identical design.
- Really 700 Years Old: several characters. Snow was born on January 1 1900 and still looks like a very vigorous forty-something. Anna Hark and Jakita Wagner are the daughters of Century Babies, and both of them are around 70 by the time of the comic; Anna estimates that she and probably by extension Jakita) will live for roughly 300 years. John Stone, thanks to some very neat drugs, has aged about 5 years since 1965.
- Red Herring: Regarding the identity of the Fourth Man, Anna Hark. Several lines of dialog can be interpreted as clues that she's the Fourth Man, including Axel Brass speculating that the Fourth Man may be a woman, and a passage about how she likes to remain hidden and behind the scenes. It's done subtly enough that savvy readers are likely to think they're very clever for figuring out the truth... which of course is set up deliberately by Ellis in order to throw them off the Fourth Man's real identity.
- The scene most fans point to is when Ambrose is first promoted to the field team. The common fan theory was that Ambrose was about to say "but you're a woman." Then issue 13 came along and proved them all wrong.
Ambrose Chase: You're the Fourth Man? But you're—
The Fourth Man: Yes, I noticed that, too.
- Reed Richards Is Useless: Deconstructed; the Four are the evil Mirror Universe equivalent of the Fantastic Four, and they want to hoard all their glories and advances for themselves. As William Leather tells Elijah, "We are adventurers, my crewmates and I, on the human adventure. And you all can't come along." By the end of the series, Elijah finally gets to avert this. He takes back Dowling's database and uses it to makes the world a better place. The ending can also be seen as deconstructing why this is so often an Enforced Trope. The issue after Reed Richard stops being useless, the series ends, because it becomes much harder to tell interesting stories.
- The Reveal: Elijah is The Fourth Man. Not even he's aware of this, though, because Dowling captured him and erased his memories of forming the team.
- Rule of Cool: Even though this is a cynical, yet nostalgic exploration of fiction of the last century, it still operates on the Rule of Cool Like how about ghost cops that go Guns Akimbo? Chainsaw bullets? Jakita playing Soccer with the head of a giant ant as a ball? A Tarzan expy punching out a giant cyborg snake? An all out brawl between Doc Brass's pulp fiction era heroes and expies of the Justice League? The gang going head to head with several incarnations of Batman? Let's face it. This series is awesome.
- Slow Electricity: In the issue "Percussion", the Planetary field team raid a facility where a group of child prodigies are being held captive. A guard triggers a fail-safe that sets off the Explosive Leashes the children have been fitted with. Jakita runs across the room, first at the same speed as, then faster than the radio signal, kids' heads popping like zits just as her hands touch their leashes, with her beating the signal only to the last one.
- Sharp-Dressed Man: Elijah Snow and John Stone are standouts in this regard.
- Shout-Out: In the final issue, it's mentioned that the Planetary's job has now become a "rescue mission". Those same words were used in the final volume of The Invisibles to describe how the eponymous group's jop description has changed. Both series end with the protagonists getting past a simplistic black-and-white conflict, and trying to save the whole humanity instead.
- Shrunken Organ: In one issue, a giant man is seen in one panel, dying from his sudden artificial growth. His autopsy reveals "a normal-sized brain hanging in a web of nerve tissues like cables in a skull several feet across."
- Something We Forgot: An early Planetary mission introduced a character who was a refugee from a fictional Earth that had been given substance. He killed a whole bunch of people and then escaped. The issue ends with an ominous caption telling us that he is "still at large." The series then forgets about him and he's never mentioned again until the final issue, where it's noted in passing that the lead characters still don't know what happened to him.
- Spy Catsuit: While Jakita Wagner is not a spy, it is definitely a catsuit.
- Stable Time Loop: How the final issue basically ends, albeit with a twist.
- The Starscream: John Stone.
- Stat O Vision: This is how The Drummer sees the world.
- Steven Ulysses Perhero: Elijah Snow, who has the power to freeze things.
- Seems to be common with century babies. See Jenny Sparks, who can control electricity.
- Super Cell Reception: The Drummer receives a cell call while on the Authority's spaceship/headquarters - located outside of the universe!. Possibly justified in that the Drummer's superpower is control over information and information transmission.
- Superhero Trophy Shelf: All the teams in the comics maintain a collection of strange artifacts and secrets. Most notably the Four, who slaughtered the entire population of a parallel earth so that they "had somewhere to store their weapons."
- Which is also a Kick the Dog moment; they could just as easily have accessed an uninhabited one. (But then they wouldn't have been able to test out all those weapons before putting them in long-term storage.)
- Supernatural Martial Arts: Issue #16 prominently stars Ah Lien Hark, practitioner of Night Forest School and features a spectacular wuxia-style battle between herself and the villainous Lo. It is hinted later in the issue that her modern descendant Anna Hark also knows the style.
- Superpowerful Genetics: A major theme, especially concerning children of those born right on the turn of the century (and their kids).
- Take That: In Night on Earth, after meeting Adam West Batman and Frank Miller Batman, Jakita says she likes the former more than the latter.
- Technicolor Fire: William Leather wields blue fire. Though it's hinted to be something more strange and powerful than fire, since it seems to allow him to do things like pass through solid walls while wreathed in it.
- Time for Plan B: In the issue "Percussion", the high-rise building the Planetary field team are in starts blowing up around them, forcing them to resort to "Exit Plan B" — jumping out of the nearest window and being caught by a net trailed by a passing aiplane.
- Time Stands Still: One of the effects that Ambrose Chase is able to produce with his Reality Warper powers. This is also how he saves himself from dying after being shot in the first issue he appears in, only to be rescued in the finale by being broken out of his area of frozen time.
- Tomato in the Mirror: The mysterious Fourth Man, who the Planetary team secretly takes their orders from? It was Elijah all along. Elijah just didn't know it, because the Four wiped his memories in a previous mission.
- Transhuman Treachery: Inverted by the Four who betrayed humanity to a bunch of evil superhumans from an Apokolips-Expy dimension in order to become transhumans.
- Un Paused: Not played for laughs in the eighth issue, where a dead woman is successfully revived, and finishes what she was doing when she died: screaming.
- Wham Episode: Issue #12. Elijah Snow's amnesia has finally been cured, and we find out that he founded the Planetary, that he himself is the Fourth Man, and that it was the Four who put those memory blocks in his head. And now he's gonna take them down!
- With Great Power Comes Great Insanity: Inverted. Dowling and the Four intentionally sought out someone to give them superpowers because they were already insanely ambitious. The actual transformation doesn't seem to have had much effect on their mental balance for any of them, apart possibly from Greene.
- You Can See Me?: Carter's story in issue 7. "Oh, for God's sake. You can bloody see me, can't you?"
- Your Head Asplode: In the flashback to the Drummer's childhood, the children in the bomb collars all suffer this fate except the Drummer-to-be, who is saved at the last moment by Jakita.