Once upon a time, in what often feels like another life, a young Bear was a fan of comic books.

Boxes and boxes of carefully sorted, collected, plastic wrapped and backboarded issues resided safely in his home.

Along came a day when it was time to get on a bus, and leave his old world behind, to take that first step towards Parris Island. He didn’t know a whole hell of a lot about what was ahead, but e had a fairly good idea of one thing; it would probably pay to travel light.

Towards that end, he decided to put away childish things, and gave everything away to his high school friends. Books, comics, role playing gear, everything. 

It was a symbolic act of turning his thoughts away from the detritus of the past, and instead looking only towards the future, and what he could make of it.

Yeah, that kind of thinking doesn’t last very long in the real world.

The truth is, we are the sum total of all of our experiences and knowledge, and for good or bad, everything we do is part of who we are.

I may not have had any comic books, but the part of me that liked good stories wrapped up in fancy art hadn’t gone anywhere.

What did happen was that my tastes in comic books, in media of all types, broadened quite a bit. I’d like to think I’ve grown more appreciative of rich stories, of well woven plots, of intricate tales and blunt emotion and many other things besides.

Of course, while I’d like to think that, I’m probably fooling myself. :)

These days, I rarely purchase comic books of any type, but through the magic of the public library system, I can request and read all the very latest comic book graphic novels, whenever I wish.

Yes, even rather graphic graphic novels, like The Ultimates, Powers, and Wanted. Right there on the racks. Kinda scary, isn’t it?

I still manage to read a lot of funny books, is what I’m saying.

In all the years I have read comics, through Watchmen, Chris Claremonts run on X-Men, The Dark Knight and Sin City, Groo the Wanderer and Cerebus the Aardvark, Badger and Nexus, Batman and What If and Beyonders and The Ultimates and all sorts of things, of WildCATS and Supremes, even through Mage: The Hero Discovered and the aforementioned Powers, nothing I had ever read could prepare me for how I felt when I first opened that issue and read that first story.

Planetary.

A simple enough comic, by a writer I was vaguely aware of as some crazy Brit named Warren Ellis.

I was predisposed to expect genius from crazy Brits, since Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman is like, freaking genius of the first water and once upon a time influenced me in spending hundreds of dollars on overpriced graphic novels to possess the entire run of his work. Damn it.

Still, not even Gaiman could prepare me for Planetary.

So simple. So unassuming. No pretensions towards artsy fartsyness like the faux shadowboxes of the Sandman covers. No oversized issues, or foil imprints, or sales hype wackiness.

Just a comic.

But what a comic.

The artwork… I fell in love with John Cassaday’s style early on.

And the book!

The tagline: “Archeaologists of the Unknown”. The recurring theme: “The world is strange; let’s keep it that way.”

The idea that these aren’t action heroes in the beat ‘em up sense, in the “Let’s see what happens if Hulk fought Wolverine” style of comic plotting.

Seriously. That was often the plot in the old days, and people blame Watchmen and Dark Knight for many things, but give credit where it’s due, we haven’t had to deal with bullshit epeen contests superheroes fulfilling adolescent power fantasies in a long, long time.

“Let’s see what would happen if Captain America fought Spiderman. Why would they fight? Who cares, let’s give the fans a fight so we can see who would beat who. And Spiderman is up in the ratings, so we can’t let him lose.”

Here, the plot was not an afterthought thrown together to give the characters something to do while we admired their powers. The plot… the plot was incredible.

The stories are so rich. Each issue explored major themes, powerful ideas, and opens eyes on a wild and strange and fascinating secret history of a world that so easily could be ours… and which, in some way, we truly wish was.

The characters are really in love with the world. With it’s strange cultures, and it’s diverse paths and ideas and all the hidden mysteries that are in the cracks, where the daily struggle for life and health and family push the extra weirdness aside, to be left forgotten along the way.

I came to the story late. Most of the comics were already out, and I had to go back and meticulously hunt down each one, sometimes in collected graphic novels, and other times as individual issues, to finally forge a full set.

The story… it is so like the work of J.Michael Strazynski on Babylon 5 (and Rising Stars), in that it is clear that, while each issue has one brilliant concept that is heavily explored, the entire series is also telling one consistent, powerful story with a discrete beginning, middle, and most particularly, an ending.

Even more amazing, as each issue is read and re-read, it becomes clear that every issue, often with seemingly contradictory themes or science or views of the world from different points of view, actually do go together to further every bit of the story with critical knowledge. There are no throwaways. If you thought one was a throwaway, then I bet it pays to go back later and read it again. You might have missed something in the theme.

And finally, the most amazing thing about the entire series; it’s full of exciting action, smart damn action, and it’s cool. It’s very, very cool.

The secret history of the world.

A world filled with Sherlock Holmes, and Dracula, and Doc Savage. Or the island of monsters from King Kong. Or aboriginal concepts of the dreamtime. Or the multiverse. Parallel worlds. Nick Fury and Frankenstein Monster. And every possible thing in between. All cohesive and exciting and relevant.

A world truly filled with infinite possibility.

A world filled with endless hope.

Art the likes of which I’ve never seen anywhere else, etherial when it needs to be, stunning and beautiful, and then clean and cold, or warm and loving, and at all times, alive and full. John Cassaday is a marvel.

Okay. So, I love Planetary. Fine.

Why in all the nine hells am I boring you to death with my drivel?

Give me a second, I’ll get to it.

This series has had a very strange, very staggered run.

Perhaps it’s true that you can’t rush genius. Or maybe Warren Ellis just needs to ease up on the projects that grow like bunnies and finish one. Whatever.

I’ll just say that Planetary spans 27 issues. The first one went on sale sometime in 1998… and the last published issue, issue #27, went out on October of 2009.

That’s right. A run of 27 issues over 11 years. /cry

But there was worse. Once you got into it, and went to collect old back issues, you found out one horrible fact; the collected graphic novels ended at issue #18.

And issue #19 went on eBay for over $70, assuming you were lucky enough to find one.

So you could get the entire series on graphic novel form easy enough up to 18, and then had to make some hard choices. And even then, for years there was no final issue #26 or 27. Years.

Again, why am I going over all of this?

I’ll tell you why.

At long last, you can get the entire thing in graphic novel form.

Volume 4 of the collected editions of Planetary, including rare issue #19, went on sale on March 4th of this year.

I’m holding it in my hands. It’s real. I could hug it. 

It’s beautiful.

It’s kind of like holding warm, summery sunshine. Or the freshness of your newborn child, without the impending diaper load or months of sleepless nights lurking ahead.

It holds issue 19, all the way through 27, and fully and completely concludes what I strongly consider to be one of the greatest science fiction stories ever told, anywhere, in any possible form, and certainly in my opinion THE greatest comic book achievement of all time.

If you happen to enjoy science fiction and have a fairly well read and wild appreciation for the richness and diversity of pulp myths and classic storylines and new concepts, and above all else enjoy good comic books, and if it lies at all within your power to read these four volumes, whether from your library system or by purchasing them, I beg of you, do it.

You might not agree with this gushing fanboy about how good they are… but I can’t believe that you would be dissappointed.

For your convenience, I shall now link to all four volumes on Amazon.com, so you can find them by ISBN if you want to check with your library. Or if you want to purchase them.

And the obligatory disclaimer… I don’t get a dime whether you buy one or not. I get no deal with Amazon when I link to them, I do it because I find it convenient to buy from them. No hidden motives.

One last thing… there is so much about this that is amazing and I cannot in good conscience ruin things for you by talking too much about it. But if you ever enjoyed ANY pulp stories, like Doc Savage or The Shadow, or Tarzan, or John Carter of Mars, that era of fiction has its treasured place in the huge all encompassing world of this series. You don’t have to know about any of it to appreciate it; but it certainly does broaden the entire experience.

As a long confirmed fan of Doc Savage, and an occasional reader of all the others, I was quite pleased.

Planetary 1: All Over the World and Other Stories (collects preview & 1-6) 
Planetary 2: The Fourth Man (collects 7-12) 
Planetary 3: Leaving the 20th Century (collects 13-18) 
Planetary 4: Spacetime Archaeology (collects 19-27)

That’s really it.

There are two other ways to collect it all coming soon, called Absolute versions.

Absolute Planetary 1 is already out, holding the preview, 1 through 12 and extra stuff.

Absolute Planetary 2 is due out in July of this year, and holds 13 through 27. I mention this, because pre-orders say that the Absolute Planetary 2 might have some extra pages of a mini-story included not seen elsewhere. On the other hand, that hasn’t been confirmed anywhere I have seen… and it’s damn expensive, and it ain’t out yet. Hmm, go figure.

14 Responses to “Planetary: A Love Story”
  1. dorgol says:

    You just gained a few more awesome points with me, BBB. Lots of people enjoyed Babylon 5, but I know no one else who really followed JMS into his comics. I’m sure there are thousands who did, I just don’t know them.

    And while Rising Stars was a solid series (bleh on the ending), his best comic work was – in MY humble opinion – Midnight Nation.

    And since you have an appreciation for something I enjoy, I think I will take your word for it and get myself a copy of this Planetary business.

  2. Stonedrake says:

    Excuse me whilst I say, that’s tauren droppings. I want to have the option to hit a BBB referral link!

    I admit that I’ll read just about anything from Ellis or Gaiman or Morrison, so I’m sold. Where’s my BBB referral link, damnit!

  3. bigbearbutt says:

    Oh yeah Grant Morrison, I’ve got to say I’m turning into quite a big fan of his after how the Black Glove scenario played out towards the end. He brought a whole lot of disparate elements together to make something that had me very entertained.

    This whole batman turned into a black lantern bullshit, the entire black lantern thing has me wanting to…. well, okay, I won’t go there. I will say I like the concept of multiple colors of corps for the lanterns, but the implementation has me really thinking somebody whouold have taken a step back, and looked at the big picture.

    Oh why look, a Spaced Invaders quote!

    “You’ll be toast.” “Or in your case, a whole loaf of toast.”

  4. Tex says:

    You…You…You Bastard! Here I am, blissfully living my life on a bacon and cheese diet to optimize my chance of heart failure by the time my two daughters reach Jr. High and playing video games to worsen my eyesight so that I never have to actually see the pimples on their first boyfriends’ faces and you have to come along and mention the ONE comic book series that I intentionally didn’t ever let myself get invested in. Those days are gone, they are over. Well, OK, so I do hang out in Borders sometimes and read graphic novels and I did kind of bring out my old action figures so Captain America, Nate Gray and Sandman( the Wesley Dodd version) could whoop Prince Eric’s ass for kidnapping a Barbie or two last week, but I do not read comics anymore. I don’t. But now? Now I have to not only buy Planetary, but I have to dig up my Preacher run by Garth Ennis and the Starman series from James Robinson just to see how they stand up. And why do i have to do this? Because I am a simple Boomchicken that failtanks as a bear on the side and got hooked on your blog from a google search to teach me how not to suck. No fair on bringing up old itches that haven’t been scratched in years and then showing me where to buy the itch cream. What am I supposed to do? Unread the blog? Pretend that I don’t want to go read Planetary? I have to keep asking myself, “What would Spider Jerusalem do in this situation?”….All kidding aside, I had to drop my $200 a month comic book habit when my first daughter was born. Obviously, it was worth it but it is one of those things that I need to get back into. Planetary is probably a good place to start. I dodged it when it came out b/c it just had that “they are never gonna finish this and I will be soooo disappointed it’s better that i pretend it doesn’t exist” vibe that Fathom had too.

    @Dorgol

    Rising Stars along with Busiek’s Astro City still stand out to me as two of the best takes on Superheroes ever. More so for me than Watchmen and DKR, though I respect those highly. I read some of Midnight Nation when it came out, but all I have is a vague recollection of it. I might have to add that to the list with Planetary. And while my mind is running, I guess I should find out whatever happened to Bigby and Snow White in Fables or Yorick in “Y- the last man”.

  5. tcx says:

    Yes BBB, the world is filled with excellent tales told by great storytellers.
    They had to start in comics but video games broadened that world.
    And what a good thing that was.
    I still remember the discussion that Dick Grayson had with Wayne about Wayne’s decision give the mantle to Jean-Paul Valley.
    Back to nowadays I still replay and re-replay Ubisoft’s sight of Jordan Mechner’s idea – Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time Trilogy.
    It’s all about the stories and how good the characters ideals and thoughts are.

    Without messing up your original topic let me just tell you that I still wonder how are Trolls and Worgen becoming Druids. Out of story? Out of Lore?
    I feel like it, perhaps that’s why I keep going back to Ultimate X-Men. Good stories with grown up Lore are hard to come by.

    Glad you found another good world, kudos to Warren Ellis.

  6. bigbearbutt says:

    @Tex – Astro City, agree with you on the uber awesome (except for one, and only one thing. Dark City 70’s stuff from Astro City… I saw where he was going, and appreciated the work, but blech).

    You mentioning Sandman reminded me that they’ve been releasing these massive collections of James Robinson’s “Jack” era of Starman, the Starman Omnibus’, and they are phenomenal. And I don’t mean phenomenal for DC, I mean just damn good. The Wesley Dodds Sandman is featured in one arc, old age and all, and is treated with great respect.

    The library has fables… lots of Fables graphic novels… and I can’t make myself pick one up. I did read the Y the Last Man series, though, and thought that was pretty darn good in an understated way. Kinda slow, but good.

    Another gem? Invincible. Oh hell, I have to go to work. This is what comes of talking to knowledgeable people about comics. Bye!

  7. Kattrinsaa says:

    I’ve read that B5 has been likened to an old form of presentation art, where a writer would sit in a shop, and start writing a story, when each page was done, it would be taped to the window for people to start reading, there was no going back and editing once posted (early blogging?).

    When the actress claudia christian (who played Susan Ivanova) broke her foot/ankle/leg they had to improvise, which is why she was on crutches and in a cast in the episode with the drazi and their colored bandanas as a way of deciding which group leads.

    I wish the spinoff series about the rangers had lasted.. some good stuff.
    .-= Kattrinsaa´s last blog ..Conflict of interest =-.

  8. Arkaneena says:

    Oh man I loved comics back in the day, and Babylon 5, well let’s just say one of my characters will be named part Minbari and leave it at that. (Yes I am that much of a nerd.) So much to love, and such a short run. Ah my DVD collection, hmm to relive the memories. If it is on that level of awesome I am going to have to check it out.
    Thanks
    .-= Arkaneena´s last blog ..Tier Piece or Nontier Piece That is the Question =-.

  9. Phaedra says:

    Mmmm…..Planetary. A friend of ours loaned us the first graphic novel…and sadly, that was the only one he had. So now, my husband and I are kinda in the lurch, because we had read only the one. We probably should go out and buy it, but we have a list of other graphic novels we’re following:

    The Dark Tower series – starts with a graphic novel version of “Wizard and Glass” and then goes off on it’s own. It’s amazing. The story and the art blend perfectly together. And holy crap the Crimson King is creepy as heck!

    Buffy: Season 8 – I love Buffy. I was a die-hard fan, from my junior year in high when it started, through college (I planned classes around it as much as I could), and into my career. The graphic novels feel just like the show did, with the same chemistry between the characters and witty banter.

    Red Sonya/Conan – I love barbarians.

    ElfQuest – The very first graphic novel I ever read, at age 10. It totally changed my world. These aren’t Tolkien’s elves.

    So, currently we are hoping our buddy Joe will buy more Planetary and League of Extraordinary Gentleman to share with us. I’m also hoping to start getting the Fable books one day…but when they’re $20 – $25 a pop, it’s hard to justify.

    And Wanted – got that as a surprise present for my husband, based on the recommendation of the comic book clerk. My husband LOVES it. I’m hoping there’s more, just for the joy on my husband’s face as he reads it.

  10. Melpo says:

    hmmm…may have to borrow those graphic novels again with the new one. Planetary was hard to put down last time you loaned it to me. I was a bit bummed that I didn’t get to know the ending.

  11. Charity says:

    I am a comic fan, once an avid collector, and am so much largely out of touch with that world these days, that I hesitate to get back in because I just don’t know what’s good. Planetary looks good…. looks more than good. Thanks for the recommendation. I’ll be buying it soon.

  12. scaresome says:

    Wow, there is so much to respond to; names echoing through time. I certainly was pleased to see ol’ Cerebus mentioned. I don’t look at comic books or graphic novels much any more these days, I’ll take a look at Planetary.

    Some stories seem to take a long time to tell. I remember reading Dragonflight by Anne McCaffrey in 1977*. Some twenty years later, we finally see Pern rid the skies of thread. I boggle sometimes to think that the Holmes stories and the Charles Dickens stories were released a bit at a time in the newspapers of the day.

    I feel like comic books grew up with me. I read the “ten centers” for the kids; Superman, Batman, Spiderman but also Wendy the Witch, Archie and Jughead, Superboy. I never tended to them at all; they got dog-eared and folded and stuffed in back pockets. But I still have a box of them in a closet. I enjoyed when the Spiderman movie came out (Spider-Man) that I could look at the issue with that story, pretty cool.

    With a nod to Corinthians, we do grow up and put away childish things. We read our Tarzans and Jungle Books. Perhaps shift to other super-heroes like Holmes and Miss Marple and Nero Wolfe. We might be pleased when Phillip Jose Farmer includes iconic characters like Doc Savage and Tarzan in the sci-fi genre.

    The stories with a long arc appeal to me as well. The Nine Princes of Amber was totally satisfying. Stepping into “world with rules” amaze me. I think that’s why I love Goblin Engineering so much — they break the rule of fantasy (steam engines at the most, no guns, lots of campfires) at their own peril and mishap. The roflcopter looks like it’s about to fall apart.

    Thanks BBB, an excellent blog and fun read. I’ll go follow your links now.

    *I looked it up; written in 1968. All the Weyrs of Pern written in 1991.

  13. Fla says:

    Ah…you went there…memory lane for me as well. I was hit when you mentioned Badger and Nexus. If I had the money, those two would be major feature films by now. I am afraid thought that someone would try and just spoil what Mike Baron and “the Dude” did. Thanks for the memories.

  14. Night says:

    I have been cleaning up the office today and unpacking the boxes from the move. I just placed 16 of the Doc Savage books up on the shelf (8 of which are in a box set). Now I just need to figure out what to do with the 9 boxes full of comics… Planetary looks interesting.

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