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.
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 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.