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Ellis Tries to Emulate His Fellow British Writers
on March 11, 2014
Planetary was twice nominated for Eisner awards best continuing series in 2000 and 2002 but never won. Probably a good thing because if Planetary was the best series for any given year that would be a pretty weak year. Let me go through my issues with the story.
Characterization - Elijah Snow is the main character but he’s an unlikable grump. I think Ellis intended him to be a hard edge cynic that we can root for but instead he’s just a jerk. The Drummer is a smart ass but of the main three he’s the one I like the most and yet he’s continually verbally attacked by Snow and physically threatened. Jakita Wagner also seems to take pleasure in tormenting The Drummer.
Storytelling - It feels as if Ellis studied the writing of Grant Morrison and I mean the BAD Morrison not the Morrison who wrote All-Star Superman and Batman and Robin. I have no idea what’s going on as if the book left out half the pages. Things just happen randomly with seemingly no rhyme of reason. In the first story the three main characters are on a street corner looking for the spot where some guy named Jack Carter died. They find an after image of his corpse, or something, and Snow shouts, “the sneaky bastard faked his own death” Huh? Where did he come up with THAT? Then a over muscled superhero jumps from out of no where screaming about Hitler’s sex midgets and suddenly gets a shotgun blast through his belly from, I guess, Jack Carter who now looks like Grant Morrison himself with a bald head and trenchcoat. And this was only a few pages from the first issue. The rest of the issue didn’t make much more sense than that sequence.
Plot - There is no flow to the story. For a story about investigating the secret history of the 20th Century there is no investigation. Planetary simply arrive on the scene with no explanation. Mostly they stand around posing, trying to look cooler than the room then it’s story over. Everything is supposed to be secret and mysterious but weirdness seems to be everywhere and and we never see Planetary putting in any effort trying to track down leads. It’s like Ellis thought, ‘wouldn’t it be cool if Planetary was on Godzilla’s monster island’ and poof there they are as if Ellis couldn’t be bothered with any of the details. Whereas Ellis is clearly trying to go for writing that feels deep and poetic it often feels smug and pretentious and often lazy.
Creativity - I’d already pegged this series as inspired by Alan Moore’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen in volume 1 but here the emulation only increases. We have secret super teams of famous characters or parodies of famous characters from the past. Ellis broadens it somewhat by including super hero parodies like the JLA and The Hulk in volume 1. Here we get additional DC parodies and what looks like a John Constantine ripoff as well as the Fantastic Four. But to get back to Moore’s League there are also appearances by Sherlock Holmes and Captain Nemo’s Nautilus and the emulation only increases in volume 3.
I read this book several a few years back and I certainly didn’t hate it or I wouldn’t have bought the next two volumes but I didn’t love it and clearly it didn’t make a huge impact on me. There is a big reveal at the end of volume 2 solving a mystery established at the beginning of volume 1 and it made so little impact on me the first time I read it that I forget the reveal until I read the book again yesterday. I am mildly curious to see where the series is going but repeated readings have not improved my experience. Maybe volume 3 will start tying things together and this is coming from someone who already READ volume 3. I just don’t remember what happened.