John Cassaday and Warren Ellis took turns leaving their mark in “Astonishing X-Men,” but it’s their combined work in the classic “Planetary” that I would recommend. This is a short but dizzyingly dense sci-fi/adventure series that follows the team exploits of Elijah Snow (white-haired and with a Tom-Wolfe sense of fashion to match ); the technologically-gifted “Drummer”; and kick-ass heroine Jakita Wagner. Together they investigate the wonders of a snow-flake-shaped multiverse (with 196,833 dimensions, if you must know) while sending-up all sorts of 20th century literary sub-genres and publishing formats.
Where SPOILERS ABOUND BELOW!
Where heroic icons of the past (stand-ins for Tarzan, Fumanchu, the Shadow) collide in multi-existential conflict with superheroes present (stand-ins for Batman, the Green Lantern, Wonder Woman).
Where the corpse of Godzilla rots in the island of dead kaijus as a warning to the children of the atom.
Where ghost cops roam the streets of John Woo’s Hong-Kong to remind us that there is no “justice”, there is “just us.”
Where a giant Art-Deco reality-shifting ship waits for the seven humans that can save it from shipwreck.
Savage Brass is the century-long reminder of how pulp fiction gave way to today’s superhero epics.
Where the alter-Fantastic-Four are the direct result of Nazi ingenuity.
Where what starts as a knowing homage to John Constantine “Hellblazer” expands to include the rest of the Vertigo line – and then a political explanation of what compelled the British comics invasion of the late ’80s / early ’90s – and then a hilarious comment on how that forever altered mainstream American superhero comics – and THEN bringing it all together into a personal explanation of what inspired Ellis’ own “Transmetropolitan.”
Where “Magic is the cheat codes for the world. Sending a signal to the world’s operating system, see?”
Where ’50s mystery science features come from outer space in full Technicolor glory, and alter-Marilyn-Monroe is there to explain things.
Where that crashing shiftship leads to a meditation of the roles of fiction – and a make-believe planet comes into play.
Where you won’t even believe what happens to alter-Superman and alter-Wonder-Woman and alter-Green Lantern. (Let’s just say Ellis eviscerates DC.)
Where alter-James-Bond clues us all to Cold War mind games.
Where memory unclouds and the Fourth Man is revealed.
Where the “Open Conspiracy” of the creations Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Bram Stoker, H. G. Wells, William Hope Hodgson, Mary Shelley, and Edgar Rice Burroughs is put to rest as the vestige of a century long past… WHILE Ellis also takes a side-swipe at Alan Moore’s “League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.” (Moore’s terse blurb for “Planetary: “This is an exemplary turn-of-the century mainstream comic book.”)
Where the alter-Fantastic-Four are the ultimate, most marvelous of nemeses.
Where the Jewish book of Genesis works best in aboriginal dream time.
Where Wuxia showdowns involve dragons and gravity-defying sorcery, the way they’re meant to.
Where a trip down the heart of darkness leads to the lost world of Opak-Re – and the realization that there was more “heart” than darkness there all along.
Where we find out what really happened to the heroes of Jules Verne’s “From the Earth to the Moon” (it ain’t pretty.)
Where Stan Lee meets Stanley (Kubrick) and alter-Galactus-the-Devourer-of-Worlds finds himself at the end of his space odyssey.
Where the Thing and the Swamp Thing turn out to be one and the same and it’s both unpredictable and so obvious it’s hard to believe no one had ever made it happen before.
Where the doors of perception are blown open, (with a nice Victor Moscoso homage for a cover, too.)
Where the legacy of the
Lone Death Ranger looms larger than you thought.
Where we finally learn the origin of Planetary’s less “developed” member.
Where Elijah Snow’s true mission is revealed… but no more will be said here.
Go read it and devote it some time : Ellis has a tendency to cram so many themes and allusions and subtle plot hints in every line of dialogue that those rushing through are bound to be confused. As a character warns at one point: “Learning curve is steep on this one, so keep focused.”