Collects Planetary #1-6 and Planetary preview originally published in G13 and C 23.

Writer: Warren Ellis
Artists: John Cassaday
Publication year: 1999

The three people which make up the Planetary crew are mystery archeologists: they want to find out the secret history of the Earth. And oh boy, are there secrets to uncover! Planetary has many literary references from Jules Verne to Edgar Rice Burroughs but mostly Ellis riffs off of popular superheroes, such as the Justice League and the Fantastic Four, and makes them the antagonists.

For too long now many of the superhero comics, at least the ones I’m familiar with, have become dark and depressing and, well, unheroic. I’m usually sick of it. The real world is depressing enough. But here it actually works and I think it’s because Ellis gives us wonder to go with the darkness.

For example, in the very first issue of Planetary, the “villains” (if you want to call them that because they are really just defending their own world against the meddling of our “heroes”) are clearly alternate universe JLA. But in that very same issue we are also given a group of heroes to root for and they are based on literary references, such as Lord Blackstock who was raised in Africa, and Doc Brass who is modeled after various pulp magazine heroes.

In the other issues we get to meet an island of monsters, a vengeful ghost, and more. I love this comic!

Pretty much the only complaint I have is that compared to everything else, the three main characters are quite bland. The Drummer remains a cypher throughout the whole comic. He’s a walking information nexus and he can manipulate and access info pretty much at will. His only personality trait is that he irritates Elijah Snow. Jakita Wagner is a pretty traditional super heroine: she’s beautiful, very strong, fast, and almost indestructible. She’s also an adventurer at heart; she bores quickly. Elijah Snow is the focal character. He’s what I’ve come to understand is a default Warren Ellis hero: a cranky old man who yet loves humanity and is concerned with the future of humanity and Earth. At the start of the story, he has significant gaps in his memory and getting his memories back is an integral part of the story.

This is a solid opening to the series. Many of the issues feel like they are stand-alones but they have repercussions later in the series. And of course, in issue six we meet the enemy: the Four. They are three men and one woman who went into space at the same time as the US launched the first Apollo mission. But the Four went there not because they want to explore it but because they were sent there by secret, and evil, government agents. The Four were transformed during the space flight but they use their new powers and knowledge to get more power to themselves and to stay hidden from the world. Now, I’m a huge fan of the Fantastic Four and I still love this twisted alternate version. They’re terrifying.

Cassaday’s art is gorgeous. He can also change his style to fit the mood of the story, as is seen in the third issue which looks and feels more like a movie than a comic.

Oh, and if you haven’t read the comic but are interested in doing so, do yourself a favor and stay away from the Planetary Wikipedia pages. All of the secrets are revealed there and at least to me a big part of the fun was finding out things alongside with the characters.