Monday, 25 April 2011

Planetary Vol.4: Spacetime Archaeology HC

This final volume of Warren Ellis and John Cassaday’s superior super-hero / sci-fi series collects Planetary issues 19 to 27, which wrap things up rather nicely.  Here, head of the Planetary organisation, Elijah Snow, ramps up his efforts to take down The Four – who are basically an evil version  of the Fantastic Four – and eventually discovers a greater purpose to his life than mere revenge.  Along the way, Snow indulges in torture and drug use and we get to find out the origin of the Drummer and the origin of The Four, before the inevitable first meeting / final showdown between the Planetary crew (Elijah Snow, Jakita Wagner and the Drummer) and Randall Dowling and Kim Süskind from The Four.
I am not always a fan of writer Warren Ellis’s work – admittedly, I have only read a small selection of his output, but I was never that keen on The Authority and I disliked the few volumes of Transmetropolitan I read – but Planetary was great from start to finish.  A lot of the dodgy science stuff went over my head and I probably missed a lot of sci-fi references, too, but I thoroughly enjoyed this trawl through the remains of 20th century super-hero comics, pulp-fiction, monster movies, etc.  John Cassaday’s beautiful art no-doubt helped to lift the whole thing to another level, but Ellis’s scripts were generally very clever and full of nerd-perfect references.  My favourite thing about Planetary is probably The Four, and what I particularly like about them is that, even though they are evil, they are really not so different from their Marvel counterparts, the Fantastic Four.  I mean, although The Four commit mass murder and are ultimately revealed to have sold-out the world, their greatest crime throughout most of the series is that they have withheld information and technology from the rest of the world and instead stored it in their headquarters, which is pretty much what the real FF have been doing for years.  Yes, Reed Richards and his gang save the world from destruction on a regular basis, but just think what they could do for the world if Reed Richards put some of that technology he’s got stored away in his attic to work.  Obviously, this could never happen, because then the Earth portrayed in most Marvel comics would quickly diverge from our own, and the fact that most Marvel characters exist in a world similar to our own is a large part of their appeal.  Still, Ellis’s idea that Reed Richards is basically a selfish bastard was a very good one.

The nine comics collected in this volume were originally released over quite a long period of time, between 2004 and 2009, but they work very well in this collection and flow quite naturally towards the series’ climax and epilogue.  It has been a good few years now since Planetary Vol.3 was released, Planetary #1 was originally released in 1999, and if I had any sense at all, I probably would have read the first three volumes again before reading this, so that I could fully appreciate all the references to previous issues.  But there’s plenty of time for that later.  This series is a keeper, and something I will no doubt want to read over and over again (I have already read the first three volumes several times, just not for a while).  It’s not entirely self-contained, there are occasional references to the wider Wildstorm universe – such as ‘the bleed’ from the Authority – and the more you know about super-hero comics and pulp characters (Tarzan, Doc Savage, The Shadow, etc.), the better, but I doubt that anyone with even a passing interest in comics and / or science fiction would regret investing in all four volumes.       

This hardcover edition of Vol.4 only came out last year but it seems to be out of print and hard to find already, and I seem to remember it not being that widely available when I bought my copy last year (I bought it from the Book Depository, for £16.13, and then passed it on to my wife to give me for Christmas).  However, it is now out in a cheaper softcover edition, and the whole series is available collected in two oversized hardcovers (the ‘Absolute’ editions) if you’ve got plenty of money.


  1. I own the first three volumes in hardcover so was disappointed to miss the final hardcover when it came out - as you say, it's now really hard to track down. I must pick up the trade though... the only thing stopping me is my completist nature which hankers for all four editions in hc.

  2. I bought the first three volumes in hardcover at a time when I generally wasn't that bothered about owning hardcovers, because I liked this series so much. £16.13 actually isn't that much of a bargain at all but I was worried I might miss out on this final volume if I didn't snap it up while I could still get it. For some reason, this wasn't even that widely available when it first came out.