Excavating, reappraising, and cataloging Planetary early in the 21st Century
[The third in what should be a comprehensive series, both these small essays and the related annotations will not include a summary but will drop spoilers without warning, as necessary. Events and concepts discussed out of their order of first-appearance, and general summaries of stories will not be provided. All of these posts may be subject to severe and dramatic rewrites without notice, as new things occur to me, and of course, I welcome any further annotation suggestions or general feedback at
This project could not exist without the fine work of The Planetary Appreciation Page, the now defunct Warren Ellis Forum, the slowly-defuncting Barbelith messageboard, and the Planetary team of Warren Ellis, John Cassaday, Laura DePuy/Martin, John Layman, David Baron, Scott Dunbier, and the many letterers, designers, and other contributors.
This project is dedicated to mystery archeologists everywhere, of every walk and a myriad of tastes, habits, and ingenuities.]
“You people came looking for a mystery,” says Shek Chi-Wai in the third chapter of Planetary, “but there is none. There’s just us.”
“Dead Gunfighters”, the third chapter of the series, has the same simple message at its heart that many of the Heroic Bloodshed and Yiqi films of the golden era of Hong Kong action movies: Do right by others, because we’re all we’ve got. Chi-Wai was a man who did right, lived right, and he still died in tragedy, with family and a lover screwed over severely in the process. And he’s still doing right after death, because you aren’t doing it for you but for us. It’s that simple.
See, Chi-Wai is a riff on hero cops, but he’s also an analog for a very particular hero cop, DC Comics’ the Spectre. We forget, looking at the Spectre, that he’s a dead cop, some days. It’s easy, when he’s dressed in white tights (or is that just green shorts and death bleached him?) and a hood, being hit with the whole Earth by a devil on covers like Showcase #61. But that’s what the Spectre is, he’s a dead cop who gets smacked in the face with the whole planet. And, that’s what Chi-Wai apparently has to look forward to every day, each night, the whole of the world, all its joys and everything stupid and wrong, right on the chin like the backhand of an angry drunk just trying to bull past you, none of it for him.
The righteousness and necessity, as expressed in the films Tsui Hark and John Woo excel at, it really means something to me. It resonates. When I saw The Killer in a theatre (double-bill with Peace Hotel), we were the only grouping in that latenight showing who weren’t just using the showing as a pretext for indulging in exhibitionism and voyeurism, making out listening to others get it on. We were riveted. One girl had seen both movies on VHS, I owned The Killer, but we were just as stuck on the screen-happenings as the gal for whom it was all new. Hand in hand in hand through both flicks and full of equal parts swagger and responsibility for the rest of that night. A year before that, a friend of mine had somehow insisted on a John Woo Day while we were in high school, which meant we sat in a classroom watching Hard Boiled, A Better Tomorrow, all that good stuff, learning more important things than whatever algebra and social studies we might have picked up that day from proper classes.
Because, it’s true what they say; give a man enough guns, he’ll think he’s God. All someone needs to kill is one, though. One gun, one bullet aimed in the right place can change any game, alter almost any course of action. In a world of intimidation, rules and consequences, of saving face and laying down the law, in the panopticon of the world, trust should be resonant, shouldn’t it? If what is worth punishment after death is not the same, in your view, as what is worth it during life, I’d have to ask if you have really thought this through.
It may be too much to ask of most people, to live selflessly in respect to everyone, to first do no harm, and second, do what you see the person next to you cannot do alone. Not everyone can be blamed for, if the moment came, not jumping in to take a bullet for a total stranger. American police forces are not required by law or statute to actively protect everyone, for reasons of this very same unfeasibility. But, if you can’t stand by your friends, your brothers and sisters, and do right by them? When you burn your allies, majorly or casually? That’s something else, isn’t it?
[From Volume One, All Over the World and Other Stories
03.00 The cover panel mimics widescreen theatrical aspect ratios, and the scene is mid-action to emphasis not the mid, but the action part.
03.01 Of course, the issue working with Hong Kong action movie tropes has a trailer/teaser.
03.02 The widescreen-mimicking panels here and the general atmosphere allude to Hong Kong action flicks, of the sort that Tsui Hark excels in directing and producing.
03.02.02-04 A cinematic issue about trauma starts with a montage of the injury to the eye motif and spent shells, with a smoking gun present and in hand.
03.03.04 Chi-Wai, who is introduced via his badge, is the combination of HK action flicks and the standards of Chinese ghost stories, combined to make a ghost cop working God’s vengeance… which makes him DC’s the Specter.
03.010.04 The Weekly World News is a real publication. They print mostly good-natured nonsense.
03.11.03 This conflict of music, and the positioning of the Planetary office near a disco is another nod to the HK action movies, particularly Tsui Hark and John Woo.
03.15 The Snowflake (or stack of hard drives, sheaf of pages, et cetera) is here represented as being a massive jar full of people. Reality is a bunch of interrelating two-dimensional planes, but it is also, just us.
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