Excavating, reappraising, and cataloging Planetary early in the 21st Century
[The second 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.]
Trash fiction is holy. Our kitsch is our prayers, or so close a parallel to them so as to be identical in execution and interests. Yukio Mishima posing in his swim trunks for a calendar is the same Yukio Mishima who hijacked a building and preached self-responsibility, pride, and military before suiciding. Godzilla is not the trauma of the Second World War and the atomic bombs dropped on Japan because someone got cute sixty years after his arrival on the scene, but because that was how his creators and his initial audience processed him. Kelly’s Heroes and MASH were conversations about Vietnam, America’s hopes and fears about the war they were currently in, made safe by distancing it in a separate form. Across the world, we use new forms and never-was creations to talk openly and honestly about the things that amaze us and those that scare the crap out of us.
Jakita Wagner says, “They stood as a warning, really,” of the kaiju in “Island”, the second chapter of Planetary. No one knows where they came from, why they are or how they are, and everyone knows that they are dead. And, of course, one flies overhead in the end. Because our fears and our wonders defy us. They belie us.
“I know no ‘novels’,” says Ryu, “They are scripture now.”
Can’t argue with that, can we? They’re likely to be somebody’s. I mean, that isn’t even the prerogative of the author, it’s the whim of the reader most the time. We have all encountered more than one person who swears by some fiction, who treats a movie, a novel, a comic as if it is exactly scripture. We all buy into the small truths reiterated film to film, story to story: the urban legend, the city story, that drain cleaner cocktail, that loose parts sound that all firearms make in movies, et cetera. We adopt facts from fiction on the assumption that a throwaway factoid, if presented as such, must have been researched and verified, even if there are flying zombies or rampaging seven stories tall armadillos in the same scene.
And, of course, we get too witty for ourselves, sometimes, too pretentious for our fictions, and then we doubt even the truths as they are given. Explains the opposition to the Monster Group, carried into Planetary by Ellis as “The Snowflake” and the series’ preferred model for the multiverse, the shape of reality. The automorphism group based on the Monster Group, the Snowflake, is representative of all the planes of two-dimensional information that are perceived by us as three-dimensional existences, and there is good, hard science behind it. A certain portion of Planetary’s readership, highly trained and greatly experienced in understanding how mcguffins, metaphors, and Checkov’s armories function, cannot help but reflexively dismiss the science, then, from something which also provides an aesthetic appeal, a great deal of metaphoric content, and furthers the story while defining its parameters.
Familiarity, does not just breed contempt, it also inspires apathy. I have yet to see one person criticize Ellis’ science usage here on the basis of something like, say, the number being wrong (196833 dimensions instead of 196884), and most simply dismiss it because.
Which is how we handle scripture, too, right? We don’t follow every suggestion to the letter, we don’t believe in the integrity and truth of every story presented. We pick out the bits that work for us and call the rest lessons, metaphors, or era-specific, without necessarily taking the time to justify or reprove our decisions based in concrete evidence or functional analysis. And, in the end, the fiction doesn’t care anyway. The fiction keeps on, it carries on and continues without our permission, on the strength of its resonance – again, not with what we can say about it or without it, but – with those elements that we can only safely admit through the fiction.
[From Volume One, All Over the World and Other Stories
02.01.04 Ryu (as is confirmed later in dialogue) is a fictional counterpart to nationalist/spiritualist types such as Yukio Mishima.
02.04-05 This monster is analogous to Toho’s Mothra. Mothra returns when needed and otherwise tends to sacrifice herself.
02.06.01 The apple emblem is the Mac trademark, the three-eyed smiley is an symbol of the Transient Movement from Warren Ellis’ Transmetropolitan, and Zard are a Japanese pop group.
02.08.02 Island Zero is similar to Monster Island, which was home/preserve for many of Toho’s giant monsters.
02.09.03 Yes, in the really real world, Japan and Russia have a history of claiming each other’s (and other nation’s) land as their own.
02.11.01 The skeleton is similar to Toho’s Monster Zero, also know as King Ghidora.
02.14.03 This would be pretty much what a dead Godzilla would look like if you stood in its ribs.
02.17.03 The troops who just showed up are bearing WW2 era Nazi firearms.
02.18.04 Of course the Mishima stand in and his doomsday cult would die here (in this place of dreams).
02.20.04 The giant monster movies of Toho are a deliberate response to atomic weaponry, and culturally resonant, in part, due to the atomic bombs dropped on Japan by the United States.
02.22.01 Rodan, whom this monster is a callback visually to, is frequently involved in a generational story involving a set of parents and their threatened egg(s). Rodan has actually taken in other giant monster’s eggs, specifically Godzilla’s in Mechagodzilla 2.
[Click here to see further annotations for Planetary]