Excavating, reappraising, and cataloging Planetary early in the 21st Century
[The fourth in what should be a comprehensive series, both these small essays and the related annotations are intended for someone who is already familiar with the series. Spoilers will be dropped 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.]
“Strange Harbours” is layered in affections of authenticity that intrigue me because I don’t know what they add up to, if anything. The cover is designed to appear like an old comic, but no comic I know had covers like this and no American comic would have spelled the second word in the title that way back in the Thirties. It isn’t even quite a men’s or true sweat magazine cover, lacking in lushness or robustness, as it is. And, then, there is the shiftship that is uncovered, which has an implied ancientness to it, but one that is derived out of insensible affectations. The ship is made of ornate (baroque, even) worked metal and stained glass, so it feels old, seems that way, but it predates human stained glass entirely, as seen by the dinosaurs at the crash.
Maybe, it is as simple as the fact that a lot of people in this chapter are being misled or are actively misleading others. Jim Wilder does not know his boss and confidant, Anna Hark, may have directed him to the site specifically to trigger the hidden ship, via its beacon/touchstone. Snow has no idea his colleagues in Planetary are stringing him along, through his engineered amnesia. The organization taking responsibility for the destruction of a Hark Corporation building is an obvious front for somebody, with an inside joke for a name. And, of course, we will eventually discover that John Stone was in “Strange Harbours” disguised and staging the mugging that draws Wilder to the touchstone, itself.
It even feels antiquated that Wilder is so optimistic, so true and right, and goodnatured, in this world of liars and manipulation. There was never a golden era where everyone was straightforward and moral, as Wilder appears here, but it can seem that way, when we have the right rose colored glasses on. Jim is not so much an analogue of Jimmy, from the pulps-inspired group; he’s no Operator, he is earnest.
Jim Wilder is kind, responsible, and earnest, and everybody uses him! John Stone, Anna Hark, the Four, and even Planetary, until Snow comes in at the end there and offers to fund him. Actually, Snow may not be off the hook, either. Wilder is tied up in things Snow wants to know more about, after all. And, that’s a bit brutal, isn’t it?
[From Volume One, All Over the World and Other Stories
04.00 With all the attention to realistic representation in the cover, those stars and crescent moons are awfully abstract. Detail and the cartoon communicating simultaneously.
The cape, sash, and lightning bolt motif across the chest are all visual indicators that this is an analogue of the Fawcett (not DC) Captain Marvel.
04.01.01 It’s possible that Neumeier, here, was named for Ed Neumeier, scriptwriter of Robocop and the satirical adaptation of Starship Troopers, given his insightful (and inciting) questioning of both the event and the immediate cover up.
04.02.01 Similarly, Jim Wilder’s surname may be derived from writer/director Billy Wilder, as well as being a callback to Jimmy (Operator and James Bond analogue), and our Captain Marvel exemplar. Billy Wilder did a number of films in which “doing the right thing” comes heavily into play, as well as Double Indemnity, which starred Captain Marvel’s real life visual model, Fred MacMurray
04.02.03 Jim Wilder is a boy(ish) detective, here aged beyond the typical early teens for reasons of sheer sensibility (and believability), similar to Tintin, whose hair he seems to have appropriated.
04.03.01 Jim’s an orphan, like many a youthful adventurer, Tintin and Captain Marvel, included.
04.04.01 Like Captain Marvel (and the writer-protagonist of Flex Mentallo), Jim’s going to do a good deed for a stranger on the street…
04.08.01 And it’s going to take him to magic other-place and give him special powers.
04.09.01 Note the figures embedded in the architecture: running with lightning bolts; shooting beams from fists; flying; standing with spear; an upsidedown Communion style gray… aliens and superhumanity in museum-appropriate drag, perhaps alluding to the Flash Museum maintained in DC Comics, to honor their lightning-bolt-associated speedsters.
04.15 The ship is orphaned, too.
04.18.01 Seven people to power the ship, is an inversion of Captain Marvel (or other members of his family) deriving their individual power-sets from seven patron deities. As well as being a reason for our Marvel-reference to gather a family of his own.
[Click here to see further annotations for Planetary]