Friday, January 14, 2011

The Word is Bastards

“The Word is Bastards”
Excavating, reappraising, and cataloging Planetary early in the 21st Century

[The sixth 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 . If I include an annotation derived from someone else, from this point on, I will gladly credit the provider. If I don’t credit an annotation, it means I derived the conclusion myself, or I simply cannot recall where I got the information first.

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.]

There’s something in Warren Ellis’ old City of Silence about real people not having origins, but only births, lives, and deaths. That is, in some very serious ways, what is wrong with the perspective of the Four. They want to have - they pursue - origins, because their births and lives feel unsatisfactory. It is not as if you don’t see people in actual life do the same thing. People who feel denied a birthright or cheated out of glories others achieve or have handed to them, and they go running at things they think will do that for them. Often, like the Four, they do not want anyone – much less, everyone – along for the ride, because that would make them less special. It is said, in the comics, that the Four have condemned the Earth, and really, this refusal to let everyone on the Great Adventure, it is damnation, isn’t it? It’s what generates the concept of eternal damnation, of permanent – deserved – residence in Hell.

Now, I wasn’t raised with Hell, I don’t like the idea of eternal punishment or denial, and we don’t have it culturally. But, I went to Catholic school (Saint Catherine’s Indian School, which used to be in Santa Fe and now is nowhere). I understand the idea, if only academically. I understand its parameters, and it’s still shit. Hell, the perpetual punishment and denial (of pleasure, aid, God, et cetera), is something people choose to believe in because they want to feel special. There is a reason why, when nonbelievers represent Hell, or even casual believers, it’s often Hitler taking a pineapple up the rear or the seventeen worst people in history, not a whole mess of normal decent folks who simply failed one or more of the myriad qualifiers, depending on what you believe the rules are. Not everyone avoids the issue, and we have Pierrot stories and Richard Matheson novels to acknowledge the unjustness of this system of damned and saved, but on the whole, it is unpleasant to think about unless you feel like getting on the highest horse available and looking down on everyone.

Now, there may not be such a thing as a free lunch, but we can certainly work towards the cheapest lunch for everyone possible, can’t we? We can reduce costs and expand production until everyone has the opportunity to have what we want, like vaccines and dinner, good movies and warm blankets. The selfishness that makes some people stop at their gaining some of these aids and privileges in life, is the same selfishness that allows someone to accept their personal transfer into Heaven while other people get damned to Hell forever for things that would not raise an eyebrow while they sat next to you on the subway. It’s entitlement. If you would be upset if something were denied to you, but don’t feel a wrongness in anyone else being denied the same, well, what would you call that? You getting upset because you don’t have running water suddenly, or you were never allowed to have a thought that was not ascribed to your genetics, your sex life, your hairstyle or place of birth, but not being as outraged when it happens to others? What is that if not damning?


[From Volume One, All Over the World and Other Stories

06.00 The Four framed by a fifth spacesuit helmet. Ultimately, this means nothing in-story, but it was fuel for theories of a fifth passenger on the rocket, and alternately/also that Snow was implanted in continuity as the fictonaut.

Note the insignia are the American flag and the Iron Cross, implying the US and Nazi Germany connections of the astronauts.

06.01 One of the Four’s eye, reflecting the Moon and the crack into the Bleed they entered through it.

06.03.02 The pyramid is often associated with so-called Illuminati or Masonic organizations thought by some to rule the United States or the entire modern world.

06.03.03 Four Voyagers Plaza is a play on Four Freedoms Plaza from Marvel Comics’ Fantastic Four.

06.04.01-02 Note that Artemis’ rocket is more explicitly phallic.

1961 is the year that the first issue of Fantastic Four was published. The original story has the title characters attempting to reach the Moon via rocket, while later versions change this to intergalactic space or another dimension.

06.06.03 There is a face in the reflection on the right-hand side of the visor.

06.06.04 Dowling is analogous to the leader of the Fantastic Four Mr. Fantastic, except that he’s an ex-Nazi and evil.

06.07.03 Subterrans, as seen here in a display case, are analogous to the Molemen seen in the first issue of Fantastic Four and since.

06.08.01 Greene is an evil proxy for the Thing, the pilot of the Fantastic Four’s flight that gave them superpowers.

06.08.02 Leather is an evil version of Fantastic Four member, the Human Torch, as well as legal grandson of the Lone Range analog, the Dark Ranger, and the Green Hornet/Spider/Shadow analog first seen as part of Brass’ group in chapter one.

06.08.03 Suskind is an evil analog for the Invisible Woman, wife of Mr. Fantastic.

06.08.05 The Nautilus referred to here, is likely the vessel captained by Nemo in Jules Verne’s 20, 000 Leagues Beneath the Sea. The US submarine of the same name went active at the end of the year mentioned here, 1959, and as we later discover, characters invented in the Nineteenth Century are not given analogs in Planetary, but appear as themselves.

06.09 The stairs imply that this is an aperture to a different space, not a framed image.

06.11.01-06 This snowflake-like (and Snowflake-like) image is an aperture into the Bleed, as see on page one in reflection.

06.14.02 The Four, similar to the Fantastic Four, seem to have achieved superhuman powers via botched spaceflight.

06.15.01 The folder bears a stylized 4 that has been modified to a swastika.

06.16.01 Like the Human Torch, Leather has a distinctive flame-like aura, though his is bright blue.

06.16.03 Leather burns away his facial hair similar to how the Human Torch shaved an amnesiac Submariner in an early issue of Fantastic Four. Snow is, at this point, amnesiac, but unaware of the extent.

06.17.01 Broken Earth-A refers to the trap set by the Four involving a retrieval mission to a fictional Earth.

06.19.02 Leather apparently can generate enough heat to get natural temperature-lowering Snow to sweat.

If it has not become obvious by this point, Snow is also analogous to the Human Torch in that his powerset involves temperature manipulation. The Drummer and Jakita Wagner, as well as the as of yet unseen former third field team member, Ambrose Chase, also stand in, in terms of superhuman abilities, for members of the Fantastic Four. (Chase alters the local laws physics as the Invisible Woman must with her invisibility, force fields, and ability of the fields to act independent of gravity. Wagner is incredibly strong. And, Drums is superhumanly good with machines and data-processing.)

[Click here to see further annotations for Planetary]


Ben Rawluk said...

It's also worth talking about Planetary as analogous to the opponents of the Fantastic Four-- Jakita's Namor (earth-alien princess with super-strength and questionable decision making skills), the Drummer's the Mad Thinker.

Anonymous said...

TV Tropes has an interesting interpretation the Planetary team as an inverse of the Fantastic Four: see under the bullet point for "Captain Ersatz".

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