Thursday, March 24, 2011

"The Devil's Empty House"

“The Devil’s Empty House”
Excavating, reappraising, and cataloging Planetary early in the 21st Century

[The eighth 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. The annotations are primarily speculation, with no hard evidence to back them up. 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.]

When Planetary started up, the main characters all seemed short-sighted and cavalier, they were cynical except for small bursts of earnest enjoyment at things like surviving monsters on Island Zero. Life was cheap, people were selfish, and missions and mysteries could be entered into and abandoned when finished. The pitch document that many of us saw fairly early on seemed to validate this as the full breadth of the series remit. Many critics, reviewers, and Wikipedia updaters seemed sure that any change in this status quo was a last minute revision or the result of a serialization gone on longer than intended by several years.

I don’t buy it. Wagner was grieving (for the apparently dead, Jack Carter, but also for her amnesiac boss and father figure, Snow) in the chapter previous to this one, and here, as with the sixth chapter, 4, Snow is offended by the cruelty and loss demonstrated by the situations at hand. Snow’s way to be offended is, frequently (post the shiftship visit, after reading documents on the Four) to get productively angry, but he can also be crippled by his inability to save. Beat in mind, we don’t even know his purpose in existing, in walking the Earth, right now, is to save, but here in this chapter, he is unable to rescue Allison; the best he can do his help her die as unburdened as possible.

Death is unfair.

In the end, this will perhaps be the ultimate statement or the primary driving force of the comic. “Right now, I want my friend back,” says Snow in the final chapter, and it validates a whole helluva lot. And, maybe it is true that everything Warren Ellis and everyone else working on Planetary experienced over the years of its serialization had an effect on the comic culminating to that point, but the seeds are here and in every issue. The affected coolness of Snow, of Wagner and Drums, fades pretty quick after the first chapter, and it to no end surprises me how many readers seemed offended when they realized at about chapter twenty-five that this was not only a series of genre investigations where the primary characters remained detached, but about getting immersed in life and doing right. “But,” say some of these readers, “it says right in the pitch document…” And, maybe it does, but it is never demonstrated in Planetary.


[From Volume Two, The Fourth Man

08.00 The cover is practically a collage of Fifties and Sixties pop culture monsters, including visual references to Attack of the 50 Ft Woman, the giant ants of Them, a Mars Attacks Martian, and the military counterstrike against them, in the form of tanks, planes, missiles and armed soldiers.

08.01 Similar to previous film-centric chapters, the opening page mimics the widescreen ratio. This is also the first of a number of careful transitionals in this chapter, demonstrating minor changes that alter an otherwise static scene.

The title, "THE DAY THE EARTH TURNED SLOWER” is a reference to the film, The Day the Earth Stood Still, directed by Robert Wise.

08.02.01 Allison is in part a reference to actress and activist Allison Hayes, star of The Attack of the 50 Ft Woman and other films, who died of leukemia, lead poisoning, and other health complications, many of which were enhanced by ill-treatment during her acting days.

08.03.03-04 Another transition between two succinct (unlit; lit) moments.

08.06.03 In 1960, Hayes appeared as Justine (for you Sade fans) in The Hypnotic Eye, about brutalized women and mind control, whose production was connected to Caryl Chessman, convicted of multiple rapes, robberies, and assaults, who claimed to have been set up by a government conspiracy. Further, the screenwriter has said, “Most hypnotists -- if you ever get talking to them -- tell you that the reason they got into hypnosis was to be able to control women. That's the fact of it. So once you know that, and once you've talked to a few hypnotists, you realize that they are basically masturbators who have a way of getting their rocks off without having charm or anything!” (I can’t say that this has any bearing on the date chosen, but it seems synchronous.)

08.07.02 Giant atomic ants are a reference to, along with the cover image, the film, Them, directed by Gordon Douglas.

08.11.05 Does Allison know more about Planetary than she is letting on, or is this “strange world” mention only coincidental?

08.13.02 The Fifties flashbacks are presented in black and white to echo films of the era, particularly, of the genre examined in this chapter.

08.15.04 Back in the second chapter, Jakita Wagner suggests blaming physical mutation and Fifties/Sixties-style monsters on radiation is “retarded,” but here we are, with “atomics” and “atomic projection” being cited as responsible for a whole array of similar effects.

“Atomic projection” could have a lot of long-haired science (or, as Ellis prefers, drunken science) extrapolations, including deformation retracts, which involve continually shrinking spaces, and Category Theory. It may not mean what it implies.

08.16.01 The (here backlit) lamps (perhaps unintentionally) resemble both a blowup of Kirby Dots and also the DMT machine elves to be seen later, in Death Machine Telemetry.

08.16.03 Dowling’s dialogue here, reminds of the era-specific movies’ tendency of scientist-characters delivering very simple information while sounding as if they expect neither other characters nor audience to fully understand.

08.17.04 Note that her half-life here, and that she dies after fifty years may not be related. Her actual whole life, resurrection included, is a reasonable human lifespan, while her body could easily remain radioactive.

08.18.03 Were these experiments, in part, Dowling testing how best to make himself (and his associates) superhuman?

08.18.03-04 Reference to the TV crimesolving version of The Invisible Man, perhaps, and to Ralph Ellis’ novel, Invisible Man, which echoes Planetary in multiple moments, including, “We the machines inside the machine.”

08.18.05-06 Reference to The Indestructable Man.

08.19.01-02 Reference to the P-Funk song Atomic Dog.

08.19.04 “Atomic snowflake field” gives credence to the treatment of “atomic” as meaning spatial and not necessarily related to nuclear research as commonly considered.

08.20.01 Reference to Attack of the 50 Ft Woman.

[Click here to see further annotations for Planetary]

1 comment:

pedanther said...

08.00 Though the ants of Them! have achieved a more lasting fame, there was also a giant mantis movie, 1957's The Deadly Mantis. You may find the poster for that movie looks familiar.

The mechanical monster near the bottom looks like a relative of the three famous robots designed by Robert Kinoshita for 1954's Tobor the Great, 1956's Forbidden Planet and 1965's Lost in Space.

08.01 In the first two panels, before the scale of the scene is resolved, we might be looking at a giant lizard on some prehistoric world. In the movies of the 1950s, many a giant prehistoric lizard (not to mention the giant ants, locusts, rabbits, etc.) was really a small creature filmed in close-up.

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