Excavating, reappraising, and cataloging Planetary early in the 21st Century
[The tenth 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
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.]
Eulogy for fiction is not their end. In life, you talk about the passed and you kind of know you aren't getting them back, even believing in an afterlife or resurrection you fear you do not get to see them again, to see someone's brilliance or presence. When you do it in fiction for fiction, you make it live again in that fictional realm. Because the idea, as proved by its absence or removal, is the same shape and strength as the idea by its presence, if not better.
"MAGIC AND LOSS" is no more intended to be the final Superman story than "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?" It shows why there should be Superman stories. It demonstrates what we get out of Green Lantern stories, mostly without ever noticing that those elements are there, the space police element has been in Green Lantern a long time, the oath even longer, but how often do actual Green Lantern stories demonstrate why that means something as this chapter of Planetary does? Had any story before this one linked the lantern to the policework (which is historically culturally accurate for several locales/communities throughout history)? And, Wonder Woman? This chapter, this portrayal puts the lie to the idea that feminism is about proving women are better than men. She is not going to go to the multi-gendered United States and announce herself superior, she is only going to go and present herself and her culture.
Is this Wonder Woman about erasure, then? Probably, intentionally or not. Presence means something. Always.
The Help is out right now, and it's sort of eulogizing housecleaners and maids struggles during the era often called the Civil Rights Movement (as if there was one movement in a small period of years). Fair enough. It's through the eyes of what in that situation is the overclass, white perspective, though still an underclass (women). Okeh, fair... yeah, fair enough, too. And it's yet another example of the rare role available to black actors even today: the help. Porters and maids. You know what's interesting to me, about this? During the era the film is set in, nonwhite actors were unionizing, particularly black women, resulting in many of those same housecleaner and mammy roles being cast with white actors in blackface to avoid casting the black unionized actors. And, you have a huge movement, watershed being Sidney Poitier, towards refusing to take those roles to make a point of how rare any non-servile role was for a black performer. If you make that movie, though, you have to show nonwhite people doing for themselves, standing up confidently and - not being aggressive, but - being insistently present. And getting erased by blackface for it.
Has that got too much to do with this issue? Reaching too far? I don't know. Is Frances Williams a superhero?
[From Volume Two, The Fourth Man
This issue's title is most likely a reference to the Lou Reed song of the same name.
10.01.01 The blanket of the issue's Superman analog.
10.01.02 The lantern of the Green Lantern analog, unlit and empty-looking.
10.01.03 Bracelets of the Wonder Woman analog.
10.02.01 Presumably this is Four Voyagers Plaza, last seen in chapter six.
10.03.03 The winged rig is analogous to the kind traditionally used by DC Comics' Hawk characters, Hawkman/woman/gil. These artifacts, the bracelets, the rig, blanket, are lifeless remains of those concepts.
10.05-9 A replay of the pre-Earth origins of Superman, stripped of familiar iconography
10.06.04 The child is launched from a field named for a(n old) sun god. Superman, powered by the yellow sun, is nothing if not solar-centric and impregnated with a sense of old alien culture and history.
10.08 Superman purified down the The Last Son.
10.10.01 The speaking alien is drawn in a very angular, snaky style, similar to sometime Green Lantern artist Kevin O'Neil's basic style.
10.10.02 Narration and visual boil down the Green Lantern Corps concept to "space's first policeman" with a lamp lighting the way.
10.10.03 A policeman whose badge and tool was "the light of reason" and not, say, a gun.
Is the alien growing those lanterns from its tendrils?
10.11 Here a corps of space cops analogous to the Green Lantern Corps.
10.12.02 The command, the invocation here, is similar to the Green Lantern's oath, which is a rhyming statement of intent usually modified from Lantern to Lantern. Here it is strongly connected to a request/reminder to be "the best kind of policeman."
10.14.03 A Wonder Woman analog and her mother, with a city behind them analogous to Wonder Woman's nation-city of origin, Themyscira.
10.15.04 "And they won't go back" to the Moon, is an indictment of the same magic and loss seen with these superhero concepts and their removal during the course of the story.
10.15.05 The Wonder Woman here is purified not to an ambassadorial role, but also a teacher, a messenger whose message is, essentially (the medium is the message) her existence.
10.16.04 She has "tamed" her bracelets, playing into the use of bondage, freedom, and play-bondage to define pretty much everything, as seen in the earliest Wonder Woman comics.
10.19.04-6 William Leather's powers appear to be analogous, visually, to the Human Torch of Marvel Comics' Fantastic Four, but they are not temperature related, as seen here where they are a magicky skeleton key. As we will see throughout Planetary, the Planetary field team's superhuman abilities are more in line with the Fantastic Four than the analogs of the Four.
10.20.01 Baby Superman, complete with indestructable blanket bearing a gold standard/shield. Yes, Superman's cape, as an adult, is his baby blanket.
10.20.04 Leather can generate intense heat, however else his powers work.
10.21 A very Jim Steranko page layout. And, here, Doctor Randall Dowling of the Four is posed bending over or in extreme projection to give the semblance of stretching, cuing to mind that he is analogous to Marvel Comics' Mr. Fantastic.
10.21.02 The space cop has been shot in the face, similar to the shot-in-the-head stuffed and mounted Green Lanterns displayed in the Four's outerspace headquarters in the Terra Occulta crossover with the Justice League.
10.21.03 The Wonder Woman analog is explicitly referred to as an "ambassador."
10.21.04 Henry Bendix is the later head of an international superhuman police force, Stormwatch, and a bad man. He will use this artifact to produce a soldier who ends up dead on his first mission in the Stormwatch story "A Finer World" also written by Warren Ellis.
10.22.01 The severe black border given to this panel reinforces how much is left out when all the potential we saw throughout this chapter are reduced to the artifacts.
10.22.01-02 The lightning-like shapes throughout this issue are a nice touch, bringing to mind silently the Flash characters of DC, one of the staples of that company's shared world not given much consideration in Planetary.
10.22.04 All that lost potential that is implied reminds Snow to act not to wait for action. That's nicely done.
[Click here to see further annotations for Planetary]