Excavating, reappraising, and cataloging Planetary early in the 21st Century
[The eleventh 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.]
Detective vs Spy!
John le Carré once said something like, the difference between a spy and a spymaster, was that a spy who was not a spymaster was a poor spy. Detectives (such as Snow) break down, the distinguish and analyze and simplify down to the elements to deduce a truth. Spies, spymasters in particular, aggregate and accumulate and overcomplicate to obscure or delay a truth. At least, that is their traditional MOs in fiction, and this is Planetary, it's all about fiction. We can see Snow, in this chapter, putting the pieces together like a good detective, but do we see as clearly John Stone being the consummate spymaster and working everyone as his agents, his tools, playing his games?
It burns like hell when you realize you've thanked someone for screwing you over, doesn't it? We have all been there and that kind of betrayal, the smiling shake your hand buy you another drink betrayal, is something we are never really trained to handle. There is no educational short to show in ninth grade Social Studies for that. Why is that?
[From Volume Two, The Fourth Man
11.00 The cover evokes Jim Steranko's SHIELD covers and Sixties spy movies, but also has a good deal of story resonance, including the circuits and eye. Particularly evocative of Nick Fury of SHIELD issue #4.
11.01.01 The squiggly and receding type for "1969" evokes a wobblier and more stylish era.
The Bride is shooting a man who looks like Marvel Comics' Nick Fury, one of the characters (and types) whom John Stone represents, as indicated by the cigar, eyepatch, and stubble.
11.01.01-03 That's a helluva flash from the discharging of the Bride's weapon.
The widescreen-mimicking panels evoke a theatrical film.
11.01.02-03 More SHIELD character lookalikes, including a Dumdum Dugan (with the mustache), being held by her Best Men.
The sunglasses and baldness of the Best Men resemble two design elements favored during the late Sixties and Seventies by Jack Kirby (though, there, it's usually blank, oversized eyes, rather than sunglases). Their uniformity visually cues us to their lack of individuality/personality, before it can be explained in dialogue.
11.01.02 S.T.O.R.M. is the precursor of international police force Stormwatch. Planetary is not only the secret history of a century of pop fiction, it is also the secret history of the WildStorm shared universe.
11.02.01 A quintessential illustration of the James Bond as badass. Completely outnumbered, staring at the business end of a gun barrel (several, here), and you know he is going to come out winning.
11.02.02 "Cold World" evokes both the Cold War, which half of this issue takes place during, but also that the world of Planetary is a cold war, mostly, both in the title/comic directly, with the Four vs the Planetary organization, but also that this Earth has, until recently, been fighting and stalemating a silent war between two alien empires that was, in actuality (thank you Alan Moore!), won a long time ago.
11.03 The Bride's agenda is one of stalemate, of stability. She does not want to change the world, but suspend it in a way she enjoys.
11.03.02 Referring to Hark and his daughter, Anna.
11.04.01-02 The Blitzen Suit is in the tradition of superspy gimmicks as favored by the two biggest influences on John Stone, Nicky Fury and James Bond. It uses magnetics to the ends of teleportation, bringing to mind the traditional view of the so-called Philadelphia Experiment. The "blitzen" in its name both indicates electromagnetism and lightning-speed, while also being a call to the lightning-represented speedsters of the DC Universe, most of whom are identified with the name Flash and bear lightning motifs on their costumes.
11.04.02 The Equalizer Disc resembles the lethal ricocheting disc used by an alien in the movie I Come in Peace. Except, I'm not sure it is cutting the Best Men, or if it is firing those red beams at them.
11.04.05 Stone bears the same light scar as the original James Bond of the novels, and Planetary's Jimmy, the Operator.
11.05.01 The red pattern here identified as "the universal border" is more traditionally known as the Bleed and indicates the arterial walls between alternate realities.
Of course the Sixties spy villain has a Polynesian base.
11.05.02 The Bride saying "decouple" is one thing, that both fuel (hot) and coolant (you see where this is going) are involved is another. It isn't a Sixties spy story if everyone isn't being witty.
11.05.04 And having special gimmick weapons, of course, like this saw-toothed bullet. (A regular round would not do the same, oh no.)
11.06.02 If the friction of the round won't do it, surely a flamethrower built into the same gun will?
11.07.05 An example of James Bondian wit. And, of Steranko-style abstract background to highlight the figure.
11.08 There is something classic about the villain midway up the ladder to escape.
11.09.01 More abstract background shapes.
11.09-07 The widescreen-simulating panels give a filmic ambience to Snow's arrival.
11.09.02-03 Furthering the hot/cold dichotomy, the Bride dies here as ice while her Best Men burned.
11.010.01 Is Marrakesh, here, a reference to the film Bang! Bang! You're Dead! or the I Spy episode "Honorable Assassins? Or, simply to a famous portrait of Mick Jagger, whose '67 style the contemporaneous Snow is not a thousand miles away from?
11.10.05 The form of introduction is the same form traditional for the introduction of James Bond.
11.11.01 The straight lines and balance of the "2000" indicate the shift between that year and 1969.
11.11-20 This bar, The Last Shot, has been seen before in an issue of Stormwatch written by Warren Ellis and was part of a superhuman bar culture movement along with fellow WildStorm writer Alan Moore.
11.12.01-03 This concept of souls and Heaven and Hell is, as noted by Warren Ellis, appropriated from William Burroughs, though perhaps only the electromagnetic and nuclear-erasure aspects are original to Burroughs (in terms of publication).
11.12.02 The photos on the wall recall, in their chiaroscuro, the use of photography in Jim Steranko's SHIELD work and other late-Sixties comics, including those by Jack Kirby.
11.13.02-03 The Nautilus here is the one from Verne's fiction, not our "real world" Nautilus of the same year, 1959.
John Stone appears not to know of the woman onboard with Leather and Snow, or at least he does not mention her.
11.13.03 The flashback/memory is embedded behind the contemporary scene, which is a nice visual reinforcement.
11.14.02 Snow unwittingly disrupted a cold war.
11.15.03 "Who benefits from [Snow's] lack of memory?" Well, right here, Stone does.
11.15.05 Which, is why, in part, Stone is honest about his playing mindgames such as this for decades.
11.16.01 Unreal Sanction Force alludes to the mindgaming going on in this very issue as well as throughout Planetary. The acronym also brings to mind the United States Forces, military operations of a primarily non-militant nature in foreign countries (USFJ for Japan, USF-I for Iraq, and so). Further, it may allude to Gerry Anderson's television series, UFO about an organization called S.H.A.D.O., which was an alien-invasion fighting organization run under the cover of being a televisions studio. The aliens of UFO were the organ-abducting type, though never seen clearly without disguising elements, or named, similar to how the Four will be shown to masquerade as extraplanetary aliens to perform terrorist actions, abduct people, and harvest organs.
11.16.04 The Four are playing with Snow because they profit from his general actions and the behavior of his organization, but also, it is the nature of fictional villains to execute protracted sequences of playing with their victims. If they only killed their opponents straightaway, the victim might never turn the tables and win.
11.17 This page utilizes backgrounds of abstract solid shapes in every panel.
11.17.02 John Stone being so concerned that Snow's allies not know of him or his involvement should flag Snow, but does not. This is still superspy business.
11.17.03 Has Stone spiked that cigarette? Snow has thought about the mental blockage before without it collapsing. Eye-opening cig or simply time?
11.18.01 Are those stalactites or teeth?
11.18.02 A Murder Colonel, as seen earlier in Brass' group's trophy room. The mask's bug-eyes and tendril-mouth give a cthuloid or Innsmouth look to him.
11.18.03 Snow is beating on wolfmen with a cane, just as the silver-topped cane in The Wolfman has an implement that can seriously injure a such a creature. Note also, naturally, a full moon above.
11.18.01-03 Note that in the first panel, Snow's pistol is missing from the holster, then in the second, a pistol is dislodged from the Murder Colonel's hand by Snow's punch, then in the third he has a pistol tucked into his belt. Possibly unconnected, but nice.
11.19.02 This is Jakita Wagner's mother in the lost city of Opak-Re.
11.19.04 Sherlock Holmes. And, as we learn, Snow found him at the address most often associated with Holmes, so, really, not the greatest detective work ever but effective.
11.20.03 "It's a game" and the red circles here remind me of Grant Morrison and particularly, The Invisibles, in which, "Try to remember it's only a game" was a recurring phrase and an explanation of fiction and reality.
11.21.05 Stone's eye-rolling and smirk prefigure the reveal of his betrayal here.
[Click here to see further annotations for Planetary]