Σάββατο, 27 Οκτωβρίου 2012

What I Think About Stuf-Warren Ellis' Planetary


The film that no one will get right, but everyone would love to see by ash-elquilin


Planetary Or Oh, to Walk through pop culture’s silent pandemonium…

DISCLAIMER: The following article contains a lot of references to comic book history and nerd stuff that aren’t adequately explained. If you’re having trouble following, it’s because the nature of the reviewed material was intended for that exact purpose.

It is said that the very nature of success is enough to corrupt a man. It’s not unusual for people with too much money on their hands to spend huge sums on ridiculously overpriced luxuries 

Like, say, ornate hand-carved and heavily engraved butt-plugs.


Or go the other way and invest a fortune into building monuments to themselves and their greatness, in an attempt to grasp at immortality

Like by building ludicrous artificial islands with an average living cost of 2,000 bucks a day.
It’s no different for highly successful writers and artists. Oh sure, they might not attempt to build edifices in their likeness (after all, what is to an edifice, but the material representation of one’s mark upon the world?) but they will make constant attempts to infuse themselves in their work, transfusing themselves as characters in their narratives, with varying degrees of success.

Why hello there, Mrs Meyer; didn’t see you come in.
Others will go the other way and attempt to infuse themselves into their work through subtler means. By, say, slowly but surely turning their work toward a much more artsy and convoluted direction their before, infusing it with trivia, narrative details and references to inside jokes that only the writer and a select few might even pick up, never mind chuckle at.

Every successful writer has done this, at least once in his life.

Except for Alan Moore, who has kept at it for the past decade.

The hard-earned creative freedom granted to these writers by virtue of their success gives them such power over the content and presentation of their story that either allows them to achieve and realize greatness of such magnitude that it changes the very fabric of their medium, 
 
Or produces a narrative that makes no goddamn sense yet no-one dares point it out, for fear of being called ‘simple-minded peasants’. Well you know what, Jerry? Fuck you man! This comic sucks balls and you goddamn know it, you bullshit elitist piece of shit and I hope you choke on sushi rolls as you’re re-reading Finnegan’s Wake, pretending to understand what’s going on.

Planetary belongs to the former category, mostly because it is a comic book that is a gestalt of comic books, referencing comic books, with roots set deep in comic book history.

It is a reference within a reference within a reference, all the way back to the beginning of the medium…
A friend of mine once called Planetary “Meta-pornography for nerds” and he’s not that far from the truth. There are a lot of details of its plot and intricacies that a casual comic book enthusiast might miss, but will cause a seasoned nerd’s hairs to stand on end.
 
By reading these paragraphs, a lot of you might consider passing on this comic book series, thinking it too elitist for your tastes, but here’s the catch: it’s not. Somehow, either thanks to decades’ worth of comic book narrative experience or witchcraft

Most probably witchcraft, though…
Warren Ellis has achieved to balance out the mate and the actual narrative, creating a fascinating equilibrium, while at the same time giving the WildStorm Universe some much-needed depth.

And suddenly, Jenny Sparks and the Authority weren’t alone any more…
Planetary is also very, very angry. Oh sure, it’s clever and deep and rife with meaning, but goddamn, does the wrath of the Brit gush out of the pages! In many ways, Planetary is similar to Wanted, in the sense that it is the wrathful, yet calculated work of an established author, aimed at a very specific audience with a very specific purpose.

But whereas Wanted was about the underdog getting to shoot the schoolyard bullies in the face and fucking their wives, Planetary is about a handful of people proving to you, the reader, that the world is so much stranger, beautiful and full of potential than you could ever dare imagine.

It’s not so much an example of revenge porn, as much as a pamphlet, detailing the glory and majesty of a multiverse that’s just waiting to be discovered.

All this and more, can be yours with just 6 payments of $20.99! (shipment costs not included)
I would love to call it Wonder Porn, but that sounds way too awesome to use yet and besides, Planetary does have its very own grim, brooding, infant-killing side.

What the hell is that supposed to mean: “Don’t torch the goddamn baby?”

Instead, I shall call it pessimism porn. Because despite its promises of wonder, it does involve the death and suffering of innocents for a greater good, as well as a lot of insightful and absolutely depressing punchlines.

And a few surprisingly hopeful ones.
So, what does this fine example of pessimism porn bring to the table? Let’s find out:

Meet Elijah Snow:

In my mind, he’s pouting like an 8-year old girl.

Mister Snow is over a hundred years old and he’s been places, met people and seen things, not a single one of which could (or should) be considered normal. He’s considered the world’s greatest historian of the strange and with good reason, which is why he is invited to join the Planetary organization by…

Jakita Wagner:

Just one of her orgasms could shatter your pelvis...
She’s mean, she’s lean, she’s the toughest, fastest, ballsiest woman you’ve seen in a comic book and she loves getting deeper and deeper into the weirdness and the strangeness that Planetary represents. She could have been the complete antithesis of Elijah, had it not been for…

The Drummer:

Your computer-savvy acquaintance that you couldn’t ever bring yourself to hang out with.
The Drummer (First Name The, Surname Drummer) is a superhuman with the ability to see and control the flow of information and talk to machines. While this summary may make him appear as the single most awesome and interesting character in the team, his social skills are sorely lacking.

He’s also kind of a wuss.

But what sort of comic-book organization would Planetary be without its villains? But who could possibly serve as a proper antagonist to a globe-spanning group of mystery archaeologists, aiming to bring out the secret knowledge and wonder of the world to the masses? Hmmm, how about…

The Four:

Still footage, extracted from [DATA REDACTED], moments before the launch of [DATA EXPUNGED]
The four are a group of superhuman beings intent on [DATA REDACTED] with the express purpose of [DATA EXPUNGED] brush with the Planetary Oragnization back in [LEVEL OMEGA CLEARANCE REQUIRED PAST THIS POINT]

I mean, wow, right? Warren Ellis really did nail it with that one! But, then again, every great work has its flaws, so here’s the best and worst parts of Planetary, in short. First off, the good parts:

Planetary is the abridged version of the history of the WildStorm Universe.

Fictional history in the making.
WildStorm was one of those companies that tried to break into the superhero scene at a point of oversaturation and very nearly lost everything in the process. Its heroes were run-of the-mill violent, angsty teenagers with ill-defined superpowers and it would not have survived the process, had its desperation not drawn in a number of established writers who wished to abuse their creative freedom within its boundaries.

WildStorm has a lot of great stories (seriously, check out StormWatch: Team Achilles) and a lot of excellent ideas planted there by creative minds and left to flourish, but it lacked a coherent, unified history. This was originally not thought to be that big of a deal (what with WildStorm being too busy showering the success of titles now handled by writing legends), but as its audience grew, a need for continuity and coherence arose. 

The Authority was the first series to attempt to infuse that depth, but it wasn’t enough, not on its own.

”Hey man, I didn’t buy this comic book for the backstory, know what I’m sayin’?” fully justified, yet clueless reader.
I mean, the explanation “Cold War made the superhumans” and “oh, the Soviets had this alien planet-smashing fleet on ice since Stalin died” wasn’t explanation enough for the seasoned WildStorm reader. Thus, Planetary stepped in to fill in the gaps and present the evolution of superhumanity in a manner same as the OverMan evolved and grew in our own culture.

The role of Planetary as ‘mystery archaeologists’ serves as a clever expositional device. This way, we get to learn the history of the world by people who can, casually, drop facts mid-conversation, perfectly summarizing past events in a couple sentences.

It is a revamped approach to the old, serialized pulps:

Monsters-of-the-week never looked so damn good…




This is not the first time Warren Ellis has attempted to resurrect the pulps. In fact, I’m not even certain he ever gave up on it. But let’s say he began with APPARAT (BUY IT NOW) and that Planetary was the culmination of his work in that regard.

In that context, Planetary is the way comics books must be: a parade of wonders, horrors and excitement, brought to you monthly for your enjoyment. It’s a format in which you ought to and should experiment and push its borders, recycling old tropes and ideas and giving them new and exciting shapes.

Planetary’s covers change with each issue, showcasing a different style, theme and approach, always making you want to see what the hell is going to happen next. The series sells itself by constantly shifting and approaching different subjects, serving to build a greater, grander mythology than we could have ever imagined. It also serves to create stepping stone the size of 2001’s monolith for WildStorm, which it should damn well better use to its fullest extent!

Oh. Um…wait, nevermind…

Planetary is comic book conspiracy theory, done right:

I know it sounds ridiculous, but why am I not laughing?
Planetary works with the utter silliness and paranoia of conspiracy theory and of secret powers controlling mankind’s history and turns it on its head. What began as a silly little joke in Authority, now turns into part of the core of the narrative.

The theory of there being lobbies or secret brotherhoods controlling the world suddenly becomes a far greater and more tangible threat when superhumans are involved. How has the OverMan changed? Who does Batman work for now? Is the JLA a non-profit organization anymore? Who watches the X-men?

Suddenly, layers upon layers of government conspiracy and multiversal implications appear and the same old NWO-are-after-our-brains spiel becomes relevant and scary and fucking awesome again!

Which is the other greatest selling point and also most glaring flaw of Planetary as well, as we’re about to see. This mostly happens because:

You soon find out that you stop caring about the progression of the series itself:

Well, whoopdie-fucking-do, now show me some more Secret Science Cities!

Back in my Transmetropolitan review, I mentioned how Warren Ellis’ world building hurts his story and Planetary is no exception: the world he hints at and its terrors, lurking just behind the main storyline are far more mysterious and grand than the main conflict. In fact, by the time the great big conflict between the Four and Planetary reaches its climax, I find myself more and more frustrated at the thought of not witnessing just one more (even tiny) bit of the world’s secret history, which I grew to love.

Of course, the majesty of the backstory is not in and of itself enough to make me indifferent to the story. Matter of fact, I would have been much more invested in it, had I not found out that…

Jakita and The Drummer aren’t all that interesting, either:

 Drummer and Jakita, in a rare moment of character development
Jakita’s strong, tough and gets bored easily. Drummer’s weird, but a nice kid and useful to have around. They’re also orphans aaaaannnndddd that’s all folks.

It’s amazing how, even though these two have an entire issue devoted to them each, they are so shallow and uninteresting characters, without any personality to them. To be perfectly honest, I found them both to possess much more flair and personality in the very first issues (when they were just two super-powered weirdos, pissing off Elijah) then 25 issues in, when they are suddenly reduced to supporting cast, serving to make Elijah look cooler by comparison.

And last, but not least…

The Last Couple Issues:

A moment of explosive tonal compression.
Planetary, like Transmetropolitan, suffers from a lack of focus. On one hand, it is the story of a universe chock-full of superheroes but plagued by human pettiness. On the other, it’s a story about freedom of information against the secret masters of the world. It’s a tale about strangeness and hidden wonder versus banality and predictability.

It’s a story about stories, but it also tries to be a story about its characters, about halfway in. And that doesn’t work, not for me anyway. While I did like the conflict between Planetary and The Four, I found that it should have been an entire other comic book series altogether. There is too much wonder that we missed during those issues that were too busy with portraying their secret wonder, missing out on some grand stuff, the kind that only Warren Ellis’ world-building can conjure.

Planetary attempts to return to the parade of wonders approach in its final five issues, but at that point, the entire attempt becomes…jumbled and not as potent as before. In fact, if anything, it feels out of place.

But you know what? You should buy this comic. Even if you’re not into pop culture history, even if you don’t know who the fuck Doc Savage and The Shadow are, even if you can’t tell the difference between the Crisis on Infinite Earths and Infinite Crisis.

Protip: one requires a PHD in Nerd sciences. The other needs a couple quick Wikipedia references.
You should buy it because it’s beautiful, depressing, hopeful and terrifying, all at the same time. Because, if Planetary was a food, it would have been an entire fried chicken with a side of an entire box of Oreos and a huge-ass bowl of ice-cream

Served with a side of crunchy, curly fries.
Sure, it would be the equivalent on declaring full-scale chemical warfare on your stomach and subsequently your lower intestine, but goddamn is it a fun ride that you ought to try!

Addendum:

Planetary’s wonderful art and its impossible contraptions are brought to you by John Cassaday, who apparently has a dream-projector for a head and the spinerettes of Ananasi for fingers.

Superhero art, done right.

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