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  Bookends: Dan Davidson

Planetary: Spacetime Archeology

Reviewed: April 3, 2010
By: Warren Ellis / art by John Cassaday
Publisher: Wildstorm/DC Comics
224 pages, $29.99

This volume collects issues 19 to 27 of the monthly magazine and concludes the story begun in 1998, wrapping up the series. The three main agents of the Planetary organization describe themselves as "Archaeologists of the Impossible,” have made their duty to investigate any and all strange events on earth. This has allowed Ellis and Cassaday to deal with every sort of comic book tale that one might imagine.

The 27 issues have been series of homages to adventure stories, science-fiction, pulp fiction. mysteries, monster movie/comics, and others, making it one of the most innovative series in recent years. The pair have also worked in slightly altered versions of Tarzan, Sherlock Holmes, Dracula. Doc Savage, Superman, Wonder Woman and countless others.

The main characters are: Elijah Snow, an apparently immortal “century baby” with the power to manipulate extremes of cold; Jakita Wagner, a younger woman possessed of great strength, endurance, speed and near invulnerability; and The Drummer, who has the power to detect and manipulate information streams and “talk” to machinery.

Running through the series has ben an ongoing confrontation with the Four, Ellis’s evil version of Marvel Comics’ Fantastic Four characters. The four have analogs of the FF’s powers, but have been hoarding to themselves the very sorts of inventions and discoveries that Planetary seeks to make public for the betterment of mankind.

Sometime in the past, about ten years ago, Snow was captured by the Four and agreed to have his memory wiped in order to save the lives of his colleagues. In the first issue, his mates finally track him down and begin to bring him back into the fold. Over the series he has been slowly regaining his faculties and by the time we enter the finally collection, he is fully himself again.

The battle between Planetary and the Four kicks into high gear in these last eight issues and we learn a great deal more about everyone’s past as the story builds to a climax. Following that, there is even a (relatively) peaceful epilogue in which a plot point from an earlier issue is resolved.

This series is some of Ellis’s finest writing. He is not tied down here by working under license and is not strictly (as in his work on the Authority) reacting against the tropes of existing popular comics. Still, the books would not be what it is without the incredible artwork of John Cassaday, who has turned in some incredible pages and done homage to many artists who have come before him without actually imitating them.

The final pages do leave open the possibility for more stories, but I rather hope that there aren’t any. This novel is complete in 27 chapters and should probably be left that way.

For those who would like a bit more. there are three standalone adventures collected in an earlier fifth volume, Planetary: Crossing Worlds. Two of these do tie into the main story arc, but the other is an inversion, in which the Planetary organization plays the part occupied by the Four in the main story.

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