This week's AICN review is a tag-team love-fest with fellow reviewer "Humphrey Lee" for the new ABSOLUTE PLANETARY published by DC Comics. Tomorrow will be my interview with James Robinson about his current stint as writer on the JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA comic book.
ABSOLUTE PLANETARY Vol.1 - 2
Writer: Warren Ellis
Art: John Cassaday
Publisher: DC WildStorm
Reviewers: Professor Challenger and Humphrey Lee
Prof. Challenger (PROF): ABSOLUTE PLANETARY is proof of God. It is his divine gift to the comic book fans. It is like the holy fire that Prometheus gave to the first humans.
Or is that too hyperbolic?
Humphrey Lee (HUMPH): Heh, possibly.
It's important because it is that good. PLANETARY came at a time when I was getting back into comics after having left them for dead for a few years. I was growing up and the typical "capes and tights" books weren't doing it for me, and I didn't know something like Vertigo existed. So when I got back into comics, at the ripe age of nineteen, and found out not only could you have a super-people book that was mature, with high brow scientific concepts and the occasional low brow humor, but that didn't have to answer to anyone or anything. It didn't have to have a franchise character in it, and it didn't have to be hard R, it just had to be, and it was awesome when it came out. PLANETARY and THE AUTHORITY both, taking a bit of a lead in from Morrison's JLA run, were the kick in the nuts the superhero genre needed at the end of millennia.
PROF: That's interesting. I also picked up my first PLANETARY issue during a down period in comic buying for me. I was buying very few series at all, but was still popping into the shop and browsing every few weeks. One day I went in and saw this cover for a comic called PLANETARY but the cover featured what looked like Doc Savage on the cover and the logo design was the "Savage" style logo. I had to pick it up and see what was what with it. That would've been issue #5.
After reading it, I was hooked and went back the next day to dig through the long boxes and was able to come up with the first 4 issues and I committed to every issue after that up to the end. Of course, I had no idea at the time that it was going to take so long to finish the series.
HUMPH: That's about the only thing PLANETARY didn't have over all the bad 90's comics I was reading. They may have been terrible, but at least they showed up on time. But, I was lured back into funny books by some pretty big offenders when it came to timeliness; the ABC line of books, JMS' RISING STARS and MIDNIGHT NATION, etc. Thing was, they were worth it. They really opened my eyes up to what comics should be and what I could have/should have been reading once I became disgusted with stuff like "The Clone Saga" and year after year of X-events. I assume we'll get back to tardiness eventually - hard not to when talking about this book - but it was always worth it. The sense grandeur I felt whenever I did and still do open up the pages of a PLANETARY always put(s) me in a better place.
So, what was it that really sold you on this book? That made you harbor such a fondness for it that you find yourself in a frenzy over giant-sized hardcovers of it a decade later?
PROF: For me, initially though, it tickled my fancy because of the alternate versions of Doc Savage, the Shadow, Green Hornet, etc. that were featured. I'm kind of a sucker for the pulp adventurers and I kind of collect pastiches of them. So, PLANETARY was already in my "happy place" from the start.
HUMPH: Yeah, you said it and I'll run with it. The ABSOLUTES are indeed a gift to the comic enthusiast. Sometimes I can't just help but sit down in front of my extensive collection of these things (I've got something like thirteen Absolutes) and these are always the ones I pull out to flip through. Cassaday's art is absolutely sublime, and a huge complement to everything I was just talking about when it comes to reverence for the medium. His takes on all these characters - the Doc Savages, Nick Furys, Fantastic Fours of the medium - are the perfect mix of homage and fresh take. And obviously no one does giant action sequences and splashes like the man, only enhanced by these gloriously oversized pages.
PROF: It's a weird thing to try and review the ABSOLUTE PLANETARY volumes simply because in previous reviews of the series I've pretty much dealt with the series itself. For my money, PLANETARY is the seminal comic book series of the last decade (even though it technically started before 2000). While it owes conceptual debt to other sources, whether it be LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN or Philip Jose' Farmer's "World Newton" Universe stories, PLANETARY was immediately its own unique vision. The writing is so intelligent and peppered with cultural and literary references, without being a "Where's Waldo" type of game like LOEG sometimes devolves into. The sense of the entire project being a self-indulgent ironic paean to obsessive-compulsives is also thankfully absent.
The mystery of the Fourth Man, the life of Elijah Snow, the death of Ambrose Chase; these are the framework that Ellis uses to build his massive monument and shrine to not only the mythology of comic books, but also all great modern adventure stories. "Fictional realities" is not an ironic term in Ellis's PLANETARY. As such, the work in concept and text speaks to the reader in a deeper sense than your average "super-hero" comic for sure. But for the work to really resonate it requires of the reader a working knowledge of genre fiction in graphic novels, comics, and film. That challenge makes PLANETARY a nearly unique reading experience.
HUMPH: I wasn't really into those when I left comics, but as time moves on and I'm becoming a little more jaded than the typical fanfare that is coming out from mainstream comics these days, I'm actually getting more into those kinds of comics. Not those exact comics - I pay respect to what they did but older comic writing drives me up the damn wall I'm such a modern boy - but stuff like PLANETARY here that pays them respect, hits on all the right notes, but is firmly modern writing. That's why I love my ABSOLUTE shelf ; PLANETARY is sandwiched right between THE NEW FRONTIER and PROMETHEA, two other books that took iconic figures and weren't afraid to put new spins on them, whether it just be updated storytelling or, in the case of PROMETHEA, re-imagining them.
PROF: The price-point on this book is pretty high, though, and I fully understand that cost is a deterrent on the Absolutes to many people. I'm one of them, actually, who finds it tough to justify spending the money on a series I already own. PLANETARY is worth it. I'm tempted by the LOEG and JLA/AVENGERS, but have not bought them. Until reading PLANETARY, the only Absolute I deemed worthy of my hard-earned cash was NEW FRONTIER and it is worth it. After handling and reading back through the ABSOLUTE PLANETARY, I can honestly say it is worth every penny for the quality of the series itself and the product. This is designed and produced with integrity and respect for the creators and the reader. I honestly can't rave enough on a pure production and technical level, to be perfectly honest.
HUMPH: Production level is key and this book does indeed have it. The sewn binding is of the highest importance. Even the SANDMAN volumes, massive as they are, still lay flat and lose nothing in the fold. I will level one complaint against these volumes though...they're incomplete. I assume this is going to be it since all 27 issues are represented, but what about the three PLANETARY specials? PLANETARY/BATMAN is arguably my favorite issue of the series and it's not here to bask in the over-sized glory that is this format and that highly saddens me.
PROF: I agree. I agree. I guess in the midst of this love-fest, we really had to find a criticism and that is it. If nothing else, they could have added those 3 specials as a separate and thinner appendix volume or something. Since only one of them was technically outside continuity, it would make sense to have worked them in. I know that in my own individual issues, I've picked where I think they fit and inserted them.
As to the Elseworlds special being outside of continuity...I have to wonder if, given the driving theme of multiple realities, can anything truly be outside continuity?
HUMPH: Yeah, lets be honest here, if someone is a fan of this series, there's really no reason to not get this other than price tag. We are basically reduced to nitpicking the actual physical content of the book, not the content of the material within the book. I mean, these are what, a whole $100 for both volumes on Amazon, now that the first volume is in print again. That's chump change for this book, given what it is, how good it is, how good it looks, and how the Absolute format presents it all.
Still though, at least that BATMAN/PLANETARY one is a shame, but I don't know if they could justify 144 pages in just one Absolute, unless it came packed with bonus material out the wazoo and was $50 max.
PROF: That's why I was thinking something more along the lines of the addendum in JLA\AVENGERS that showcased Perez's unused artwork from the original team-up plus tons of articles and interviews from that time that shed light on why the original team-up never happened.
But I would not be surprised to find out that Ellis himself just looks at those specials as if they are entertaining footnotes but have no direct bearing on the primary story he was telling and that's why he cut them.
Bottom line is that ABSOLUTE PLANETARY is "absolute"-ly outstanding and worth gracing the library of every serious fan of super-heroes and/or adventure stories. Any final words, Humphrey?
HUMPH: Ummmm...Wonder Twin powers activate!!!???
PROF: Yeah. That'll work.