"It's A Strange World, Drums. Did You Think For a Minute That I Wasn't Going to Keep it That Way?"

I'm going to miss Planetary.

I guess that's a very slight exaggeration, since the only single issue that I've ever purchased was this one, the last one, the one that I'm reviewing. I guess what I'm really going to miss, then, is the idea of Planetary being ongoing- the feeling that the world is strange and that Elijah, Jakita and Drums are going to keep it that way. This, first and foremost, is what was so wonderful about Ellis and Cassaday's baby; it suggests the world is more fantastic than we will ever know.

While one of the conceits of Planetary (hell, one of the conceits of the whole of the Wildstorm universe) is that it doesn't exist in our reality, it does exist in a world that is familiar to us, because it exists in a world that we know- the connected universe of pulp-pop-culture. It's fitting that the series should end at the launching points for an expedition into a fictional world, for that is exactly what Planetary is- an expedition into our favorite fictional realities.

Ellis makes his project abundantly clear from the very beginning- the first issue is a twisted vision of the Crisis on Infinite earths, ending in a climactic battle (a battle in which everyone loses, by the way) between a JLA analogue and their pulp precursors- and, although this limits the audience to people with some knowledge of the medium, this is what allows it to pass into brilliance. Far from being a simple play on archetype (like fellow Ellis Wildstorm creations Apollo and Midnighter), Plantery represents an attempt to write an in-medium history of the comics and a beautifully conceived and constructed one at that. Although Ellis isn't the only writer to do this (see Kirkman's Invincible) he's certainly the best at it- while Kirkman's work is self-referencing without being particularly meaningfully so, Warren's insights into the form come on almost a page by page basis.

The series' scope is wide and, insofar as it starts with the pulps and ends with the future, all-encompassing- Ellis is making a statement, and he wants to make sure we all know that. While I would love to see "The Further Adventures of Planetary!" published on a regular schedule, what the series' ending reveals is that the future will be wonderful, but also that it will be open ended.

Ellis, then, ends his history with a warning to his audience- it's a strange world and the only way to keep that way is by not deciding we know what comes next. What he's done from the beginning of his opus is play with the knowledge and expectations that we all have about superhero comics: where they come from, where they are, where they're headed. Keep in mind, though, that by the end all of those stories are dead and buried. His twisted versions of the Fantastic Four, the Hulk, Nick Fury, Constantine, the JLA have all been killed or shunted aside (and that last one is done away with twice: once in the first issue and again in #10). All that is left is the Planetary organization, a team of mystery archeologists dedicated to finding and preserving the secret mysteries of the world. They don't know what's coming.

And neither do we.

It's a brilliant conceit, really, one that I don't think any other comics historian has picked up on. Most histories of the medium focus on the writers, the artists, the driving forces behind the comics. Ellis chooses a different perspective from which to view superhero comics- the perspective of the discoverer, of the adventurer, of the comic book reader. We are Planetary and Planetary is us.

This is why the parting shot is so important- it's a message, a message that's meant for his readers- his entitled and notoriously difficult fan base. We want our comics to be comforting. We want them to be like the comics from the past. We never want anything about them to change. If the books are comforting, though, they are also stagnant. If they're stagnant, they aren't interesting. If they aren't interesting, if they aren't wonderful, if they aren't fantastic (in the most literal sense of the term), if they aren't down right STRANGE than they're missing the point.

The Four aren't the villains of the series because Ellis is taking a shot at Marvel; they're the villains of the series because Ellis is taking a shot at our reliance on the Silver Age, at our dependence on Stan and Jack. They had a good run, and we need not forget them nor their influence, but we're stifling creativity by being reliant on old stand-by characters, old ideas and old creators. We're being told that projects like X-Men Forever don't celebrate the medium, they stunt it. The continuous recycling of the Big Two may make old fans happy, but it will never keep the world strange.

In this way, what we have in Planetary is the last hurrah of deconstruction to be found in superhero comics- we've gone past what would really happen if supermen actually existed, and gone into a place where there be dragons- that is, what if, in response to the horrifying Miracleman types that've been everywhere since the '80's, there were genuinely good heroes? Heroes who really were like the people we want them to be? It's fitting that the central motif of the final issue is a circle, because Ellis has brought superhero deconstruction full circle. In typical Ellis fashion, however, he's also made clear that he's not fond of circles. Much has been made of the fact that this issue reads like an epilogue and his point is clear. It's time to move on.

Before we get going, though, we should take a minute to evaluate the issue itself.

Like I said, it reads exactly like the epilogue it is: Elijah has one more thing to do before he can move on with us, and Ellis and Cassaday portray it beautifully. Everything that there is to love about Planetary is here. In smaller doses, perhaps, and not necessarily exactly the way I wanted to see it done, although I suppose that's the point, right?

From a writing standpoint, it gives Ellis another chance to flex his science muscles- Schrodinger and Heisenberg both make textual cameos, and the first act of the issue is dominated by the problems with time travel (which, incidentally, come about because the activation of a time machine makes time a circle). I would be lying if I said this sort of thing was particularly engaging, but it is genuinely interesting in an academic sort of way, and it sets up a series of great Elijah/Drums moments.

What's really great here, though, is how effectively emotional the storytelling is- what could have been horribly overwrought moments (Jakita's self-doubt could have come off as whiny and Elijah finally managing to save Ambrose Chase almost finds its way into sappiness as it is) come off as beautifully genuine.

To give most of the credit on that score to Ellis, though, I think would be a mistake. Let's give credit where credit is due- if Ellis is the engine of this spaceship, John Cassaday and Laura Martin are everything else. They streamline the story, they make it move, and they make it look really, really nice. For my money, there are very, very few comics artists better than Cassaday out there right now, if any.

The art is the real emotional force here. There are pictures interspersed throughout the review, so go and take a look at the way he handles faces, emotions, tiny little details (like the panel where Jakita and Elijah are talking and the latter is holding a sandwich- I think I laughed out loud when I saw that). The drawing here adds weight and significance, and it turns a great issue into a brilliant one.

So, THE LONG AND SHORTBOX OF IT? Planetary #27 is a fitting ending to what I believe is the seminal work of comics in the last decade. It has long been my contention that Warren Ellis is this generation of creators' Alan Moore and- if that's true- I think this is what's going to turn out to be his Watchmen. If you haven't read any Planetary, you should check it out from the beginning, and if you have been keeping track through years of delays, than you should go back and take a closer look. In Planetary, something unique springs off of the page, and it's something worth cherishing.

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