14 March 2012

Review 22: Planetary Vol. 1 - All Over the World and Other Stories by Warren Ellis

"This first collection stars a team of super-powered mystery archaeologists who have uncovered evidence of super-human activity that spans the centuries. The team includes the ancient and enigmatic Elijah Snow, hot-tempered Jakita Wagner, and the insane techno-expert Drummer, as they deal with a World War II supercomputer that can access other universes, a spectral spirit of vengeance, and more." 

I didn't love this first volume of Planetary but it intrigued me enough to seek out Volume 2 and see where the story goes. Apparently the artwork is considered exemplary but I'm not really a connoisseur and am wildly unqualified to comment. I found the story a little slow to get starter but the second half got moving and manages to combine what feel like fairly common graphic novel tropes in a relatively unique way.

First Line: 'Coffee tastes like your dog took a leak in it.'

The basic concept of Planetary is the above mentioned 'archaeologists of the impossible' travel the world investigating reports of supernatural phenomenon and the worlds secret history. At the beginning of this volume, Elijah Snow has been recruited into this trio and we largely see the events through his perspective as he gets used to the idea of what is going on. He is not an average joe accidentally caught up in this though, he has lived much longer than normal and has the ability to manipulate temperature. He is also grumpy and thinks he is superior to everyone he encounters, which seems to be a fairly common Warren Ellis character. He unfortunately reminded me somewhat of Spider Jerusalem at times and I really didn't like Transmetropolitan but thankfully that was one of the only similarities. I warmed more to Jakita and appreciates that whilst her outfit is still tight and somewhat shiny, it does look vaguely practical.

Apparently one of its main charms is that fact that it references a lot of other graphic novel books and I think this is largely lost on me as I just haven't read enough graphic novels and I haven't read any of the superhero series either so I'm sure there were a plethora of references that completely passed me. This means I am basing my opinions on purely the story and characters as I can't comment on that element but I imagine it would really elevate this series to the next level if you could appreciate it. I also imagine even I would see it more if I read past this volume which sets up a lot of ideas, as first volumes are wont to do. The phrase 'high concept' seems to crop up a lot in reviews but unfortunately it was too high for me and the gaps in my graphic novel knowledge.

Apparently the artwork is particularly noteworthy as well but as I have commented on in past graphic novel reviews, I feel unqualified to comment. There is one character who has withered legs and the illustration of that really freaked me out and there are a couple of pretty cool illustrations but to my uneducated eyes, it looks like pretty standard graphic novel artwork, apologies purists!

Across the six issues that are collected in this volume, lots of stories are set up, some of which captured my attention more than others. There is a mysterious island full of dead and rotting giant monsters which have equally mysterious soldiers who pop up to guard them, a vengeful ghost and a secret society of scientists who have built a quantum computer that manifests itself as a multiverse (in a really lovely drawing that even I could appreciate) amongst other things. The images of the huge monster corpses is very striking and I hope explanations for that island crop up in future volumes.

Ultimately, I did like this but it didn't leave me desperate to read the next volume. I would be interested to see what happened next but not with any urgency. By the sound of it though, I am not really the person who this is designed to appeal to and fans of the genre will most likely appreciate the nuances that go over my head.

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