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Writer: Warren Ellis

Artist: John Cassaday

Publisher: DC

Synopsis: The three-man team of Planetary may have some extraordinary abilities, but they're not superheroes. Instead, their rather cryptic mandate is to act as archaeologists and researchers, uncovering the "secret history of the 20th century".

How Is It?: They say that when an idea is ready to come, everybody thinks of it at once. That's probably why the concepts behind "Planetary" overlap so much with Tom Strong (there's even a character who was born Jan 1st, 1900), Astro City, and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (with a bit of The X-Files thrown in). And yet this is still a highly enjoyable series, if not quite up to par with those other three.

All Over The World

All Over The World (And Other Stories)

Synopsis: A misanthrope with strange powers, Elijah Snow has spent most of the 20th century lying low and keeping away from his fellow empowered individuals. However, he finds himself intrigued by the challenge (and money) being offered by the mysterious organization, Planetary, who have contacted him through another of their agents, the super-fast and extremely hard to kill Jakita. Together with a young headcase named The Drummer who can control technological devices, they form a three man team (funded by the mysterious "fourth man") charged with investigating past events that have some supernatural or paranormal significance. Their explorations will take them into contact with a legendary (and very old) scientist/adventurer, an island of monsters, a spectral cop out for revenge, and eventually, the secret four-man cabal who've been secretly manipulating mankind for decades.

How Is It?: Like those other series mentioned above, Planetary delves into and deconstructs comic history, pulp literature and SF archetypes. it's basically an excuse to dig up an deconstruct a whole host of characters from throughout the century, always under assumed names, which means a lot of the fun comes from identifying whatever classic characters Ellis happens to be riffing on in that issue. (In particular, the identity of the villainous secret society is a hoot--I won't spoil it by telling you who they're based on, but it certainly does make you think about how easily some "heroes" could slip over into being villains.) There's also Doc Brass, introduced in the first issue, who (like Tom Strong) is modelled on Doc Savage, and who was surrounded by other pulpish heroes. What maybe gets lost in all this is the personalities of the heroes. It's not that they're not distinctive, in their way, but except maybe for Elijah Snow, the protagonist, they seem a little 2-dimensional. Both Jakita and the Drummer basically have one power and one character trait. This is one of those comics where the foceus is more on the individual stories being uncovered than it is on the characters, at least so far. But the journey is intriguing enough that you go along with it until the emerging storyline starts to pick up steam; I know I'm going to keep reading it.

The Fourth Man

The Fourth Man

Synopsis: They know who their enemy is: the mysterious "Four". They've seen ample evidence of the atrocities and despicable cover-ups they've committed. Now Planetary is about to dig into the biggest cover-up of all: finding out what happened to the Fourth Man. And why he vanished in the first place. And who IS he, anyway?!?

How Is It?: Things were going fine, and then our heroes had to go and get ambushed by a plot. Seriously, though, the overarcing plot takes over in this volume, as the heroes start to uncover the depths of the conspiracy surrounding the Four and just what it is they (and their own organization) has been up to all this time. There are some neat detours: a trip to England that reflects the various mid-80s British comic characters, an encounter with the 20th century's top secret agent (three guesses who THAT'S supposed to be) and (my favourite) a visit to an abandoned "Science City" stocked by all the crazy atomic mutations of 50s mad science...and giant ants. The overall plot gets some interesting permutations, too, as we see the effect the Four have had on history...specifically, comic book history. (I can't really say any more without spoiling it.) Anyway, while I still find this series just a TAD sluggish in the pacing department without the cool "cameos" to keep things hopping, this is still an essential read for anyone who was intrigued by the first volume.

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