This article was originally published at Comics Bulletin on November 26, 2015.
Ray Sonne: While the Planetary series has had a number of connections that string the singular issues along in a forward plot, Planetary #12 is the first issue that does not stand on its own. It follows up with Planetary #11 directly, by having Elijah confront Jakita and The Drummer on their lies.
This issue is set up like the scene where an action movie’s villain announces his evil plans. Of course, instead of the villain, we have Elijah sitting behind his ice desk and peeling apart the mystery of his situation step-by-step. Cassaday and Depuy contain the beginning of this issue in shadows. Blacks and shades of navy mostly color the setting. This not only drapes the issue in suspenseful tone, but also provides a strong lead-up to the panel where Elijah displays an abrupt burst of temper (other revelations are set in blurred sunlight or, in the case of a particularly painful memory, a yellow background).
While there have been scenes in previous issues that were set at nightfall, this is the first time we see Cassaday and Depuy playing with lighting. The art’s ultra-realistic style is a huge asset to the series’ action/adventure series and the Cassaday and Depuy’s attention to detail is felt strongly here. Particularly, the different places where they decide to cut off the light on Elijah’s face. Which also, by the way, has quite some intricate linework, as if to emphasize the character’s realization of the depth of his life and experiences.
Chase, what do you think of the creative team’s manipulation of sunlight in this issue?
Chase Magnett: Thank you so much for pointing out this element of Cassaday’s work and asking one of my favorite questions of this series so far. Lighting is the single most significant visual element of Planetary #12 and that says a lot when you consider this is the climax of the series. I use the word climax in the same manner as Gustav Freytag and his pyramid of dramatic structure. This is the midpoint of the series where a significant change occurs that reveals the protagonists hidden strengths (Planetary is more a comedy than drama when all is said and done).
Cassaday guides us through the monumental shift in direction that the series undergoes here by moving us from the polar opposites of darkness and light. That transition reflects a few different transitions that all occur in this issue. The most obvious of which is the revelation of who Elijah Snow is. He actively chooses the settings of this issue, first inviting his team into his darkened office before forcing them to follow him outside. Snow begins the action in the darkness and then moves it into the light as he reveals who he is. The turning point of this issue comes when Snow announced that he is the Fourth Man and is doused in light. There’s not a shadow to be found in that moment. The revelation of Snow’s identity is the centerpiece of this issue and, therefore, of the climax itself.
The shift in Snow’s identity is also reflected in his emotions. You pointed out that he’s violent and abrasive in the darkness of his office, but when he goes outside he is unable to resist smiling (something rarely seen in Planetarythus far). In the light of day, he is a man reborn and the reason why is reflected in his speech. He discusses the joy of discovering and learning things. His emotional transition, along with the change in light shifts the emphasis ofPlanetary from secrecy to openness. All of their earlier missions were about covering things up and hoarding new facts. Whether it was protecting the monsters of Island Zero or faking Jack Carter’s death, Planetary has been focused on finding and maintaining secrets. Snow brings the biggest secret of all into the light of day here and it marks a change for the better.
That change is also marked in Planetary’s change of mission. We’ve spoken a lot about the slow shift in the way Planetary does business as Snow pushes them to be a more active group. Although that has been a consistent undercurrent, this is the moment that crystallizes the change. Planetary will no longer be in the passive business of secrets, instead it will work in the active world of truth telling. That work is summarized in the concept of the Planetary Guide, a book that encapsulates the many strange wonders of each year to be distributed.
The Planetary Guide summarizes where the series and team will go from here. What do you think this object says about the future of the series and how Ellis and Cassaday view the importance of the book?
RS: This is where Elijah’s status as a Century Baby kicks back in as a point of importance. He is, essentially, living memory of an entire century. As an “archaeologist” (which we now know means adventurer, detective, or any other number of titles depending on each story’s demand), he gives both himself and his team the prestige of officialness and the implication of academia. The Planetary Guide is the written embodiment of Elijah’s Century Baby existence and doesn’t differ from all of literature from their creators. Literature is often immortal where writers are not so even though Elijah’s 100 years are impressive in their own right, the Planetary Guide will have him “live” beyond this century as well.
Ellis and Cassaday seem to somewhat be going in a meta angle with this. We haven’t seen Elijah write the Planetary guide yet, but we are reading a series called Planetary and have seen enough to recognize that the previous 11 issues resemble a pattern that has occurred throughout Elijah’s life. He confronts genre after genre, story after story, and the series we read is a record of each of these situations even if we don’t see him writing about them afterward. We are reading a book about a book, or books. A guide under the same title works as a series, after all, as much as a fictional comic book title does.
Planetary #12 means a return for the Planetary Guide, but in a repurposed form. A highlight of this issue is Elijah’s start as a detective under Sherlock Holmes. There is mystery reserved here for the first-time reader and Elijah as the detective knows the whole story. He’s just not sharing it.
He also declares the famous line, “The game’s afoot.” In Doyle’s original Sherlock Holmes stories, this line referred to the beginning of the mystery and the excitement of eventually discovering a culprit. Here, Planetary knows that their villain is Randall Dowling. The game is in figuring out how they’re going to defeat him.
Chase, do you see any other repurposed elements or circular structure in this issue?
CM: There are definitely some callbacks (and forwards) in Planetary #12, but not as much as I might have expected. Unlike some of his contemporaries, Alan Moore and Grant Morrison for example, Ellis is more interested in the narrative of his comics than their formal structure. He could have written this issue to parallel the beginning of the series, as well as events both from the past and future. While those elements are there, they feel more like an afterthought than the heart of the issue.
The start mirrors the very beginning of Planetary #1 with Jakita entering Elijah’s office, seeking him out as he reclines. This time their positions are flipped though; Elijah has called for Jakita and reversed the power dynamic. He is a radically different person than the man we met only 12 issues ago and this shift (along with dramatic changes in clothing and setting) make that obvious.
It is a character driven scene though. The similarities between this and their first encounter are almost coincidental, almost. Most of what we have been discussing about Planetary so far has largely focused on what Ellis and Cassaday are saying about genre, tropes, and periods in fiction. The meta-commentary has always been the driving force of this series, but it has not precluded its creators from slowly building another narrative just beneath the surface. The secret history between Elijah and Jakita has been hinted at since Planetary #1. We have seen Elijah slowly take a more active role on the team, and watched as Jakita and The Drummer accept his leadership with very little tension. At this point it is clear who these characters are and how one of them is changing.
None of Planetary #12 is really a surprise, even if there are a fair number of revelations. All of the flashbacks shown by Cassaday are washed in a cool blue that distorts light, like ice melting to reveal water. The cool exterior of this series isn’t being removed, but altered to show the heart and warmth that has always existed just beneath the surface. Ellis and Cassaday are still holding onto secrets, specifically the significance of Ambrose Chase, but this is now just as much a book about the characters as it is about the big ideas. Future issues will continue to focus on specific concepts, but we will see more and more of that new connective tissue you point out between #11 and#12.
At the end of Planetary #1, Elijah Snow is shown at rest on a hillside watching the sun rise. It is the beginning of the series and light is just starting to emerge. Now at the end of Planetary #12, as the series reaches its climax, he is standing in broad daylight looking directly up into space. That shift between Elijah’s final stance at the conclusion of these two issues reveals both his growth and the direction of Planetary as it enters its second half. What was once passive is now active, what was once obscured is now revealed, what was once cold has begun to warm.
Planetary may be halfway over, but the story is only just beginning to heat up.
- Setting our usual conversation of genre conventions aside, I can’t help but wonder if Ellis and Cassaday are also playing with what makes cliche here. We knew that this issue had to happen because every previous issue promised this direction, but certain conventions (ex. Elijah playing with a piece of Jakita’s hair, a momentous gesture of opening a window shade) that readers would have seen many times before occurred in this issue that didn’t necessarily need to be included in order to play with the general convention of the spy/thriller revelation scene. This kind of begets the question: what elements make certain genres unique? Do genres only survive when they constantly evolve past their cliches?
- Sherlock Holmes brief cameo hints at a future issue of Planetary. There have been a lot of references to previous stories in Planetary so far, but here is the first obvious allusion to a future story. All of the issues so far have focused on the team’s actions in the present, even when flashing back to previous events. That will not always be the case as the series continues.
- It’s worth noting that the background of the cover is composed not only of every page of Planetary so far, but that they are all arranged in chronological order including covers. Before you even read the first page, Cassaday and Ellis are informing you that this is the big moment the story so far has been leading to.
- Elijah’s creation of a massive four in Central Park formed in ice is an inversion of the first appearance of the Fantastic Four’s debut in New York City where Johnny Storm created a four in fire. In the world of Planetary the warmth and love that defines the Fantastic Four has been completely removed, leaving only a cold reflection.