This article was originally published at Comics Bulletin on January 7, 2015.
Chase Magnett: After everything we had to say about Planetary #14, certainly the simplest issue of the series to date, Planetary #15 reads like an interesting retort. Instead of following one plot, it loads the book with at least four distinct stories. Instead of avoiding issues of storytelling and patterns, it tackles perhaps the biggest one of all. Instead of focusing on a single moment in time, it spreads itself throughout the history of Planetary. There’s a lot to unpack here.
The core of Planetary #15 rests at the beginning and end of the issue, functioning as bookends to everything else that happens. It begins with a mythological origin story of Earth spun from Aboriginal stories that tell of the birth of the sun and creation of life. They are not dissimilar from those of other religious mythologies (a topic I’d recommend Joseph Campbell’s Power of Myth to further explore), but definitively tied to the island and native people of Australia here. The centerpiece for this story is Uluru (better known as Ayers Rock), an enormous landmark in the Outback. In the first two pages of the issue, John Cassaday shows everything on Earth come to life and reveals the enormous Ancients as caretakers of the land. It establishes a very high set of stakes, perhaps the highest, as creation myths claim to be responsible for literally everything.
This set up isn’t paid off until about halfway through the issue though when the title page finally appears revealing both the name of this issue, “Creation Songs”, and its primary antagonist, a monstrous device The Four have constructed over Uluru. The Four intend to recreate a previous voyage at this spot to enter the Dreamtime. Having seen what they did after entering the Bleed (Planetary #14 already paying off), it’s only possible to imagine what horrors might be accomplished with access to the source of creation.
Warren Ellis’ choice to set this in the Outback pays off in that it forces both teams to utilize the most fundamental aspects of mythology and storytelling. In order for either team to succeed they must use songs, specifically songs that tell stories passed on by oral tradition. This isn’t basic so much as it is original, as original as you might be able to get. For all of the incredible technology on display from spaceships to ray guns to massive constructs, it is the power of song that will be the undoing or salvation of Earth here.
The message behind this is rather plain: stories hold immense power. Creation songs are the most original display of storytelling and Ellis makes them the most powerful weapon on this complex battlefield. They are the root of everything else we have explored. Whether it be specific eras of comics or the kaiju genre. They are all stories and they all have beginnings. It’s a concept that truly sprawls encouraging us to consider the many starts beyond the initial one shown in this issue. Every story, lie, or narrative has its own beginning and draws power from it, whether it’s something as small as a single comic or as sprawling as organized religion.
The portion of Planetary #15 occurs at Ayers Rock obviously has the most direct connection with origin stories, but it’s far from the only one to be made. Ray, how do you think the various sub-plots of this issue tie into Ellis and Cassaday’s commentary on the beginnings of stories?
Ray Sonne: In the beginning of everything, we have creation stories. The Judeo-Christian tradition has Genesis with the God who creates the Earth in 7 days. The Greeks have the Titans, who conceive the rebellious children that defeat them and create the Pantheon. In the Americas, we have the Iroquois and the Navajo who both tell of two worlds–the sky above and the waters below. The Aboriginal tale present in Planetary #15 also tells of two worlds, which includes the sky and its Skypeople and the Earth below with its soil-formed Ancients.
What makes this beginning difficult to tie into the plot-relevant points of Planetary #15 is that nothing the Planetary team does indicates their own beginning. Instead, they return. Jakita returns to Ambrose Chase’s family’s home so that Elijah can make amends with their dead teammate’s wife, Larissa. He meets Ambrose and Larissa’s child, Angela. Then they go off to fight The Four yet again in the Australian setting.
So the connection here remains much more subtle. I gander that it lies in Elijah’s short conversation with Angela about her father. All creation stories notably have one thing in common, which is dichotomy between one world and another. In the case of some, like the warring Iroquois twins and the Judeo-Christian God, yet another dichotomy spawns–the distinction between good and evil. Angie arguably tries to figure out which side of that distinction Elijah is on by throwing her superhero doll at his face.
Ellis, infamously, is not much of a superhero fan. Planetary, in many ways, works as evidence to the argument that comics can contain so much more than the glut of capes that still run the industry. We have discussed this in at least one previous issue. He and Cassaday, however, structure Planetary #14 and Planetary #15 remarkably similarly to familiar cape comics with the big physical fight and the flashy team names. We were confused by this last issue, but in this issue we see the question that the creative team might be posing: What makes morality?
“Your daddy was a hero. Your daddy saved people’s lives. Lots of them. Including mine. And he didn’t need a red cape to do it. He just had to be him.”
Maybe this visit to the Ambroses’ does make a new beginning after all, now that I think of it. Elijah wants to make amends. He wants to gather new strength against The Four, the so-called superheroes who wreck whatever’s in their path with ignorance and desire for control. This time the confrontation is new because now Planetary is going to win.
But speaking of beginnings again, there is also the interlude conversation Elijah has with Axel. Chase, what significance does this sequence bring to Planetary #15?
Magnett: The dialogue between Elijah and Axel only fills two pages of Planetary #15, but I’m glad you draw attention to it. Axel was the very first discovery of the team after Elijah’s return, so his presence helps to make connections to the beginning of the series and to mark this as a new beginning. Like you said, after he regains his memory in #12, and recalls his life in #13 and #14, Elijah Snow is finally prepared to wage a winning war against The Four, one that starts at the end of this issue.
Cassaday does as much as possible to ensure readers recall Planetary #1 when they witness these two together. The position of their conversation, sitting on a hillside watching the sunset, mirrors that of the conclusion of the the first issue when Jakita and Elijah shared a similar situation. It’s not only the soft orange hues of the sunset and thoughtful faces of two comrades. Their reminiscing about the past while looking at the end of a day, a marker of change, sets a thematic parallel as well. Whereas in Planetary #1 Elijah was looking at the sunset as the end of his time away from humanity, now he views it as the end of his time as a bystander. As soon as the sunsets, the scene shifts to night as he begins to put his plan against The Four into action.
That’s not all there is to this two page exchange though. Ellis ensures that every word the two men share while watching the sun go down includes some manner of meaning for the past or future. Elijah’s existence as a century baby, just like Axel and a few other Wildstorm characters, marks them as peers and that shows in this sequence. They reminisce about places and memories they share, accompanied by familiar smiles. The nature of Elijah’s secret existence is now in the open and they appear comfortable discussing something that filled Jakita and Drum’s existence with tension not long ago.
They also reference secrets yet to be explored, specifically the Hidden City of Opak-Re. The importance of this setting won’t be addressed for another two issues, but it is foreshadowed here and reveals Planetary to be an organization that is not only uncovering the secret history of the world, but the individuals who comprise it. This isn’t a sinister pact or truce, but something kept between friends out of goodwill.
Despite being a relatively small portion of Planetary #15, this conversation marks the midpoint of the comic and a significant reflection both into the beginning and future of the series. It takes visual cues, like the sunset and hillside setting, to mark it as a moment of change, then stuffs the dialogue with cues that take on far greater significance when given the context of past and future events. It’s a moment that relies on Planetary existing as a whole, rather than individual issues, tying the series together.
So I’d like to ask you about a very specific segment of Planetary #15 as well, even if it comes at the cost of the big fight scene that fills half of it. Ellis and Cassaday tie the creation myth in this issue into the exploration and invention of a white, male, pulp-styled scientist. What do you make of this connection between a modern, stereotypical hero and the stories that form the foundation of Earth?
Sonne: The source of the answer to this question could likely come from what Elijah refers to as “The Dreamtime.” There are several points where Planetary reaches meta commentary, particularly on the creation of either worlds or the genres the current issue is steeped in. Potentially, “The Dreamtime” refers to creation. Elijah calls it “The place beyond this one where reality was initiated.”
This essentially means that the reality of Planetary is a dream. But whose dream? What may come to mind initially is the definition of dream where uncontrollable creations come together in the brain as one sleeps. But dreams could also mean intentional creations. “Realizing your dreams”, “working your dream job,” “they’re living the dream.” Artists are commonly called “dreamers” as they work their craft into shape.
Does the Dreamtime refer to the point where Ellis, Cassaday, and Laura Martin’s minds come together? If so, the Four want to get to the source of what powers their universe. It also would be apropos that Aboriginal Australians consider the area so spiritual and the deities remain there. If the creator of a character doesn’t stand in that character’s world as a deity, then what else would make a deity?
The bearded face of the Ancient we see symbolizes the legacy of a creator’s stories as well. Creators may grow old. They may die and return to the Earth, one day becoming indistinguishable from the ground (or, if cremated, sky) surrounding them. But their characters and worlds, given the chance, would continue to exist long after their ends. In that, perhaps The Four look in the wrong direction to gain power. They and the Planetary team are the power–they are the story.
- The flying ship The Four occupy to oversee work on their device is clearly inspired by the alternative Britain known as Sliding Albion. The long, liquid curves of the ship, combined with a non-aerodynamic design recalls images from Ellis’ work on The Authority with Bryan Hitch. This ties into both the mention of Albion’s invasion and the immense reach of The Four.
- Buried within this examination of creation myths is a reference to “man from Earth” stories like those of John Carter and Adam Strange in which one man is teleported somewhere fantastic. Carlton Marvell seems to be modelled after this type of explorer and a journey we’ve seen before in the tale of Mr. Wilder in Planetary #4.
- Every time Axel appears, it’s in front of a setting sun because he’s going to die. Nice foreshadowing on top of motif work.
- “And a session with some mad Shaman or other introduced him to the concept of Dreamtime.” Oh, hello, probably The Doctor (the first of whom we know of seen in Stormwatch: The Changers by Ellis, Tom Raney, and Oscar Jimenez)