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Planetary is a team of superhumans who regard themselves as “Three people who walk the world in search of strangeness and wonder, uncovering things others wish were left covered. They are the mystery archeologists, explorers of the planet’s secret history, charting the unseen borders of a fantastic world.” Their motto is “keeping the world strange”: they seek to find the fantastic beings and elements of the world and to preserve them from obscurity or destruction.
Planetary’s mission reflects the purpose that British writer Warren Ellis had in co-creating the series. He has stated that Planetary is “about the superhero subgenre, and its antecedents,” and that, “I wanted to do something that actually went deeper into the subgenre, exposed its roots and showed its branches.” Hence, the members of Planetary encounter not only counterparts of familiar figures from the superhero genre, but also characters who are analogues to classic figures from pulp fiction adventures and other genres.
The three members of the Planetary team are Elijah Snow, Jakita Wagner, and a young man known as the Drummer. Elijah Snow has the power to create intense cold. He is one of the “Century Babies,” superhumans who are immortal (if not killed by external means) and who were born at midnight on January 1, 1900. Other “Century Babies” include Jenny Sparks of the Authority; Axel “Doc” Brass, Planetary’s counterpart of Doc Savage; Lord Blackstock, Planetary’s analogue of Tarzan; and Bret Leather, a vigilante inspired by the Green Hornet, the Shadow, and the Spider. In the early twentieth century, Snow was taught by the elderly Sherlock Holmes.
Jakita Wagner is the daughter of Lord Blackstock, and possesses superhuman strength and speed, and high resistance to injury. Although born in the 1930s, she is still physically young. The Drummer has a superhuman mental ability to communicate with and manipulate computers, and indeed to “read” any source of information, whether it is technological, or a person’s DNA code, or even magic.
The principal villains of Planetary are the Four, a team of superhumans who are clearly modeled on Marvel’s Fantastic Four. In 1961, the Four made a bargain with “posthumans” from an alternate Earth. In exchange for gaining superpowers, The Four agreed to prepare their own Earth for conquest by the posthumans in 2011. Hence, the Four withheld knowledge of technological advances from Earth’s people and even killed other superhumans. The members of the Four included their leader, scientist Randall Dowling (based on Mr. Fantastic), who can “stretch” his mind to control the minds of others; Kim Suskind (based on the Invisible Woman); William Leather (based on the Human Torch); and Jacob Greene, who became a monster like the Thing.
Other Planetary characters who are inspired by classic figures from the superhero and other genres include: David Paine, a scientist who transformed into a Hulk-like monster; John Leather, alias the Dead Ranger (based on the Lone Ranger); John Stone (based on Nick Fury); Anna Hark (based on Fu Manchu’s daughter Fah Lo Suee); and Jack Carter (based on Hellblazer’s John Constantine).
In Planetary/Batman: Night on Earth (2003), Planetary encountered various alternate versions of Batman, even one based on the 1966 television series. Planetary/JLA: Terra Occulta (2002) depicted a parallel Earth, on which the members of Planetary were evil, and were opposed by alternate versions of members of the Justice League, including Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman.
Created by Ellis and American artist John Cassaday, Planetary first appeared in a preview story that was published in Gen 13 #33 and C-23 #6 (both September 1998). The series moved into its own comic book with Planetary #1 (April 1999) and was meant to appear bimonthly. However, since Ellis fell ill and Cassaday was busy with other work, Planetary instead suspended publication in 2001, for two years, then resumed, and finally concluded with issue #27, in 2009. Planetary was published by WildStorm, an imprint of DC Comics, and was set in the WildStorm universe; hence, there was a crossover with another WildStorm superhero team, the Authority, in the special Planetary/The Authority: Ruling the World (August 2000). —PS