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All Over The World
The issue opens with the first meeting of Jakita Wagner and Elijah Snow, Jakita offering Snow a position with Planetary. Though dressed in his trademark white, Snow is disheveled, and it is revealed that he has lived a hermit-like existence for a decade. Small potatoes, though, for a man of his one-hundred years. Jakita is aware of all of this, but if she knows more she doesn't share it. On the promise of a million dollars a year for the rest of his life, and the few existing records of his existence erased, Snow agrees to join.
Back at Planetary HQ in New York, Snow asks Jakita how his salary, the headquarters, and everything else is being paid for. Jakita reveals that it's the Fourth Man: name unknown, he pays for everything, has more money than God, and is called the Fourth Man because Planetary is always a three person team. Snow, realizing he's the new third man, asks what became of his predecessor. Jakita tells him that if she figures it out, she'll let him know. Snow then meets The Drummer whom, Jakita explains, is crazy and able to talk to machines. Cast in place, the Planetary team heads to the Adirondacks to follow up on leaked information that shows a portion of the mountain to be hollow. Jakita and Drummer are intrigued, as documents recovered from the KGB some years earlier indicated that this was the last known destination of Doc Brass.
In 1945, when he disappeared, Doctor Axel Brass was an adventurer in the middle of his secret career. The fact that it was so well buried for so long makes it just the kind of thing that Planetary wants to know more about. Investigation reveals a crippled Doc Brass still alive, awake, and standing guard over an interdimensional snowflake, a quantum computer created by Brass and his team near the end of World War Two. Brass explains that the snowflake represents the multiverse, and an experiment gone wrong by he and his colleagues resulted in a small invasion through the snowflake by a super-powered team trying to prevent the destruction of their universe. Doc Brass and his colleagues repel the attack, with Brass alone surviving. Using abilities he developed before the fateful battle (including the ability to go without food and sleep, and the ability to control healing and aging with his mind), he has stood guard over the still-active snowflake for half a century in case of another invasion. The issue wraps up with Jakita and Snow taking inventory of the event (the discovery of the snowflake, and the secret headquarters of a super group they weren't aware of), and decide that it wasn't a bad day. A final piece of intrigue, though; a extra chopper is on site as the team leaves, but Jakita won't divulge its purpose to the curious Snow.
The first issue, despite its lack of true action, contains much information and a breadth of scope that carries it forward relentlessly. If you missed the sneak preview, this is your first look at the team. Despite this, the true focus of the book is not its three main protagonists, but rather the overall themes and subplots. Of our protagonists, we learn that Snow is really, really old, that Jakita possesses some measure of super strength or invulnerability, and that Drummer can talk to machines (an ability we don't get to see this issue). Snow is a curmudgeon, Drummer a nut job (possibly), and Jakita bores easily. This isn't really that much, and given the amount of space devoted to themes and subplots, the intrepid trio seems almost overlooked
Ah, but those themes and subplots...! A short review: Planetary seems to be an organization of almost unlimited access to information and financing, but is run by an unknown and mysterious Fourth Man; Snow has an extensive, secretive past to go along with his unnatural longevity; another long-lived hero, Doc Brass, is reintroduced to the world, and has a past of his own that we need to explore; the main players all have powers, but they are almost entirely undefined and awaiting exploration; the multiverse has been breached, and holds both opportunity and peril. The tone of the title has been set. This must be an ambitious creative team, to open the door to so many enticing possibilities and hope to do them justice. Snow observes, at one point in the story, "It's amazing how you can talk for ages but not actually say one goddamn thing I understand." The reader can easily sympathize, but it's all right.
Doc Brass' tale is the true centerpiece of this issue. Doc Brass is based on Doc Savage, the legendary Man of Bronze. Doc Savage was a mainstay of a generation of pulp novel heroes, the heroes that predated the modern super hero genre launched by Superman in 1938. His team seems to represent many of the archetypes of that era (this concept sees greater exploration in Issue 5--see that issue's analysis). The other-dimensional team they die fighting seems to parallel DC's Justice League (again, though, not enough to be actionable!), with characters whose appearance and implied powers seem to mirror those of the JLA's core members. This is clearly no accident; part of the advance hype for Planetary included the notion of 100 years of super hero history leaking into the present, and this battle clearly fits that bill. The Modern Superheroes battle the Pulp Heroes, facing off against their most similar antecedent, and the Pulp Heroes' universe survives. Editorial comment by Mr. Ellis on the relative merit of each era? Perhaps. Based on this issue and the preview story, though, Ellis seems committed to exploring how the different eras of heroic fiction could play out with each other, all within the confines of the Wildstorm Universe. Ellis and Cassaday have invited us to dinner, set the table, and for now are only letting us smell the appetizers. A feast will surely follow. It had better.
Over at warrenellis.com, Ellis shows a breakdown of the pulp icons he wanted to evoke this issue, in the same format he originally presented to artist John Cassaday:Brass' people
FULL PAGE PANEL. Seven icons stand or sit in the center of their hidden complex, a room hewn from rock, chewed out from within the mountain. A bizarre gentlemen's club, a drawing room of the gods.
Seven icons, living and breathing, torn out of pre-War literature and made real in a secret base inside an American mountain... (BRASS just entering)
DOC SAVAGE -- THE RENAISSANCE MAN - DOCTOR AXEL BRASS
The character is, obviously, Doc Savage, but with enough alterations to prevent lawsuits (as with all the boys below). RED hair cut very short, tanned, dressed like a hunter, white hunter, all in white...
(Ellis note 3/99: There was a fuller description of Axel Brass on a previous page of the script)
FU MANCHU -- THE INSCRUTABLE ORIENTAL - HARK
We're not going to go the full Fu Manchu route with this guy. I want him dressed very simply, in a black suit, no tie, the only unusual point being his remarkably long, elaborately painted fingernails.
TOM SWIFT -- THE INVENTOR - EDISON
All-American genius boy grown up into a strapping lad, slim and hard; white t-shirt, blue jeans, gun holstered on his hip, the long white lab coat pushed behind the holster, goggles hanging around his neck, oil on his fingers. A gunfighter-mechanic, if you like... an inventor-adventurer.
TARZAN -- JUNGLE KING - "HIS LORDSHIP"
The English Lord raised by gorillas; tall, muscular, dressed in an fine English suit, shirt, waistcoat -- aristocratic -- a cravat of leopardskin betraying his childhood. Seated, perhaps, fingers steepled in front of him, eyes burning, savagery barely contained beneath the veneer of civilised man.
THE SPIDER -- THE MILLIONAIRE
Like The Shadow, only without supernatural powers, and far, far crazier. A genius, but possessed by the need to save the world. Batman with guns and no mood stabilisers. Long leather coat, slouch hat, guns visible. A Spider design down one breast of his longcoat, in grey against the black.
G-8 -- THE AVIATOR
Tan leathers, cracked and worn... old-style jacket, fur trim and all... the very epitome of the Thirties flyer.
OPERATOR 5 -- THE AGENT - "JIMMY"
The Secret Agent; a thin scar over one eye like Fleming's Bond, American suit and tie (blue, like The Spirit's?); shoulder holster under the jacket, perhaps shades sticking out of the breast pocket. Young, but sharp, knowledgable beyond his years...
Who is the Fourth Man? What is Snow's history, and what powers might he possess? What is Doc Brass' history, and how will he fit in to the present? What dangers and possibilities surround the Snowflake?