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Magic and Loss
What if the Wildstorm universe had its own Superman, Green Lantern, and Wonder Woman?
Apparently, it almost did.
Issue ten opens in the Four Voyager's lab, the one Planetary discovered back in issue six. Snow is there, along with a surprisingly large number of Planetary staff, looking through the relics and technology left behind after the Four abandoned the location. Three items, drawing the scrutiny of some of the team, are recognizable to us as a power battery (lantern), (super) cape, and golden bracelets very much like the ones belonging to the above-mentioned DC heroes. We are quickly treated to retellings of their respective origins.
The origins don't stray too far from the core elements of the original tales, but Ellis does manage to put his own spin on them. To the Superman origin, he adds a greater degree of distance between our species and the alien one, and an added irony that the act of sending the infant on its way is ultimately the trigger to the destruction of the (already doomed) world. The Green Lantern origin, while seeming to pull elements from the Tangent universe project with which DC has been experimenting, is in many ways fairly faithful to the old Green Lantern Corps concept. It seems like the character portrayed is more in the Abin Sur role (the alien who gave his ring to Hal Jordan) than as Hal himself, but this would be a logical first step and wholly appropriate for the timeframe in which these origin flashbacks take place, presumably the early sixties. The Wonder Woman segment seemed most true to the DC version in some ways, but showed the Amazons with greater awareness of their role in the world and with greater technology (just what are those bracelets capable of?!?).
After the origins are laid out, we spend a mere two pages on the meant-to-be-heroes' deaths. Leather torches the infant alien in its ship, we see Dr. Dowling performing a battery-removal autopsy on the Lantern, and we hear him describe his plans to have Suskind assassinate the Amazon the moment she leaves the island (an event which we can assume came to pass).
While not truly privy to the details of these events, Snow seems to somehow sense the magnitude of the loss represented by these relics, echoing his outrage back in issue six. He concludes that he needs to stop waiting for something to happen with the Four Voyagers and decides to go on the offensive. He leaves the scene to see a man named John Stone.
Ellis' goals this issue were twofold. The first was to remind the reader of the magic and wonder behind the origins of these heroic icons (see the Main page for Warren's thoughts on this in their entirety). The second was to graphically illustrate the evil of the Four Voyagers and their impact on the world. Safe to say he succeeded on both counts.
The origins themselves were in many ways very similar to the ones we've all become so familiar with over the years. Unlike some of Ellis' other takes on the JLA (more on this below), these tales were very reverent of the original material. This seems indicative of the vast potential that these concepts had, and how much Ellis still thinks could be done with them today. The furthest Ellis veered away from the icons we have come to know was in the Wonder Woman analog, as her powers seemed based in either science or mysticism (hard to say which, based solely on that gorgeous page with the bracelets becoming a multitude of weapons) instead of the gods of Greek/Roman mythology. Still, this origin gave us the closest look at the characters' personalities, "Diana's" and "Hypollita's," which were very consistent with the mainstream continuity of the last several decades (although with a greater intelligence and awareness than has been the norm!). Even this tweaking, however, points out the vitality of the original notions; with very little alteration, these concepts would be viable as new ideas today.
This is the third time, that I'm aware of, that Ellis has given us his spin on some or all of the JLA; this is itself a testament to the power of the original concepts. The first was back during his run on Stormwatch, with the covert team created by Henry Bendix that gave us Apollo and the Midnighter (see current issues of the Authority for more of these two, with the referenced storyline available in the Stormwatch TPB, "A Finer World"). That team had analogs to Superman (Apollo), Batman (Midnighter), Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, Flash, Black Canary, and Martian Manhunter. The second was here in the pages of Planetary, back in issue one, when Doc Brass and his team faced a group that mirrored the JLA's Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman, Flash, Green Lantern, Aquaman, and Martian Manhunter lineup. An elements of this last version of the JLA was repeated in one of the three heroes covered here in issue ten. The Superman-esque creature Brass faced off against in issue one could have been a more muscular version of the alien race we saw send their infant to earth this issue.
The version created by Henry Bendix, Sormwatch's Weatherman, may have an actual link to the one seen this issue. We hear Dowling talk of selling the lantern to Bendix, who was "...in the market for something like this." While the lantern here differs in style from the one used in Stormwatch, this would still seem to be a strong potential link. (The difference in appearance could be nothing more than the style of the artist drawing it; Green Lantern's power battery has historically changed without explanation, either a little or a lot, as different artists have handled the title.) And while there's nothing in either text to support it, one could even speculate that the hidden installation Bendix' JLA attacked could have been one belonging to the Four Voyagers; I don't think its existence was ever adequately explained in Stormwatch. That, coupled with the fact that five of the seven members of the assault team were killed in the encounter, means the owners of the installation were powerful indeed, Four-Voyagers-powerful. This link strengthens both the sense of continuity in the Wildstorm universe and the core notion that this universe almost had the same archetypal heroes found in the DCU.
But they were snuffed out by the Four Voyagers. It's easy to read a great deal into this, and on many levels. The surface of it all is the raw villainy of the Four. Leather's casual, matter-of-course execution of the alien child was a strong statement, reinforced by the infantile bickering he engaged in with Dowling over the incident. The childish "did not, did too" quality of the argument, with so little thought to the murder, was chilling. The defeat, interrogation, and autopsy of the Blue Lantern had an evil-Nazi-scientist quality that was equally unsettling. In keeping with the Four's intention to go about their business unmolested, they apparently executed the Amazon just as she left her homeland, an act so simple and meaningless that it was left off-panel to emphasize its import to the Four (or they just ran out of pages. But either way...). The story as a whole continues to build the image of the Four Voyagers as a truly unstoppable, frightening force for evil.
The next level of interpretation is to liken the Four Voyagers to the hidden heads of the comic industry, embodied here by Dowling and Leather, handling the executions like business as usual... like the "big business" of comics today, killing good new ideas in their infancy, exhuming old, dead-tired plot lines, and striking out at the "ambassadors" before they have a chance to change the status quo. (Some of these actions, they'll be quick to point out, are determined by the marketplace. Some of the responsibility for this that you, personally, would ordinarily bear is a bit mitigated by the fact that your a Planetary fan. At least I try to comfort myself with that thought....)
Still another avenue for interpretation could be to liken the Four's destruction of the two aliens and an Amazon to Marvel's 1960's domination of the market, with it's creativity and spark almost completely overshadowing the retread work of DC's Silver Age. Marvel was busy creating the Fantastic Four, Spiderman, and the X-Men while DC was trying to revamp their Golden Age by updating Flash and Green Lantern, with Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman continuing largely unchanged, the same as they had been for over a decade. While I personally am a fan of the Silver Age output at DC, it's hard to deny the impact Marvel had in the sixties and the domination of the market they enjoyed right up until the mid-nineties as a result.
If there's any silver lining to this issue as far as the Planetary team is concerned, it has to be the mounting evidence that the Four are, quite simply, much too overconfident for their own good. Their cavalier execution of a member of a galactic police force, their decision to leave the island of Amazons alone (after killing their ambassador), and the sloppiness with which they handled the recovery of a downed alien ship and its living cargo show a team that feels as though they are truly untouchable. And the proactive quality of the execution of the Wonder Woman analog does not reflect their recent, even more overconfident decisions. They've let the Planetary field team live ("...because it amuses us"?!?) and maintain possession of a quantum computer, a shiftship, and now an alien power battery and some technologically advanced bracelets. The fact that they may not even be aware that Planetary has these items in its possession is another sign that they may be fallible, and therefore beatable.
Okay, I'm reaching a bit here, but you've got to admit that without looking at it this way, ain't no way to account for Planetary even having a shot at beating the Four!
There were some other interesting points raised this issue, but we weren't given much to go on to interpret or speculate. Dowling mentions an "old friend" whose 1949 "planetary guide" helped tip the Four Voyagers off to the existence of the Amazons--who could this have been? Planetary's fourth man? An analog of a character from the Fantastic Four's mythos? And Dowling's acquaintance with Henry Bendix implies a high degree of association with the American military/industrial complex. Do the Four control it? Or are they so far above it that they are largely uninterested in its actions?
One point is becoming clear, though. Leather's characterization of the actions of the Four (back in issue six) as a "human adventure," to which the rest of us "aren't invited" made the Four seem like gods walking the earth. But the more we see of them, the more they seem to embody much of the childishness, shortsightedness, and selfishness that makes them not only human, but poor examples of the species at that. Great power has given them nothing but great power; they are not advanced beings, and are more than human only as measured by power. They are almost like the gods of Greek or Roman mythology, whose human dispositions and behaviors made them fallible and made it possible to trick or even defeat them.
When are we going to meet the last two members of the Four Voyagers, and what are their powers? What became of the rest of the Amazons? Did the galactic police force notice one of their number has gone missing, and will they come investigating? How can both Planetary and the Four maintain so many employees (i.e., the Planetary recovery teams and the Four's military forces) and still somehow retain their anonymity? Who wrote the "planetary guide?" Will Planetary ever use the artifacts they've been amassing as weapons/tools to further their goals?
RDG and JEF