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A throwdown with The Four Voyagers is the main course of this issue, but we start with an appetizer of multi-layered homage.
"The truth is in here," a twist on the X-Files theme "the truth is out there," opens the issue. We look in on a hidden lab where Snow is being brought up to speed on a recent aquisition, a piece of evidence linked to alien abductions. The year is 1995, and we're about to have a look at the Wildstorm universe's alien abduction conspiracy. Evil masterminding courtesy The Four, of course.
The acquisition is a stick that, when it has its tip rapped against a hard surface, is replaced by a complex machine in the form of a hammer. A wheelchair-bound scientist explains that the sticka nd hammer are both highly complex machines linked by a quantum thread, trading places across the bleed. The tool was discovered on an "alien spacecraft" brought down by Ambrose Chase. The scientist concludes that the ship really belongs to The Four Voyagers and the alien abduction bit is simply a cover. An expedition along the quantum thread is planned for the Planetary field team, but Snow decides to take the trip alone.
Snow suits up for a trip across the thread and finds himself on a barren, lifeless world filled with floating weapons and the bones of the species that once lived there. The rows of exotic weapons are somewhat reminiscent of The Matrix (though chronologically predating the movie by a few years). Snow realizes that The Four has exterminated all life to create a convenient storage space.
The scene shifts to the Antarctic, and what most certainly must be Planetary's most remote outpost, where the main doors to the facillity mysteriously buckle and fly apart. An invisible intruder makes its way to a hallway filled with liquid-filled tubes, each holding a small, alien-looking creature. The intruder becomes visible, and reveals herself as Kim Suskind of The Four. Identifying the creatures as their children, Kim contacts Dr. Randall Dowling. Before she can complete her report, a blur (that must certainly be Jakita Wagner) steals her goggles. Kim goes on the defensive with a spiky forcefield, but this is easily dissapated by Ambrose Chase. In his first appearance (in Issue 9) we saw his reality warping powers directed at time and space. Here we see it applied directly to a human, to chilling effect.
Cut to a very youg Drummer, who is tracking the trajectory of the fast-approaching William Leather and feeding the information to Jakita. Catching Leather by surprise, Jakita attacks and beats him into submission. Snow has clearly anticipated the invasion of their installation, and has planned the Planetary team's response to provide them with an opportunity to divide and conquer the mighty Four Voyagers. But just as the plan seems to be coming together, the installation falls under the shadow of a massive flying saucer, an airborne headquarters for The Four, the vessel used to perpetrate the alien abduction consipracy.
Snow, now a prisoner, is confronted directly by Dr. Dowling. This is the sequence foreshadowed and hinted at in the last few issues of Planetary, as Dowling informs Snow that he must submit to memory alteration or The Four will kill the members of the Planetary team. Snow agrees, but warns Dowling to do a good job on his memory or Snow will come back and clain his revenge. His last words to his team are to not come looking for him, but to not abandon their struggle against The Four.
This was another densely-packed issue. It's almost easy to overlook, given the action sequences; a first read can be completed in just a few minutes. But that's the beauty of Planetary--it's always worth multiple reads!
The opening sequence is a tip of the hat to Thor, The X-Files, The Matrix, MiracleMan, and ultimately Captain Marvel. Not bad for nine pages!
The Thor reference is fairly direct--tap the walking stick to invoke the hammer. But here the change is technology-based instead of a product of Asgardian magic. The stick is described as containing subatomic machinery and bleed residue. This residue points directly to The Four, as this was the source of their original transformation. The hammer itself would appear to be much more than a simple tool; rather, it seems more like a highly complex machine that was only crafted in the form of a hammer for artistic purposes by it's unknown creator.
Here the Thor comparisons fail in favor of a different hero: MiracleMan. I'll summaraize the driving concept of MiracleMan as briefly as possible (thereby doing the series a huge injustice, for which I sincerely apologize). MiracleMan was Alan Moore's 1980s riff on the original Captain Marvel (the Shazam! Marvel, not the ex-Kree military officer). Where young Billy Batson said his magic word to be transformed into an adult Captain Marvel, MiracleMan's "magic word" was actually a vocal trigger to open a dimensional portal in the mind of a human-hybrid superbeing, allowing it to change places with the host human. The youth and hero were not the same person. One would exist here in our world, and the other would exist in stasis in another dimension. Ellis combines this concept with his own creation of the bleed and parallell universes, and describes the link with a quantum thread that swaps items across the bleed. And the swap doesn't ocurr between two beings with a tool in the bonus. It's the tool itself that is the primary subject of the swap. A notable difference between the Thor or MiracleMan process is that for Ellis' hammer, you need to be a superhuman to even call the tool to you, as the transfer process is to violent for a human limb to invoke. (This was only half-addressed with Captain Marvel or in Moore's MiracleMan--each had the energy surrounding their transformation/transfer prove dangerous to others in some tales, but never a threat to the human half of the hero/human swap).
The theme gets carried into another Matrix refernece from Ellis, as the alien world that serves as the weapon storage location has a Matrix-esque method of displaying the arsenal. And this Martix reference, like the last one from Ellis, occurrs in an issue graced by another (welcome!) appearance by Ambrose Chase (see the Summary for Issue 9 ). I found it a bit disturbing that I didn't find the horror of the extermination of an entire species to make way for the weapons quite as disturbing as the deaths of the DC Silver Age heroes in Issue 10. Chalk it up to greater affinity for the DC characters. But this is another solid example of the ruthlessness of the Four.
The whole "Four Voyagers as Alien Conspiracy Originators" bit was meant to reflect the popularity of The X-Files in the nineties. It seemed to get a little lost amongst all of the other themes and homages at work here in the first few pages. Personally, I would have liked to see Ellis devote an entire issue to an X-Files homage, but as the number of issues ahead is finite and ever-shrinking, this will do just fine.
Initially, I wasn't certain if the wheelchair-bound scientist was an homage or not. In the comic world, it's easy to read a little Charles Xavier or Niles Caulder into this type of character (an accurate interpretation as confirmed by Ellis at a later date).
We've known of Kim Suskind since Issue 6, but Ellis seemed in no rush to introduce her to us up until now. The two-page buildup to our first look here made it worth the wait! If Jacob Greene's enterance is going to mirror Kim's (insofar as the length of the wait being directly proportional to the quality of the enterance), then we are definitely in for a treat! The doors getting pried apart and ripped off of their hinges had an amazingly sinsiter quality! Kim's reference to the alien creatures held in the tubes must, I think, have been a figurative one: surely these creatures aren't the product of a sexual union between Kim and Dowling? Hard telling with Ellis, but it seems more likely that the creatures are the product of one of the Four's experiments.
Ellis briefly covers something that all you science-minded folk out there have wondered about invisible fictional characters: how does an invisible eyeball capture images for processing by the brain? Visible eyeballs capture light reflected off of other objects in the retina. An invisible retina couldn't receive this reflected light--it would pass right through. Ellis explains this contradiction with a little science and a pair of goggles, and goes on to use this knowledge agains Kim. Without her goggles, her own invisibility leaves her blind! It's the little touches like this that make the book so satisfying.
So Kim Suskind is true to her Fantastic Four counterpart, and has powers of invisibility and, as we saw next, the ability to create invisible force fields. Even here, Ellis takes it to the next level. The defensive field she generates after losing her goggles is fairly nasty-looking, and Snow's brief description of Kim having exploded people points up just how dangerous such an ability could be. Snow actually describes her as more dangerous than William Leather.
Leather, meanwhile, has been ambushed by Jakita. This battle goes much better than the first battle we witnessed in Issue 6! It would seem that Leather is not unbeatable after all. In fact, the whole nature of the way Snow set The Four up to invade the Antarctic sanctum when he would be prepared for them actually made it look like the Planetary team could stand up to The Four. This is the only time since we were first introduced to The Four that I felt like this battle could have any outcome other than total domination by The Four. Snow's mind is actually capable of leveling the playing field somewhat! The nature of Planetary's defeat here is left somewhat vague; all we see is the saucer craft, no doubt used to perpetuate the alien abduction conspiracy, teleport the entire installation away (no telling if Jacob Greene was involved, or if Dowling overcame Planetary with sheer brute technology).
Dowling seems to have come to the same conclusion about Snow's prowess. We find we are witnessing the chain of events immediately prior to the insertion of memory blocks into Snow's mind, the same images we have been catching glimpses of for the last few issues. (Despite much speculation on the message boards, there seems to be no indication of John Stone having any role in the creation of the memory blocks.) Instead of killing all of Planetary outright, he chooses to disable Snow with memory alteration and the threat of harm to the team. Here we see Snow's passion for his work and teammates, as his last two orders are to not find him, and never quit.
What was the nature of the "children" the Planetary team had captured from The Four? Who might the "leak" Kim mentions upon contact Dowling turn out to be? Besides invisibility and forcefields, it would appear that Kim Suskind has fantastic strength as well--what is the true extent of her power? Other than intellect, Dowling still hasn't displayed any phisical powers--is he, too, holding out on us? And what of Jacob Greene? Everything points to him having to be a very close take on The Thing, but when will we find out? (We're running out of issues!)
RDG, with special thanks to site co-host JEF who scored the first nine issues of MiracleMan for me!