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Very educational. Per Warren Ellis, "There's a lot of groundwork for the next nine or ten issues laid in here."
A quick inventory will reveal just how much ground this issue covered: we learned a little Australian Aboriginal mythology; we met Ambrose Chase's wife and daughter; we had off-panel contact with Jim Wilder (from issue 4), including what was the beginning of a debriefing on one Anna Hark; we had on-panel contact with Axel Brass; we met Carlton Marvell, another hero from the early part of the century; we learned of the possible link between dreamtime and the bleed; we saw Snow get hip to the computer age; and we saw the Planetary field team ruin the Four Voyager's plans up close and personal, and get away clean.
And if you're anything like me, you read through the whole thing in about the time it took you to read that last paragraph. Ellis does manage to cram a lot of material into a very small space when he decides to, doesn't he?
The issue opens with a little set-up, a description of the aboriginal creation story, then moves right into Snow and Jakita visiting Ambrose Chase's wife Larissa and daughter Angela. It's clear that Chase's family really hadn't any idea about what Ambrose did for a living, though they clearly knew Jakita ("Jackie"!). This small vignette showed something of Snow's generosity, and reconfirmed the sense of responsibility he feels for those close to him.
From there, we spend three pages on something that Ellis has seldom done in the series thus far: we revisit already-introduced characters while filling in gaps and advancing the plot simultaneously. We get to see the beginning of a phone call to Jim Wilder, and learn indirectly that whatever he's been working on since Issue 4 (presumably repairing the shiftship and recruiting a new crew, but this isn't stated) is apparently going well. We also see Snow initiate a dialogue on Anna Hark. Next, we visit Axel Brass, who is still spending his days enjoying sunsets. Here it's revealed that Jakita recognized early on that Brass would have knowledge of Snow after spotting a Planetary Guide from 1943 in Brass' Adirondacks headquarters. She convinced Brass to feign ignorance of Snow, even though they had travelled some of the same roads in the early part of the century. At this point, however, everything is out in the open between the two men, and we see the beginning of a strategic consultation between Snow and Brass on how the Four may be handled.
The meat of the issue centers on activity by the Four at Ayers Rock in Australia. Snow immediately recognizes the location as one that he encountered back in 1932 (and recorded in that year's Planetary Guide). Apparently, an adventurer and explorer named Carlton Marvell was "looking at aleternate forms of interplanetary travel," and had been made aware of the concept of "dreamtime" by an aboriginal shaman. Already recognized as a possible cousin of the Bleed, known for allowing access to other planes, Marvell accessed dreamtime at it's weakest point on earth, atop Ayers Rock. Snow concludes that the Four must be interested in the site for a similar reason and moves to intercept them there.
Having anticipated the method the Four will use to open dreamtime from Ayers Rock, Snow uses other bits of knowledge he gained back in '32 (but left unpublished in his Guide) to develop something akin to a computer virus to interface with dreamtime's "operating system" and disrupt the Four's plan. He invokes the aboriginal Ancient that has assumed the form of Ayers Rock who, upon rising, destroys the Four's gun and explodes the Four's transport as well.
The opening sequence with Larissa Chase has many layers. We are made privy to some of the effort that must be made when the field team ventures into the "normal" public eye, as (Drums?) checks off the anti surveilance and site safety readings that must be accounted for before Snow will even approach the Chase residence. We haven't seen this before, but since Snow froze a giant "4" into the earth to let the Four Voyagers know he was back in action, this level of caution hardly seems disproportionate to the potential threat.
The scene between Larissa Chase, Snow, and Jakita is revealing. Snow has to introduce himself, which was a bit surprising since earlier issues seemed to indicate he had raised Ambrose Chase. It would seem that after Ambrose was elevated to the field team, the formality and seriousness of the relationship had to be elevated as well if for no other reason than for everyone's protection. This level of secrecy was not extended past Snow, apparently, as Larissa already knew "Jakie." We also get to meet Ambrose's daughter Angela. While she is stated to have some "special needs," these are not elaborated upon; we almost expect, however, that she may have some of her father's reality-warping abialities. (Hmm... they never indicate if the superhero doll was in the air because it was thrown...)
The whole tone of the scene reaffirms Snow's continued mastery of the remaining memory blocks, and this theme is repeated throughout the issue. But here, it has the additional feel of Snow making sure he has personal debts and loose ends accounted for--it's as though he doesn't want to put these things off, as he might not be around to address them later. He also seems a bit more sentimental than he has been portrayed thus far (though he still presents a gruff exterior). This seems to suggest a man getting his house in order.
The limo scene that follows shows Snow on the phone with Jim Wilder and, as metioned above, he begins questioning him on Anna Hark. The biggest mystery to the scene comes when Snow tells Wilder he's looking for a set of coordinates. As this comes before Snow is aware of the situation at Ayers Rock, what could the coordinates be for, and what use does Snow have in mind? Hopefully this loose end will mean another appearance by Wilder.
The next scene shows Snow further drawing on the resources available to him, as he sits to talk with Axel Brass. Here we learn that Brass and Snow really and truly never met, though they were aware of the other's activities. This clears the air quite a bit, really; it had always seemed odd that one as well travelled as Snow and one who had apparently known all of the world's big players over the years would not know Brass personally. A failure on Brass' part to know of Snow would be almost as odd. But the explanation presented allowed for all of this. As Snow never introduced himself to Brass formally in Issue 1 (while all memory blocks were still firmly in place), and as Brass had never seen Snow in person, it makes sense that the two would escape that first meeting without either realizing the gravity of the situation. Jakita would have had time to talk to Brass about how to handle the subsequent meeting in Issue 5. And again, this shows that at this point Snow is much more in command of his memory, as he can accurately recall that they never met in person.
Gonna take a real leap here and read something into an odd piece of dialogue. Brass metions the hidden city of Opak-Re, and Snow inquires if Jakita is aware that he (Snow) had been there. Brass responds that it isn't his place to tell her. Now we've all wondered about the relationship between Snow and Jakita since Issue 12, and wondered if he was her father or her lover. I had previously leaned towards the latter. But this snippet of dialogue causes me to now lean towards the possibility that Snow is her father, and that Snow conceived her with a female resident of Opak-Re (perhaps the tatooed lady we saw in one of Snow's flash-rememberances, the one who professed eternal love for Snow). It just seems more logical that Brass would think that it wouldn't be his place to tell Jakita anything about her own past (her familial origins). Given the era that spawned him, I find it hard to believe that Brass would even consider talking about Snow's former lovers to Jakita even if he knew of them, which in my mind rules out the dialogue exchange from being a nudge-nudge, wink-wink, you-didn't-tell-her-about-my-old-girlfriends-did-you kind of thing.
The scene ends with Snow talking to Brass about the Four. Hopefully this will lead Brass to join the fight personally, and not just contribute to the strategy. This would make sense for Brass. As everyone he's ever known has long since died, it seems like he would be willing to forego the peace he enjoys now for another attempt to save the world.
As Snow learns of the Four's activity at Ayers Rock, he relays the tale of one Carlton Marvell. Back in 1932, Marvell wanted to explore beyond this one planet and after being dissuaded from trying to rocket away from earth (a rare incident of technological myopia by Brass and Edison!), he elected to travel the bleed to find his new worlds. Snow mentions the invasion by Sliding Albion here as proof that the bleed was a known quantity (gotta love an Authority reference), and of course Brass faced the bleed-sailing Charnel Ship in this era, but that isn't mentioned. At any rate, after discovering that Ayers Rock was the weak spot between Earth and the bleed, Marvell created a gateway there and, with the aid of the creation song, stepped through (apparently never returning). While Snow doesn't claim any role in the process, he must have been plenty close to the action to know it in such detail (he did say he barely got out alive) and to have published much of it in his Guide.
Carlton Marvell was a mystery at first. The name evokes two pieces of comic history. "Carlton" makes me think of "Charlton," who published a line of comics in the late sixties and early seventies. Don't know of any Charlton characters who parallell this one, though, and of course the chronology is all wrong. "Marvell" makes you think of both Fawcett/DC's Captain Marvel (Shazam!), and Marvel's Captain Mar-Vell (the original Kree space explorer). Both are failed matches, I think. Ellis did his Shazam-Marvel bit back in Issue 4 with Jim Wilder, and this issue's Marvell has only a passing resebmlance due to the chest insignia. Captian Mar-Vell of the Kree fits the explorer profile a bit better, to be sure, but the cronology is all wrong as it was in the Charlton situation. Also, Mar-Vell explored "traditional" space where this Marvell explores the bleed (other dimensions). Perhaps, given the timing, this is a Flash Gordon type character? Again the comparison fails since Gordon travelled space, not dimensions. I think I'm pulled this way more by the name of the actor who originally played Gordon, one Buster Crabbe. Carlton Marvell, Buster Crabbe... okay, they're not that close. Fortunately, Ellis eventually put an end to the speculation with this revelation on his Delphi forum:Carlton Marvell was directly inspired by Burrough's world-travelling explorers, John Carter of Mars and particularly Carson of Venus.
The actual battle was a bit surprising, more for the fact that the Planetary field team were on the scene and didn't face the Four directly than the startling method by which they derailed the Four's plan. Even assuming that Drummer's natural anti-surveilance field prevented the Four from seeing them coming long-range, we know that before it was said and done even the Four's military escort saw the Planetary chopper and were firing on it. Surely the Four's overconfidence would not be so great as to allow Snow so close without handling him personally? Even assuming that Dr. Randall Dowling (who I beleive was the disembodied voice we saw around the Four's private airship) was not accompanied by the rest of the Four, surely he would have had sufficient technology and weaponry at his disposal to handle the Planetary team before they could have interfered? Or, worst-case, emerged from their wrecked airship to battle the field team? As I say, it was surprising.
The method of victory itself was a fantastic example of why Elijah Snow is such a threat when he's in full possession of his faculties. Drawing on personal memory of the way dreamtime works atop Ayers Rock, he developed a strategy he learned by watching Drummer work. In Issue 9, Drummer talked about magic as just another way to access the "operating system" that the universe uses to function (and he compared it to using cheat codes). Here, Snow expands upon the principle of accessing an operating system and anticipates the Four's approach well enough to turn it against them. Sure, he caught a break when the Ancient who rose inadvertantly collided with the Four's transport, but up to that point it was all Snow, and all brilliant. Snow had remarked, "It's time to remind them why they were afraid of me." The man makes a fair point!
What were the nature of the coordinated Snow requested from Wilder? Will we see Wilder again? What will Brass' role be in the final battle with the Four Voyagers? What has Snow learned about Anna Hark and the Hark Corporation, and when will we see it put to use? Whoose side is Hark on? Will Carlton Marvell, presumably still at-large in the bleed/dreamtime, turn up again (given the series' habit of returning to the bleed as a focal point)?