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Mystery in Space
Mystery in Space, indeed. The real mystery is how we're all supposed to make it to July, knowing Jacob Greene could be only a panel or two away! Perhaps we can fill the time considering the implications of this jaw-dropping issue...
The story begins somewhere out past the orbit of the moon, as we are given a glimpse of a drifting object, large enough to hold asteroids and other debris in an orbit around itself in its' own gravitational field. Cut to Zambia, and our first visit to another out-of-the-country Planetary base since the antarctic base in Issue 14. The fifteen year old base is run by one Dr. Kwelo, a Planetary member since 1992, personally recruited by Snow. His association with Snow goes back even farther, though, as Snow recalls that the two may have first met when Dr. Kwelo advised him on the UFO sightings at Rendlesham Forest, which was a series of UFO sightings in England on the last few days of December, 1980. (This is a documented, though obviously disputed, event in our world; the Wildstorm Universe apparently had an equivalent event.)
Inside the base, we're quickly briefed on the dual nature of the visit to Zambia. First, Dr. Kwelo identifies a massive alien ship "outside the orbit of Cruthine." Cruthine is an asteroid, also known as "Earth's second moon". This is a misnomer, as Earth and Cruthine are not gravitationally bound in the way Earth and the moon are. But due to a point of gravitational balance, the three mile wide asteroid will be associated with earth for another few thousand years, in an orbit that passes no closer than forty times the distance between Earth and her moon. And an alien ship, much large than Cruthine, seems to be experiencing a similar situation at a similar distance.
Dr. Kwelo states that the ship is far outside the reach of conventional space flight, but reveals that the Zambia base is equipped for space flight of a nonconventional nature. Here Snow announces that he'll be sending angels to do the job. We see the angels he had mentioned on the way inside the base, and are quickly disabused of any notions of seeing anything like the stereotypical heavenly hosts of Judeo-Christian legend. The angels are pale-blue, translucent creatures with wings that look like nothing more than a wire framework. They came to earth in the 1930s, and Snow somehow captured them. They may only be simulating life, and have the sole purpose of recording information. Snow states that his theory is that the beings are from the galactic core, sent to document the Milky Way galaxy, but he doesn't expand upon his reasoning here.
Snow continues, and shares that Planetary has an alien spacecraft from a failed 1951 invasion, and that nineteen other such visitations have taken place. Jakita becomes visibly irritated; she had not known about the Zambian base, the angels, or the rate of alien visitation. Snow offers a theory that aliens have taken an interest in Earth due to it's premature encounters with the bleed (an inter dimensional space discussed and seen in may issues). But as with his theory on the nature of the angels, he gives no supporting information. He finishes by explaining that he intends to send the angels to view and record the object, and wait. He expects The Four to send Jacob Greene to check out the orbiting alien ship, and he wants to use the angels to get a look at him.
We cut to the interior of a structure that looks like a missile silo, where an American-football-shaped silver object rests. The angels walk in, silent but peaceful, and the silver ship melts open a circular entry to grant them access. Snow indicates that the angels were shown the telemetry of the orbiting alien vessel, and that the angels asked to visit the ship and said they loved them for allowing it. The method of communication is not revealed, but perhaps telepathy might be assumed.
As Drummer jokes that the group will be burnt to death in the silo as the angels leave in the strange vessel, his unique ability to talk to machines and see information lets him detect that the alien ship is "eating and crapping out information" to provide it's own propulsion. Dr. Kwelo gives a quick synopsis of a theory that holds that information, not matter or energy, is the foundation of the universe. This sets Drummer to working through some of the apparently disparate theories and phenomena that the field team has encountered, as he tries to come up with his own little unification theory to tie together the Snowflake they found in the Adirondacks, the hard drive of souls from Hong Kong, and his own theory that the Century Babies, including Snow, are Earth's antibodies. (More on this in the Analysis section.)
The angels have already made their way to the orbiting object, and we rejoin them via the signal they're transmitting back to the Planetary base. Their transmission opens looking down upon a cavernous space inside the massive vessel; it looks almost like some idyllic scene from nature, except for the giant throne, a rough-hewn stone structure. Kwelo determines that the throne alone is as big as Manhattan. As the angels fly into another section of the vessel, we see the creature who once sat at the throne, lying dead and decaying over another landscape. The animals of this landscape, including things that resemble our birds, apes, dogs, and humans, all walk his surface, or slowly consume his being--he is being devoured by his world.
Suddenly, scanners detect another vessel approaching. Kwelo identifies one life sign, "very strong. High thermal output." Jacob Greene has arrived.
Almost every part of this issue was jaw-dropping. Where to begin?
As the issue opens, it's apparent that Snow does not yet have all of his memories back. This fact may have been easily forgotten in the span since the memory blocks began to fail back in Issue 11. Without Snow commenting on the status of his memory blocks, we can't tell the extent to which he's still tripping over them, and therefore we may to quickly assume he's mentally whole again. But this passage suggests otherwise.
From Jakita's comments, it's clear that despite her age and lifetime association with Snow, she still isn't privy to all of his, or Planetary's, secrets. She was unaware of both the existence of the angels and of the Zambian base. Perhaps the understandably top-secret nature of the alien angels could excuse her being out of the loop on that front, but to be unaware of an entire base? And this in spite of the fact that, per Snow's admission, that the angels have been continually shuffled between bases since the 1930s when Snow recovered them (meaning the Zambia base hasn't been their only home). There may be a connection between Snow's discovery of the angels and Jakita, as Snow delivered the infant Jakita to Germany in the early thirties: the Wagners had "an alarming experience with a crashed space vessel the year before" Snow delivered baby Jakita to them (from the final page of Issue 17). But this is simply conjecture at this point.
The referential origin of the blue angels is unclear (the only Blue Angel in Germany in the thirties was Marlene Dietrich). But in terms of their behavior, they're reminiscent of The Recorder. The Recorder is a Marvel comics creation, a robot who's sole task is to record the goings-on around the universe. The similarities between The Recorder and Ellis' angels are few after their shared primary function and extraterrestrial origin; perhaps I'm reading too much in to this since I always remember The Recorder talking with The Watcher, whom I associate with the very first Galactus story in Fantastic Four.
The revelation of the angels brings up yet another point where Jakita is out of the loop: when Snow says he plans to send the angels out in a spacecraft recovered from a failed alien invasion in 1951, Jakita is surprised, unaware of any spacecraft or confirmed alien contact (presumably excluding contact via the Bleed, with which she's had first hand experience). This is surprising for two reasons: first, giver her personality and long association with Snow, it's amazing that she hasn't simply stumbled on this before naturally.
Second, it's surprising because the Wildstorm universe is not without its' share of alien races who have representatives on earth--how are they not considered here? This second point reinforces a belief that's been growing amongst Planetary fans on the internet that Planetary is somehow outside the regular continuity of the Wildstorm universe. This is hard to deny; early-issue references to Wildstorm characters, including Jenny Sparks, The High, and The Authority, have completely vanished from the title over time. The last regular Wildstorm continuity references may have been Issue 11's setting in The Last Shot bar (an old StormWatch reference) and John Stone's early affiliation with S.T.O.R.M., presumably intended as a StormWatch precursor. So it seems that Planetary's association with regular Wildstorm continuity is one of convenience. Given the quality of the Planetary story arc, perhaps this is an arrangement we can all live with.
The next interesting point deals with the number of alien spacecraft/alien visitation sited by Snow: nineteen (either since 1951 or including the 1951 visit). Snow speculates that Earth's premature contact with the Bleed is what's generated extraterrestrial interest in our planet. The first encounter with the Bleed, per Planetary continuity, was back during the time of the dinosaurs (as narrated by the Shiftship seen in Issue 4). The next chronological bleed event scripted by Ellis, though outside of Planetary, was an 1920s shiftship invasion that Jenny Sparks fought. The next shown in Planetary was the 1931 Judgement, Rhode Island incident (from the Planetary/Authority crossover), followed not long after by the Bleed incursion rebuffed by Axel Brass and his associates in 1945 (shown in Issue 1). So a spate of twentieth century visitations, possibly beginning in 1951, does make a certain amount of sense.
The year 1951 has other significance as well. It's considered the beginning of the golden age of sci-fi films, a genre Ellis already explored in Issue 8. And this issue's cover is stylistically reminiscent of a softcover sci-fi novel, and perhaps borrows a bit from the original 2001: A Space Odyssey movie poster. (More to follow on the cover.) But more importantly to this issue, 1951 was the year that DC Comics launched a certain science fiction comic series called... Mystery in Space! With it's debut in April of 1951, it became a source for great science fiction stories until 1964 (with a brief restart in 1980-81), and had a 117 issue run in all. There's another link here as well. The cover from Issue 11 (December 1952, at left) shows a man offering a one million dollar reward for "anyone who can guess what the creature inside the space-ship looks like." And the header above the issue's logo states, "Exposing the Strange Secrets of Other Worlds" (you can't make it out at this resolution, but trust me). The "other worlds" reference is clearly an allusion to the Wildstorm universe. And I think it can be stated, with metaphysical certainty and without possibility of contradiction, that this cover was a prescient reference to the way Planetary fans are feeling right now about the impending emergence of Jacob Greene from the ship shown on the last page of Planetary 19. For everyone who saw this cover back in 1952 and always felt like there was more to the cover than was resolved by the story inside, your faith has been rewarded!
For the rest of us, though, even an inflation-adjusted million dollars will probably be insufficient for us to find out before issue 20 hits the stands. From Ellis in march of '04, in response to a request for any kind of preview to Issue 20's contents: "No chance at all. I'm not spoiling anything in that issue. --W" !!
At this point, Issue 19 reaches a passage that surely left many readers confused. Snow tells Jakita that he expects The Four to send Jacob Greene to investigate the vessel. He goes on to say:"... I have a feeling Leather is no longer part of the family. It's been bothering me for a while: why was he in Four Voyagers (Plaza) alone? (Issue 6 - RDG) Why did he look like a hobo? I think they're weaker than we believed."The confusing element here is that Snow and Jakita seem to have forgotten that they have captured William leather (for us, it happened last issue)!! Was this a moment of genuine senility on the part of Snow that Jakita was simply too polite to correct? Is this a moment of senility on the part of Ellis that we should be too polite to correct? Or is it, as some are beginning to speculate, that the Planetary story isn't being told in a strictly linear fashion? There is some evidence to support this. Ellis recently commented on the chronology of the crossover issues (over at the Millarworld boards:PLANETARY/JLA is outside all continuity. PLANETARY/THE AUTHORITY would probably be between issues 4 and 5 of PLANETARY and between, I dunno, 8 and 9 of THE AUTHORITY? PLANETARY/THE BATMAN would probably happen just after the "Day The Earth Turned Slower" issue of PLANETARY (Issue 8 - RDG), whichever one that was, I think... could be wrong there, might be earlier. --WThis chronology has little to do with the release dates of the crossovers. So there's precedent for non-linear narrative, though it's always been tied to the special case of the crossover issues up until now. This may bear watching as we go forward, as there may be more revelations regarding this strange remark from Snow.
Just as issues 16 and 17 began tying up some of the loose ends and previous plot threads introduced early on in the series, this issue does it's share as well. It's set into motion by another new scientific theory offered up by Ellis to explain the alien ships's propulsion: the so-called Holographic Universe theory. The theory holds that our universe is essentially two-dimensional, and our perception of it is the same as our perception of holograms--two dimensional images on film that we nonetheless perceive as a fully three dimensional structure when we look at it, despite knowing better! An example a little closer to home might be, say, a comic book, where the artist provides the illusion of depth and three dimensions on a two dimensional surface. But there, we have learned to willingly suspend our disbelief and allow our brains the three dimensional illusion. The Holographic Universe theory would hold that we're incapable of separating out the two dimensional reality from the three dimensional illusion.
The two-dimensional universe stores information on its' surface, which describes the three dimensional world we perceive. Dr. Kwelo explains that the alien ship moves by changing the information written to the two-dimensional reality. It would be kind of like changing the text in a document you were typing into your word processor from saying "my coffee mug sits on my desk" to "my coffee mug slides across my desk" and then seeing your mug start moving. This presupposes that your document stored the information that makes up the universe, and that you had access to it from your computer, but you get the idea. This almost hearkens back to Drummer's explanation of magic back in Issue 7:"Magic's just signal, just information... You've seen me playing computer games... heard me talking about cheat codes. Things I can say to the computer that alter things in the game environment. Magic words. Magic is the cheat codes for the world. Sending a signal to reality's operating system, see?"The alien ship apparently does the same kind thing, but here we think of it as science, not magic (context is everything, apparently), and now the operating system is described as the information stored on the surface area of a two dimensional universe. But whether or not Ellis is deliberately linking the two concepts or not, it's interesting to see how different scientific theories may intentionally or unintentionally overlap.
This leads to another bit of exposition from the drummer that starts to give us serious inroads to the underlying links of Planetary. He starts tying things together. He recalls the Snowflake they saw in Issue 1, a "working model of the multiverse" in 196,833 dimension, and considers each facet of the snowflake a two dimensional element that touches one, and only one, of each of the 196,833 possible universes in the multiverse. He then extends the theory, envisioning the snowflake as a "real" three dimensional construct (not the "fake" three dimensions that the Holographic Universe theory suggests we perceive) cutting across all dimensions simultaneously.
This is a more palatable explanation of the multiverse than some of you old-timer DC fans may recall. The old Earth-1 and Earth-2 (and the innumerable other earths) situation was explained as separate universes, existing in the same location but vibrating at different frequencies, thereby remaining separate. A theory that allows for a two-dimensional universe makes the visualization of concurrently existing universes a little easier to grasp (assuming you get past your three-dimensional perception of your two-dimensional life). The universes can be stacked one of top of the other in three dimensions (like the "hard drive" seen in Issue 3), or intersecting at odd angles the way they would have to for each facet of the Snowflake to be rooted in one distinct two dimensional universe. Back in Issue 4, a Snowflake spoke to Jim Wilder and explained to him:
"Your universe hangs within a structure of Universes, a thing almost like a snowflake. Channels course between the countless alternative earths, keeping them separate. This we call the bleed."This explains how the bleed can reach every dimension at once: while all universes may not be adjacent/contiguous/intersecting in the snowflake, there's always a way to get from one to the next by following the various links and intersections--you can always get there from here. This is why the Snowflake told Wilder it "sailed" the bleed. The bleed must be navigated, or you don't know were you might wind up. But that's okay, under some circumstances. Recall the Planetary/Authority crossover, where the Worldrulers were simply dropped into the bleed to randomly find and enter universes and invade and destroy their respective Earths.
This also gives an interesting ironic glow to a remark about the Bleed by Bride in Issue 11: she tries to escape John Stone by traveling in the "universal border" (visibly identifiable as the Bleed), traveling in "four-dimensional space" to more quickly travel around the earth. She kind of had the mechanics of the bleed correct, but bound as she is (and we are) to our three dimensional illusion, she identified the Bleed as fourth-dimensional. In fact, according to Holographic Universe Theory, the Bleed would be an artifact of the three dimensional structure of the multiverse. Bride was off by one!
After Drummer makes these connections, he recalls his own theory from the Planetary/Authority crossover, where he speculated that Snow and the other Century Babies serve as Earth's immune system. There he guessed that Snow, Jenny Sparks, and Axel Brass were created by the universe to protect the twentieth century. Here he takes the concept a step further, saying that the entire multiverse has an immune system, one so intricate that it places certain individuals in certain countries at certain times, kind of like "... delegating one grain of sand to watch the billion others in one square meter" of coastline. And on the surface, the rest of Ellis' writings on the bleed seem to support this. During the twentieth century, it seems like Snow, Brass, or Sparks were almost always present when an incident with the Bleed was in the offing.
As Dummer's exposition on this winds down, he lists Hark and "probably the rest of that whole crew" (Brass' people from Issue 1) as Century Babies. The Jungle Lord (Kevin Sack, Lord Blackstock) was revealed as such back in Issue 17. This site has always maintained in the past that Hark (Anna Hark's father) could not be a Century Baby, since Brass' writings hold that Hark had been operating since the turn of the century (1900). While Drummer is clearly referring to the elder hark here, this still contradicts Brass' recollections. Given Issue 16's revelation that Anna Hark expects to live some 300 years, it strikes me as more likely that she was born on January 1, 1900 than her father. But there may be much more to be revealed on this front. As Ellis himself recently stated when asked about the possibility of William Leather as a Century Baby:Is William Leather a Century Baby? Oh, that is a very good, very astute question. Thereby hangs a tale, and it's called PLANETARY #22: "The Torture Of William Leather." You're going to find out all about the Century Babies. --WThis will no doubt re-invigorate the speculation that Leather was one of Brass' people: The Aviator, who bore a suspicious scar on his chin, similar to Leather's scar. And that Jimmy (The Agent) went on to become the admittedly long-lived John Stone (and here again is an instance where a similar scar, this time over the characters' right eyes, has prompted speculation in the past). I think Ellis once went on record stating that Jimmy and Stone were not the same person, and of course Brass maintains that both dies in his cave. But Ellis also said that Snow was not the Fourth Man, and we know how that worked out. Thankfully, we can all play wait-and-see with relative confidence now, based on Ellis' teaser for Issue 22.
Anything else happen this issue? Oh, right, we met Galactus.
Given that the Four Voyagers are analogs to the Fantastic Four, a run-in with Galactus was a natural all along. (When do we get to see the Wildstorm Dr. Doom?!?) But where the Marvel Galactus is a living force of nature, surviving on the life-energy he steals from life-supporting planets, this unnamed being has perished. At first glance, it may appear that the interior of the galactus-creature's ship has evolved life from next to nothing; Jakita and Kwelo speculate as much, based on the age of the ship. But how does that explain the natural evolution of a full atmosphere (after the life-support of the ship undoubtedly failed eons ago) and a very natural-looking landscape? Life springs up and takes root in a myriad of places on our world, given the right conditions. But mountains and waterfalls don't simply spring up from nothing. Also, note the throne's appearance: it appears to have been carved from stone. Stone would not "grow" onto a metal chair over the centuries (although mineral deposits could accumulate over time, giving the chair its' appearance). But suppose for a moment that this galactus-creature also survives off of the life energy of a thriving ecosystem, like the Galactus of the Marvel universe. This being the case, it's not too far a reach to think that maintaining an "edible" ecosystem within your ship would be a reasonable approach to a voyage without guaranteed food sources over the millennia. The galactus-creature carried its' food with it on it's journey, and this food continued to evolve and exist long after the creature's death. This makes the irony all the sweeter: Galactus, devourer of worlds, is eventually devoured by the inhabitants of his own captive world, no more immune to the cycle of life than anything else.
Let's take a look at this issue's cover again for just a moment, and see if it can help explain the aforementioned life running around in inside the galactus-creature's ship. After the initial release of this page's analysis, several Planetary fans wrote in to suggest that the ship on the cover was taken from Arthur C. Clarke's Rendezvous with Rama. One letter offered more in the way of a description of the story, and the possible similarities between Rama and Planetary 19 became more pronounced. The fact that Issue 20 will be titled Rendezvous sealed the deal! Released in 1972, Rendezvous with Rama tells the story of a massive cylindrical ship that enters our solar system. The humans sent to investigate discover that it has it's own gravity (generated by swift rotation on its central axis) and seems to be a sort of space-ark, with different species aboard living in different environmental zones. (This is a gross oversimplification of the story, based on the reviews I found of the title on the internet. It sounds like a complex and marvelous tale!) This would dovetail nicely with what was found inside the galactus-creature's ship, if you take the leap to the notion that while the ship failed (and her big-and-tall sized pilot died), the captive species lived on. It would also explain why one group of humanoids was spotted running naked through the forest (Kwelo observed that they didn't appear to be tool users), while another group of humanoids was shown walking across the galactus-creature's finger, fully clothed and carrying spears. If the ship were a habitat, designed to support different species abducted along the way, it would go a long way towards explaining what we saw both in terms of species diversioty and the landscape (and is a bit more credible than everything having developed there as the result of evolution from almost nothing). This would put the lie to the earlier theory of a captive ecosystem for the galactus-creature's sustinance, and make him more of a cosmic zookeeper or sorts. Thanks to everyone who offered this connection!
Jacob Greene registered with "high thermal output"--will he wind up being more reminiscent of The Human Torch than The Thing? Are Leather and The Aviator one and the same? Is Leather really on the outs with the rest of The Four? Drummer talked about his 2001 Space Odyssey dream as though sex with the computer Hal was an unpleasant experience, but c'mon, don't you think he secretly dug it? What are we to make of the skeletons on the galactus-creature's nipple--did they die in some perverse nipple-worshipping ceremony? Snow did Drummer a favor by letting him watch the alien ship take off: does this kind gesture from Snow to Drums herald the apocalypse? Speaking of heralds, will we see a Silver Surfer analog next issue? (Although, if you squint and blur your vision and mind just enough, the pale-blue angels riding a liquidy-silver spacecraft with no visible means of propulsion kind of seems like... kind of reminds you of....)