Summaries


ISSUE 24
Systems

24 cover Issue 24 features a cover that is intended to show what an actual Planetary Guide might look like. Given that the original preview cover image released was something completely different, this was a wonderful surprise!

"Systems" opens in Brazil, in the gleaming tower that servers as the local Planetary office.

(Brazil is a land of stark contradictions. It features a statue of Jesus Christ on top of Mount Corcovado in Rio de Janeiro, but also apparently airs television shows that feature Patton Oswalt being sexually assaulted by... fairies? Sometimes I can't fathom other cultures. UPDATE: It's been brought to my attention that those aren't just random fairies assaulting Patton. They're Bugaloos, a Sid and Marty Krofft creation of the early 70s. Specifically, Patton is suffering the wrath of "Sparky," who was played by the late, great Billy Barty. Bugaloos Courage and Harmony seem to be enjoying the spectacle. Joy, mercifully, is nowhere to be seen. And my confusion over Brazilian TV has been replaced by a deep suspicion toward Ellis and Cassaday. Disturbing! Several people brought this to my attention, but Dan was first--thanks Dan!)

Drummer and Jakita have arrived to confront Snow. Drummer announces that he and Jakita know what Snow has "been up to," including Snow's recent reviews of files dealing with Ambrose Chase's death, The Four's trip into the bleed, and Science City Zero. As Snow leads Drummer and jakita to the bottom level of the facility, Jakita goes on to challenge Snow regarding the whereabouts of The Four's William Leather. Snow announces that he has tortured Leather, but says so perfunctorily, as though it's just something he needed to say, a simple task to be executed to get to what, for him, was going to be the point of their conversation.

Snow then begins to connect the dots for Drummer and Jakita. He mentions a recent meeting with Melanctha (in Issue 21, where he found out that he not technically human, but rather a soulless being of great power, part of a system created by the universe to do a specific job). Snow already knew of his status as a so-called Century Baby, and was obviously aware of his powers, but realized from that encounter that he represented one of the universe's protective systems. Snow goes on to describe another protective system, one controlled by the "informational underspace" of the universe. He describes this system's interaction with our world as one where the system selects someone who died an unjust death, and therefore understands justice, betrayal, and loss, to live on in ghostly form to right wrongs and attempt to give the rest of existence the chance to do better. Snow had earlier mentioned that he believes Drummer to be a new kind of human who can communicate with this informational underspace. This suggests Snow considers Drummer to be the first of a new system, or new manifestation of the system, one that can interact with the informational underspace more directly, and with more flexibility, than the spirits of the betrayed.

Snow then tells a shocked Jakita that she is the daughter of Lord Blackstock, another Century Baby, and that her powers are not the biological fluke she had always thought them to be. As the information sinks in, Jakita asks Snow why he is telling her this now. Snow responds that the time for mystery has passed.

From there, Snow goes on to explain The Four and their motivations. He states that Dr. Randall Dowling's motivation has always been to gain abilities comparable to those possessed by the beings who serve as the universe's protective systems. After identifying ways to achieve this power, Dowling destroys or hides his discoveries. Snow goes on to explain that this is why Dowling, after gaining tremendous power, chose to let the Planetary organization continue: Planetary has proven adept at finding the hidden secrets of the world, making Dowling's job the much easier one of simply keeping track of Planetary! And when Planetary becomes too disruptive, Dowling takes steps to hobble, but not destroy, the organization, by selectively removing certain members. With Snow, this meant abduction and mind-wiping; for Chase, this meant murder. Snow explains that, after rejoining Planetary and regaining the better part of his lost memories, he figured out that it was his predictability that allowed The Four to catch him as they did. He tells Drummer and Jakita that the change in his behavior has been a deliberate effort to become a more effective opponent of The Four, and cites his of Jacob Greene's exile from the solar system and the abduction and torture of William Leather as examples of this behavior.

Snow concludes his near-monologue by explaining that his task as a Century Baby is to save things, just as he did with Jakita (in Issue 17) and Drummer (in Issue 23), and he intends to do the same with Ambrose Chase. This makes it his mission to stop The Four, both because they get in the way of Snow's task to save things, and because Snow believes The Four possess the technology he'll need to save Chase.

As if on some satanic cue, Snow's declaration of his intention to live up to his task to save things is interrupted by the destruction of the tower above their heads. A beam of power rips out of a clear sky and burns the Brazilian headquarters down to below street level, killing everyone inside. Snow, Jakita, and Drummer, in the building's nuclear-bunker-like sub-basement, are protected from the blast, but surface to find that the building above them was burnt to dust by what Drummer interprets as a space-based particle ray. The Four have issued a clear response to Snow's recent activities, and the stage is set for a final, inevitable confrontation.


Analysis
This issue served as a kind of near-comprehensive review of the series. Not in a character- or action-based way, but in a thematic-underpinning kind of way. And in the course of recapping these themes, Ellis drew them together to (finally!) settle much of their meaning for the series. While there are sure to be surprises in store in the next couple of issues, and a few thematic loose ends that could still be tied up, it's hard to believe that the conclusions offered this issue might be red herrings from Ellis (or flat-out misinterpretations by Snow, to take the other perspective) at this late stage.

The title of this issue is "Systems." Let's look at the systems that were clarified or extended.

Informational Underspace
Early on in this issue, Snow identifies Drummer as an agent or conduit for the universe's "informational underspace." This could be a bit of a callback to Issue 19, where the Dr. Kwelo discusses the Holographic Universe theory. The theory holds that our universe is essentially a two-dimensional store of information, but what we all experience/perceive is a three-dimensional representation of that information. In that issue, Drummer was able to tell simply by looking that the alien spacecraft they were using was generating its thrust by rewriting information. And last issue, we saw how Drummer perceives the world, with all of its objects seemingly volunteering their information--Drummer reads it all as easily as we read traffic signals. The doctor from the Planetary medical facility spoke of Drummer's brain being off in "informational space," an almost on-the-nose description of the new system Snow identifies this issue.

Snow cites this informational underspace as having a kind of sentience, saying it interacts with us in a manner that serves as a self-protective system. The Ghost Cop from Issue 3 was an example of this, a spirit selected by the informational underspace to represent it in the hopes of better enabling the living to have "the best possible chance of fixing the living world." The Ghost Cop was supposed to be just one in a continuing line of betrayed spirits that filled that role--the Hong Kong location apparently has a representative of this protective system as a permanent fixture. Perhaps this is because of its location relative to a specific part of the informational underspace; Drummer says he sensed a "junction box" of several information flows, perhaps making the spot a more opportune location for this system to do its work. The "big stack of hard drives" we saw that issue, full of fetal figures, Snow now identifies as a manifestation informational underspace, and very probably the only afterlife humans have. The Ghost Cop seemed to confirm this when he spoke of there being nothing after his life, no heaven or hell, and the need to make things right while in this world since there was no reward or punishment to follow.

(The Issue 3 Analysis on this site described the "hard drive" device, at the time, by stating "... its appearance (is) possibly only our interpretation of something the human mind can't understand. Like a two dimensional being only able to perceive a tiny portion of a three dimensional object, this device is only that portion of a god that we can't see with our limitations." This is a little inverted, as the Holographic Universe theory holds that the informational nature of the universe is perceived in more dimensions than it actually has. But still, clearly, this site has been hip to the informational underspace system all along. Yeah, that's the ticket. ALL ALONG.)

(Or, more likely, it was a coincidentally appropriate choice of words. Anyway...)

This system appeared again in Issue 22 to John Leather, another unjustly murdered lawman, at the point of his death. In that story, we saw some of the fetal figures last seen in the "hard drive" device, this time as an overlay to the snowflake pattern of the multiverse. Snow says that Leather was co-opted by the afterlife on the edge of death, and that his son being a Century Baby was just a coincidence. Given the hallucinogens John Leather had ingested at his point of death, the appearance of the multiverse Snowflake, and the hallucinogen-induced visit to the afterlife that Snow himself took in Issue 21, it's hard to not read a little more than coincidence into Leather's experience at the intersection of the informational underspace, hallucinogens, and the Snowflake. Perhaps it was this unique combination that allowed John Leather to serve as the afterlife's agent of revenge, despite the fact that he was still alive. Further, the exposure to the Snowflake may have somehow helped enable John Leather to sire a Century Baby. This is simply speculation, though, and it's unlikely we'll learn any more on this front over the course of the remaining issues.

Though semi-officially defined for the first time this issue, Drummer's relationship to the informational underspace has been growing as the series has progressed. While he was originally described as being able to talk to machines, and as being a natural anti-surveillance device, Drummer's abilities have evolved. Perhaps this makes sense. Our earliest encounter with Drummer, chronologically, showed him as a young boy communicating with computers in one of Dowling's facilities. As he's gotten older, we've seen him perceive more generalized information, as he did with the "hard drive" in Hong Kong and with his perception of magic as an information signal in Issue 7. We saw him intuit the source of the aline ship's thrust in Issue 19. We learn this issue that he can even see genetic information, and could tell after the fact that their office had been destroyed by a space-based particle beam. Snow described Drummer this issue as a "new kind of human." Is there any limit to Drummer's potential in this area? Will his abilities move beyond the realm of information-reader to information control? Even with few issues remaining, Drummer's now-increased self-knowledge may prove pivotal in the final confrontation against the remaining members of the Four.

Century Babies
The concept of the "Century Baby" has been around since the very first issue of the series, when Doc Brass was identified as having been born on January one, 1900, along with "several other unusual individuals." That same issue, Jakita had commented to Snow that she knew he was 100 years old, but made no connection at the time to Brass or other such people. Later, in Issue 5, Snow and Brass discussed their shared birth date, and determined they had a shared acquaintance, Jenny Sparks, who also had that birthday.

Since that time, readers of the series have been largely enthralled by the concept of the Century Babies. Attempts to draw connections between them, define their powers and purpose, and identify others who might be of that type ran rampant on message boards all over the internet. But surprisingly, the next mention of this group (and the first actual use of the term "Century Baby" in Planetary, by Jakita) came during the Planetary/Authority crossover special. And in that issue, Drummer offers his theory of Century babies:

"I think you're humanity's immune system. ... I think the world grew you all as its defense system for the 20th century."
And later, in Issue 19, Drummer expanded on this theory, stating:
"The entire multiverse has life-protection systems so detailed that they'll create individuals to protect in one area of one country of one planet. That's like delegating one grain of sand to watch the billion others in one square meter of California coastline. ... The people born on January 1, 1900. Long-lived and with extraordinary ability. Axel Brass. hark. Probably the rest of that whole crew. But not The Four."
Then, in Issue 21, Melanctha reveals more of this theory to Snow after sending him on a drug-induced visit to the afterlife:
"You and your peers, Mr. Snow, all born on the same day, all possessed of superhuman capability... you are not human. You are not part of the system. The natural order of things. You are constructs. ... You (Century Babies) all have different functions. ... You are a thing created to do a job, Mr. Snow."
And last issue Drummer weighed in again on Century Babies with:
"They all have jobs, these Century Babies. There's reasons why they're here. ... Some Century Babies are defenders. Some are pioneers. Elijah saves things."
All of these bits of information are confirmed this issue, as Snow divulges to Jakita and Drummer:
"A Century Baby... another protective system.... We look and act and perform and even die like humans, but we're something else. We have tasks. We don't always know it. Sometimes we're not up to it. but we're machines constructed by life's invisible protective systems to do a job. The three of us came together for a reason. We represent three different systems."
So all of the clues and previous hints about Century Babies have turned out to be right on the money. (Which is surprising, given Ellis' penchant for misdirection. And by "misdirection" I mean "outright lies.") If we assume the protective system of Century Babies is driven in the universe by something akin to our own immune systems, then one could even make the argument that the high number of them in the WildStorm universe, born on 1/1/1900 in particular, is a direct response to the universe's perception of need. As earth's 19th century was winding down, the arc of human development was detected by the universe, which recognized a growing need for the application of its immune response. So, on 1/1/1900, the universe pumped out a large dose of Century Babies to prepare for the conflicts that it sensed were building.

One remaining question, in my mind, deals with the calendar: why would the universe be tied to earth's widely (though not unanimously) accepted calendar system to produce these constructs? Ellis wrote Jenny Sparks' death to coincide with the publicly-perceived (though mathematically inaccurate) end of the 20th Century, 12/31/1999, so perhaps there's a clue there. Since the universe's immune response seems to be prompted around these parts by threats posed by humans, and since the form of the immune response is also human-like, perhaps the system picks up some other human trappings by default. When in Rome....

A Third System?
Snow's comment about himself, Jakita, and Drummer representing three different systems was not 100% clear. Snow represents Century Babies. Drummer can be said to represent the Informational Underspace, though he does so in a way not entirely consistent with the Ghost Cop (Drummer is alive and, though he hates Dr. Dowling, is not specifically focused on vengeance). But if you presuppose a sentient universe guiding its own protective systems, then you can argue that Drummer's genetic line (though extinguished by Dowling) was the universe's way of trying to bring humans into synch with the informational underspace, with an end goal of making them aware of the need to protect the universe and the life within it.

But where does this leave Jakita? What third system does she represent? A human/Century Baby hybrid, she is tied to the Century Baby defense system. So is it her hybrid nature that makes her a third system? Or is it something unique to her mother's advanced race, something that wouldn't have qualified if her mother were a "normal" human? Hopefully, the nature of Jakita's status as part of a third system will be made clear before the end of the series.

The Four as an Anti-System
The nature of The Four, particularly Randall Dowling, was brought into much sharper focus. We've know since Issues 6 and 10 that The Four are bent of amassing great power for themselves, and only themselves, while destroying wonders that they did not find directly useful. But Snow's comments about The Four this issue have given context that explains their actions beyond what we've already learned. Snow defines The Four as a group seeking to find ways to approximate the abilities that the universe's defense systems have naturally, destroying things they don't need or have finished with along the way. This explains the experiments at Science City Zero in Issue 8 and the destruction of what could have become the Justice League in Issue 10. And, most dramatically, it means that Project Artemis wasn't the victim of a fluke encounter with a Snowflake, but rather a calculated thing designed to empower The Four. (I'm still holding out hope that we'll learn more about this flight, as well as what became of the Russian flight along the same trajectory.)

Dowling clearly knew something about the Century Babies and their power when he first contacted William Leather back in Issue 22, though how he came by this information is still an open question. Now that we know his personal quest was to find ways to mimic the powers of Century Babies, it's ironic that he would use the task of one such being (Snow and his saving, cataloging tendencies) to better enable himself to accomplish that mission. But this was an outstanding answer to the question John Stone posed to Snow back in Issue 11 (and we've all asked ourselves many times): if you're The Four; why not simply kill Planetary? Now we know the value Planetary holds for Dowling.

Though the irony of The Four using Planetary to help them find wonders and paths to power is impressive, turnabout appears to be at hand. If Snow is right, and Ambrose Chase has somehow avoided death by moving outside of space and time, The Four's stash of technology could be the key to finding and saving Chase.

Questions Raised
Snow's access code to the blast door was "19580101"; is there any significance to the date January 1, 1958? If The Four knew that Snow was in the Brazilian office in the first place, wouldn't they know that their attack failed to achieve its goal, and therefore immediately attack again to finish the job? While the revelation that the Planet Fiction mission was just a ruse by The Four to draw out the field team was fascinating, it still begs the question of why such subterfuge was needed, since The Four have demonstrated the ability to find the field team in Planetary offices/locations (as in this issue and Issue 14)? Snow mentioned that he was having Leather's personality reconstructed--does this mean that Snow is going to somehow use Leather directly, as a weapon, against the remaining members of The Four?


RDG

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