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It's a Strange World
"Learning curve's steep on this one, so keep focused." The Drummer opens the scene with a short presentation to Snow on the American acquisition of Nazi rocket scientists following the collapse of Germany in 1945, giving a quantum boost to the U.S. Space Program. This Nazi brain trust powers an ultra-covert twin to the Apollo Missions, code-named Artemis, that quickly outstrips the more public NASA program - Artemis had a lunar-capable booster in operation by 1959 and actually sent men to the moon in 1961. While NASA was busy providing public spectacle and Cold War PR victories, Artemis was doing the real work and scoring the real Cold War wins.
He elaborates on the 4 people who made that moon launch, and eventually came to run the Artemis operation: Randall Dowling, physicist extrordinaire; Jacob Greene, pilot; William Leather, flight engineer; and Kim Suskind, physicist. Something unexplained happened to them during their flight, and they returned to earth "no longer completely human." From the flight film, it looks suspiciously like that multiverse-bridging "snowflake" they run into...
The Drummer concludes "These people are the dark side of everything we do. [They] need putting down. And we just found out where the four are. You want to go get them?"
Interspersed between pages during The Drummer's lecture we cut to real time, where Jakita and an angry Elijah enter a building called "Four Voyagers Plaza" to confront their shadowy nemeses... making their way to the top floor, they find wonders to rival the trophy room in the Adirondacks: Subterrans in display cases, a stunning view into space (A picture? A portal? The Negative Zone, anyone?), and a man working on some machinery. Jakita moves to confront him, but he quickly overpowers her, sending her flying through the window (looking oddly like Dr. Strange's Sanctum Sanctorum window, but with a stylized "4" logo- did that remind anyone else of a swastika?) down to the street below. The man, awash in blue flame, turns to Snow and to Elijah's surprise, addresses him by name. "Who are you and how do you know my name?" comes the reply. Leather's answer indicates that not only has he known Snow for "far too long" but he also seems familiar with Ms. Wagner and Planetary as well. Oddly, Elijah Snow appears not to recognize this man at all. After a very brief encounter, Leather exits through the floor, leaving Elijah for the second consecutive issue with several... uh... burning... questions.
WOW! Like all great PLANETARY stories, this issue provides A TON of new information, and raises just as many new questions. Obviously, these four voyagers are analogues for the Fantastic Four, only twisted. The evidence for this: their origin (in 1961, no less!) is a thinly-veiled re-tread of the FF's: four adventurers blast off into space in the name of exploration, and come back to earth with awesome abilities. The Four themselves are physical copies of Reed, Ben, Johnny and Sue. In addition, Dowling's super-scientific background rivals that of Reed Richards as much as Greene's piloting skills match Ben Grimm's. Their NY HQ is Four Voyagers Plaza (ala 4 Freedoms Plaza). The first thing Jakita and Snow see when they step out of the elevator is a case of "subterrans"; the FF encountered the Mole Man and his "subterraneans" on their very first adventure.
"Evil State of Comics Today" rant
Why the FF? By positioning his 4 as the evil "secret chiefs" of this world, what is Ellis saying about Jack Kirby's and Stan Lee's creation? Well, the birth of the Fantastic Four in 1961 represented the rise of the "Marvel Age" of comics, the creative Renaissance that inspired so many in the 60's but that in the 90's is generally seen as corrupt, bloated, and devoid of art. Marvel Comics could arguably be doing a lot more for the recovery of the comic industry by concentrating on publishing quality product, but instead all too often opts to focus on making as much money as possible by giving the fans as little as possible. "You've done more than you're share of making the world mediocre" - indeed! While making an homage to the vitality of the FF, Warren is also reminding us that the dark side of art is commerce.
Of course, it's also possible that he's taking a big stab at the FF for doing basically the same as the Four - Reed Richards and company have all these adventures, and in doing so have invented countless incredible gadgets and machines - but do they ever do anything to REALLY help solve the world's more crushing problems like war, famine, or disease? In The Authority, Warren more overtly explores the efforts of a group consciously trying to make "A Finer World"; in Planetary he's showing the true consequences when metahumans DON'T try to make the world a better place. In this case, Snow represents US - wouldn't you be pissed if you found out what he did? The Four are Scientist Gods, similar to Doc Brass' Group, but working for their own pursuits, not for the greater good.
As Leather confronts Snow, he floats upside down, aflame. He is the Human Torch analogue, but inverted, as shown by his upside-down pose. As he rights himself, realizing Snow's memory loss, he burns off the beard concealing his face - much as Johnny Storm did years ago to help bring back the memory of an amnesiatic Sub-Mariner - revealing the scar across his face. This is no pretty - boy goody-goody Torch, but his opposite number: a scarred, evil man. And somehow he KNOWS Snow and Jakita, but Elijah has no idea who he is...? If Leather is familiar with Planetary, does he know who the fourth man is? Is there some connection? From the Planetary proposal, Warren says that Snow was involved in black ops previously - could he have worked for or against the 4 at some point in his past? Anyway, we see a couple of key points during this confrontation - A) Snow's come a long way in his "journey" from issue #1. He spent 10 years in the desert hiding from humanity - something in his experiences caused him to give up caring about anything. The Planetary series has, more than anything, chronicled Snow's personal journey from isolation to taking part in the world again.
Anyway, it's an intriguing match-up - flame-powers versus cold-powers - and seems to be a stalemate until Leather turns up the heat, and we see Snow begin to sweat and for the first time in the series, lose his cool - "Oh god - I can't see you anymore..." However, the best part HAS to be when Snow kicks William in the balls...
Leather leaves Snow with some questions to ponder, much as Doc Brass did in the previous issue, about the motives of Planetary. Unless he's lying, it appears that Elijah has even more reasons not to trust Planetary or his teammates. Here are the facts as I see them:
1) Leather seems convinced that he and Snow know each other (for "far too long")
2) Snow seems convinced that he's never met Leather or any of the four previously
This means either:
1) Snow has amnesia or for some reason doesn't remember certain events from his past, or...
2) Leather has him mistaken for someone else - a clone, doppelganger, twin, etc.
Since this isn't being published by Marvel Comics, #2 seems unlikely. Now, if it's #1 above, what would this imply?
1) Snow may not remember these past events because they haven't happened to him yet (he's been plucked from the past, etc). This seems unlikely since he reputably has been living in the desert for a decade in the present.
2) Somehow these memories have been suppressed or wiped from this mind. Since Leather strongly implies that Planetary should KNOW about these memories, does that point to Planetary as being somehow RESPONSIBLE for Snow losing his memory? Hmmm....
BTW - the cover to #6 - we see the 4 Voyagers walking towards... another voyager, wearing the same kind of helmet? They seem to be reflected in the helmet of this FIFTH Voyager... hmmmm....
What happened to the 4 in space? Did the snowflake transport them some place where they were transformed? It sure looks like they were heading into The Bleed... William Leather's statement that they were "reborn in the exploding heart of the multiverse" would seem to support this. Where are these four missing Russian Cosmonauts?