Planet Fiction

Ish 9 Frustration, thy name is issue nine...

The story takes place back in 1997, prior to Elijah Snow joining the team. We meet his predecessor, Ambrose Chase, and finally discover something of the field team's history. But the revelations are not pleasant.

The Planetary field team infiltrates a hidden underground lab to investigate a recently recovered dimension-hopping vessel. This vessel was specifically designed to visit a fictional world "created" by a mysterious research team for the sole purpose of exploring the implications of contact with an artificial reality. But the experiment has taken an unexpected, grisly turn, as a being from the fictional universe has returned with the "fictionauts" and killed the entire crew. As the Planetary team fights its way to the center of the underground complex, the mystery creature slaughters those in attendance in the control room, save for their unnamed leader. This leader explains the purpose of the mission, but offers little insight into the mechanics that made the experiment possible or the long term goals of such an endeavor. He does tell us a great deal, however, when he casually mentions that Dr. Dowling will be upset by these events. This must certainly be Dr. Randall Dowling, one of the Four Voyagers.

Meanwhile, Planetary is tearing through the facility with a level of hands-on violence never before seen from the team. This is due in large part to Ambrose Chase. His power, a "selective physics distortion field" that warps reality, is a formidable offensive weapon.Chase in action From deflecting bullets to altering the speed of time to allowing Chase to run up walls, it makes Chase and his blazing pistols a blur of activity as he rips through the facility.

While Planetary seems to have some sort of notion of what's been going on at the facility, the mystery leader in the control room knows still more of Planetary. Anticipating Chase's arrival, he empties a gun into Chase as Chase bursts into the room. We are treated to nine panels of Chase's life passing before his eyes, and are shown that he has known the Fourth Man most of his life, the Planetary organization has been around since he was a child, he was the child of a survivor of Science City Zero (from issue eight), he's had a relationship with Jakita, has a daughter, and wore a white suit at the request of the Fourth Man (who expressed a fondness for them).

As Chase dies and is swallowed up by his distortion field, Jakita confronts his killer. Ignoring the villain's warning that killing him will prevent them from ever discovering the truth, Jakita reminds him that, as archaeologist, they can always dig up the truth later. The end.

Teaser ads for this issue promised that it would explain why Drummer no longer accompanies the field team during any hands-on type mission. Understandable, as the last time he did a team member died in his arms. But that's about the last thing it clarifies. From that point on, this admittedly intriguing tale raises many more questions than it answers. Most of the questions are raised in the last six pages.

Our mystery villain, in the employ of Dr. Dowling of Four Voyagers fame, seems to be familiar with Planetary and its operatives much more than they are of him. We never learn the villain's name, and nothing in the issue indicates that Planetary has any special knowledge of him. This is particularly surprising in light of the fact that Planetary knew the nature of the fictionaut mission; how would they not know who launched it? Whether Planetary was aware of Dowling's involvement or not, though, this story does add to the history of Planetary's interference with The Four's operations. Kind of makes you wonder why The Four Voyagers haven't made more of an effort to eliminate Planetary altogether.

Chase in actionChase's flashback panels certainly provide provocative food for thought. He seems to spend most of the panels with one shadowy figure, one that has known him most of his life, one that tells him of Planetary's mission while Chase is still a child and years from joining the field team. This figure, if it is indeed the same one in each panel, reveals himself to Chase as the Fourth Man. Chase's shock seems to hold more than just surprise that a lifelong acquaintance is the Fourth Man. It almost seems like there is something greater giving Chase pause, but there isn't enough information provided to even provide the realistic basis for speculation.

The Fourth Man's preference for white suits, however, may be more revealing, particularly in light of some events in past issues. Snow wears white, of course, and did so prior to joining Planetary. This is no coincidence. Neither is the awkward, heavy handed effort to point out in the final panel of the story that Snow has never met Chase, and that the Fourth Man went missing in 1997. Combine this with the notion that Snow has some pretty serious memory gaps (as suggested in issue six), and you could argue that Snow is the Fourth Man, but has no recollection of that portion of his existence.

The time line holds up. Snow has been around since 1900, so he could easily have known the young Chase and already had Planetary up and running. The Fourth Man went missing in 1997, and this predates Snow becoming the Third Man of the field team (no overlap). Snow's dual personality could validate the statement that Snow has never met Chase (while his alter ego has).

There's really not enough information here to allow us to prove or disprove anything, and that may be the most frustrating thing about this issue. After months of reading, getting more and more pieces of the puzzle in front of us, and possibly starting to feel like a big picture was beginning to form, issue nine rolls along and disrupts that feeling of understanding. The irony is that a flashback issue like this should do nothing but bring the picture into better focus, but this issue creates much more ambiguity than it resolves.

Between this issue of Planetary and the recent demise of Jenny Sparks over in Stormwatch, Warren Ellis is proving he's not afraid to explore territory where other writers fear to tread. I'm not sure if I should thank him or send him hate mail.

Questions Raised
What ever happened to the creature who accompanied the fictionauts back from the fictional universe (still at large)? Were there any more incursions into the fictional universe? What was the nature of the relationship between Jakita and Chase? What ever happened to Chase's daughter? If Snow is the Fourth Man, why don't Jakita and Drummer seem to know him? Is it possible that, a la Charlie's Angels, they have never met him face to face and are therefore unaware?


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