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Ruling the World
The Un-Crossover has arrived. Planetary and The Authority finally almost meet, face a menace spawned from a Snowflake, and save the world. That's the short of it, anyway.
The story opens mid-crisis, with both Planetary and The Authority facing a giant octopus-like monster and its attendant carnivorous tadpoles-from-hell. And judging by the way Snow is cursing Drummer and literally kicking his butt on the run, we get the idea that it's at least partly Drummer's fault. While both teams are present here, it's clear that they're not exactly working together; it's more a case of them both being at the same place at the same time. As The Authority does the heavy work of destroying the monster in standard fashion (at least, standard for them), we learn via flashback that the crisis actually began back in 1931.
In Judgement, Rhode Island, an unnamed author has invited Snow to view some strange items. An eccentric man, he describes an experience that Planetary readers instantly recognize as an encounter with a Snowflake and the Bleed. As he describes his trance like experience, we see through his eyes a group of hideous, superheroesque creatures emerge from the bleed and leave behind egg like spheres. While the flashback implies that the author shot them to bits with a rifle in a fit of racist paranoia, it would seem that at least one of them was spared destruction, and wound up being brought to life almost 70 years later when Drummer touched it. While it's not spelled out here, it looks as though Planetary was on site to investigate the rediscovery of the surviving egg, and The Authority showed up to deal with the resulting monstrosity. As the battle concludes, Snow recognizes Jenny Sparks. Jakita thinks it's time they all made her acquaintance, "Preferably without her knowing a thing about it."
Back in their offices, Snow debates with Jakita and Drummer over the sagacity of invading the Carrier, Authority headquarters. Snow feels it too dangerous, but the others feel the potential information to be found there is too much to pass up. Drummer has a theory about Jenny Sparks, Doc Brass, and Snow being the world's immune system, but we don't get to hear much of it. After Drummer questions Snow's value in that regard, Snow kind of strangles him.
Meanwhile, on the Carrier, the Authority is beginning to piece together what just happened in Rhode Island. They've retrieved an intact egg, and have discovered it was specifically designed to spawn its monster only after human contact; in effect, it was a device built specifically for killing humans. They also detect Bleed radiation on it, and the Engineer likens the energy signature to one they picked up on earlier that year in the Adirondacks (at what Planetary readers know to be the abandoned hideaway of Doc Brass). The Authority has been tracking the location ever since, and while they don't know what it is, they have seen the Planetary field team on site there. Jenny vaguely recognizes Snow in one of the shots. Ellis treats us to a one-page flashback of Jenny's last, ah, meeting with Snow, and we begin to suspect motivated memory loss on her part.
Cut back to a Planetary analysis team at work in Brass' old hideout, where we discover the link between this story's events. A member of the analysis team is the son of an undertaker, the same undertaker who apparently worked on the corpse of the author Snow met in 1931, and discovered some sort of transcript of those event in the author's dead body. The son theorizes that the author placed the writings there so that they might be discovered by someone who truly understands death. At any rate, the son appears to be a serial killer, and quite mad. After his father passed on the information, the son became obsessed with finding a way to the Bleed and triggering the death of the human race. After landing a position with one of Planetary's many analysis teams and drawing the assignment to Brass' hideout, it seems he's gotten his wish. After killing his crew mates, he activates the Snowflake.
Planetary and Authority separately detect the activity at the Adirondacks. The Authority arrive and fight a battle with the latest menace from the Bleed, this time an army of killer robots, while Planetary remain inside to piece together what's really going on. They find the dead body of the deranged son, and the active Snowflake. Both Planetary and The Authority figure out that this latest attack is just the next evolutionary step in the campaign to destroy the earth (the earlier battle being the first step), and deduce that there must be a focused intelligence directing this campaign. At the mouth of the Snowflake, the intelligence is revealed to be a twisted, almost reptilian version of The Authority (words fail adequate description; Jimenez renders the horror with inspired depravity). Just as the Jenny Sparks analog identifies Jakita and declares her love for killing "those," Jakita kicks the device that's spawning the robots back through the Snowflake, killing "Jenny." Snow destroys the computer generating the portal, and the evil Authority are shut out of our world. Outside, our Authority have defeated the robot menace before it could spread.
This is a reasonably happy ending for the story. The lingering implications of the event of this story have a darker meaning for the future.
As crossovers go, this one was fairly unique in two respects. First, the teams never actually meet. Both are aware of the other, and suspicious of the other. But as closely as they wound up working to stop the invasion, they never actually fight side-by-side. (Anarchy! Comic book anarchy!) Despite this, Ellis used both teams to tell the story in a very complete way--if you only read the elements of the story presented by one of the teams, you miss out on a great deal. This is a work of truly integrated storytelling.
Second, both teams are handled so deftly that they are allowed to remain true to the way they appear in their own titles. One assumes that this is the goal of the author in any crossover event, but Ellis really nails it here. He does have the advantage of having authored both titles, but still, it was a fine effort. Perhaps keeping the two teams physically separated worked to his advantage on this front. Ellis had this to say on the topic at his Delphi forum:
"My concern, you see, is that elements of two different comics meeting together in the same pages can negate the differing levels of suspension-of-disbelief required to keep different fictions going. What works in the logical continuum of THE AUTHORITY may look a little daft in the environment of PLANETARY, and vice versa. So, aside from the personal amusement factor of writing a non-crossover, I wanted both PLANETARY and AUTHORITY readers to come out of the book without feeling vaguely cheated or mocked. Both sides get represented fairly and mesh at the points where it was convincing to do so."
This story has so much material and so many concepts packed in it could easily have been a three to five-issue miniseries. As much as it tells, it leaves so much more untold. Much of the summary above relies on logical inference to track the flow of events from Snow's initial meeting with the author (H.P. Lovecraft, though this is never stated outright) and the initial discovery of the eggs to the carnage we're greeted with in the first few pages of the issue. (About that carnage: the coastal-invasion-by-sealife-from-beyond theme was reminiscent of the first appearance of Starro the Conqueror in the original Justice League series. Although, to be fair, Starro's M.O. was to have his little offspring attach to the faces of humans so he could control them, not have their heads eaten clean off. Still, this smacks of another JLA-reference from Ellis.) Our human villain, who is only alive on-panel for a scant three pages, was much more interesting than many of the bad guys chasing through the pages of other monthly books, and we never even learn his name. His deliberate designs in joining a Planetary analysis team begs a greater question, one that has been brought up on this site before: how can such a massive and connected organization as Planetary remain secret enough to avoid detection, or infiltration of the type put on display here? Hopefully, this will be explored further now that the topic has been broached on-panel.
Another story element that received MUCH-too-brief treatment was the one page morning-after flashback to Snow and Jenny. I'm sure all of us could stand at least a whole issue chronicling any shared history they have. This tiny glimpse was quite intentional, though; Ellis probably doesn't want to give too much away in this area yet. It is interesting to note that while Snow's memory gaps have been heavily intimated in the regular series and leaned upon as a plot device, it was Jenny sporting the memory loss in this instance! But it's certainly understandable how one character might be motivated to remember this incident and the other more inclined to want to forget....
Drummer's theory that Snow, Jenny, and Brass are the world's immune system was fascinating. Since this story takes place prior to the Authority storyline that saw Jenny's demise, it was surprising that Drummer could have developed this theory on his own. And while we've now seen it borne out for Jenny and a strong case made for Brass, it does seem that Snow hasn't lived up to the billing. Yet. There certainly appears to be ample opportunity forthcoming for Snow to fill such a role. You almost want to doubt it, though, as it seems out of character for Ellis to throw us this much of a bone this early in the proceedings. This thread should be worth watching.
The biggest new concept covered in the story has to be the new, malevolent take on the Bleed/Snowflake/multiverse. While Planetary issue #1 showed an invasion force come through a Snowflake in the form of a faux-JLA, it was made clear that they were on a mission of self-preservation. The new operating theory made clear in this issue is that there is a force in the multiverse bent on actively seeking out and exterminating Earths. This seemingly contradicts other instances of the Bleed in the Wildstorm universe. The Carrier, for instance, sails the Bleed continuously; shouldn't other-dimensional uglies be all over it like white on rice? A Snowflake opened up in space and created the Four Voyagers, and while they're certainly evil, if their only purpose was to snuff out humankind they could have accomplished this long ago. In issue four, a very benign Snowflake offered Jim Wilder a chance to help get a shiftship home, but at no point tried to kill him. Brass stood watch for fifty years over an open Snowflake and didn't see a thing. The creatures we saw in this special issue would probably not have feared a crippled Brass with a limited supply of bullets. But all of these examples must now be cast aside, as the multiverse just became a much darker place. Ellis suggests on his Delphi board that there is definitely more to come on why the Snowflakes are to be a source of trouble for humankind, instead of the more passive portals they have been up to now.
A disturbing related concept is the idea that there's an evil Authority out there spearheading this effort. Since we're seen an almost-Justice League pop out of a Snowflake before (and may have seen another one this issue, through the eyes of Lovecraft; this one is harder to nail down with the visual evidence provided), it's not too great a leap to posit that any and all heroes have any number of dopplegangers across the multiverse. Reptile-Jenny supported the concept with her chilling remark, "It's a Jakita Wagner. I LOVE killing those." She's obviously done it before. How many almost-Authorities or nearly-Planetaries might there be out there to contend with? Let's hope that if Ellis decides to take the almost irresistible path to Evil Double stories, he'll give it twists and turns that other authors have missed.
The evil Authority angle reinforced Jakita's personal belief that The Authority are too powerful to allow to run around unmonitored. She echoes Alan Moore's question, "Who watches the Watchmen?" This is fertile territory for future stories, and I hope it's pursued at least a little bit. But with Planetary only scheduled for a finite number of issues and Authority in another author's hands, it's unlikely that we'll see any follow up here. More's the pity, as this issue shows how well the two teams work in parallel. Each does things the other can't.
This issue also dealt with something that Planetary readers certainly appreciate--whatever happened to (insert topic of past issue) after the issue ended? I know I've been wondering since issue one what Planetary was doing with the Snowflake from Brass' HQ, just as I continue to wonder about what the team learned from Wilder's shiftship, the terrorist explosion of the Hark building by the Snowflake group, what information was retrieved from Science City Zero, whatever happened to the creature brought back by the fictionauts.... It was nice to see one of the larger loose end tied up in such a terrific way. More of this would be welcome. But in general, this issue stuck with the Ellis tradition of creating more questions than it answers. How will he ever answer them all within the confines of the remaining issues?
Does Snow have a greater purpose as one of the earth's antibodies? Will the evil Authority be back? What other dangers await in the multiverse? Will me see more of the Wildstorm universe's evil twins? Will we learn more of the past relationship between Snow and Jenny? Snow's level of physical abuse to Drummer reached new heights in this story--can Snow keep this pace up without having a coronary?