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At Long Last! Planetary #27!

November 13th, 2009

On Wednesday I wrote about Warren Ellis and John Cassaday’s magnificent series Planetary, which is truly one of the greatest comic book series of all time.  It was also, for quite a while, one of the most frustrating, as fans have been waiting for the final issue, number 27, to be published for about three years now.  (The penultimate issue, number 26, was published way back in December, 2006.)

There’s truly no excuse for such a ridiculous delay, but putting those frustrations aside, what did I think of Planetary‘s swan song?

It was magnificent.

I must admit, I was ready for disappointment.  Bringing a long-form story to a close is fiendishly difficult (whether that story be a comic book series that’s been published for the last decade or a long-running TV series or a series of novels, etc. etc.)  Add to that the amazing anticipation and expectation built up after THREE LONG YEARS of waiting, and the potential for crushing disappointment was vast.  I told myself over and over again to curb my hopes because there was no way that Planetary #27 could possibly live up to what I wanted it to be.

I’m sorry I doubted you, Mr. Ellis and Mr. Cassaday!!

At the end of issue 26, it seemed that the main thrust of the over-all Planetary story was over, as the Planetary team (Elijah, Jakita, and the Drummer) had, it seemed, finally defeated their long-standing adversaries, the Four.  But that victory was not the end of the story.  Before we leave them, Planetary has one last wrong to set right, and we finally get some resolution to one of the series’ most enigmatic chapters, issue #9’s flashback to the death of former Planetary team member Abrose Chase.  Along the way, issue #27 is filled with Mr. Ellis’s usual brand of snarky humor and head-scratchingly complex sci-fi theorizing.  (There were several pages whose explanatory dialogue I had to go back and read several times — and that is not a criticism!  This is some dense, dense stuff.)  The central idea behind Elijah’s efforts in this final issue (which I won’t dare even hint at here) is a wonderful hook for this last story, and I was very pleasantly surprised at how many previous issues this final tale referred to (whether it was appearances by Doc Brass and Anna Hark to the familiar look of the central machine which finally gives some context to the I-thought-this-was-just-a-random-adventure Planetary/Justice League one-shot crossover from 2003).  I am really glad to have just recently re-read the entire series, as that helped me to get a lot more, I think, out of the goings-on in this final issue.

There are so many fantastic moments contained within, from Elijah’s deliciously meta ruminations on the nature of storytelling in a 2-D universe, to Jakita’s fears at being useless now that the adventure is all over, to the Drummer’s talk of Schrodingers and Heienbergs.  The final ten-or-so pages of the issue were absolute nail-biters.  I like all the characters so much that I was sort-of hoping for a happy ending, but Planetary has been, often, a fairly grim series that doesn’t shy away from some tough, tragic events in its story-telling.  Without going into detail, I will say that I found the ending — and, in particular, the final page — to be just perfect.

I heaped a lot of praise on John Cassaday’s artistic skills in my previous post — what more can I say here?  Perhaps I can mention that I have spent a long time poring over issue #27’s extraordinary tri-fold cover, which I believe contains pretty much every single character of consequence who has appeared in the entire series, all wrapped up in a gorgeous, intricate design.  George Perez would be proud.  As for the interiors: as always, this issue is an epic story that covers a lot of ground, all of which is wonderfully brought to life by Mr. Cassaday’s illustrations.  Magnificent panel after magnificent panel, there is nary a single line out of place.  Just extraordinary.

I am sorry to see Planetary go.  After re-reading the entire series last month, I am convinced that there is still a lot of life in this series, and I wish that Ellis and Cassaday would go on telling stories in this universe, with these characters, for years more to come!  But I guess they have told the story they set out to tell.  I will have to content myself with the near-perfection of the 27 issues (and three one-shots) that they gave us.

This is a series that I know I will be returning to, time and again, for many years to come.  It’s a high water-mark in comic book storytelling.  Well done, sirs!

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