Mon
Nov 8 2010 5:35pm

Finding Earth’s Secret History: Absolute Planetary: Book One

Absolute Planetary volume 1It’s a strange world—so says Elijah Snow, and he should know. He’s been recruited by a mysterious organization called Planetary to assist in its efforts to uncover Earth’s secret history. The pay’s not bad at one million dollars a year for life, especially considering Elijah has already lived 100 years, while aging only half that number.

The enigmatic Snow has many other secrets, as do his two new team members, Jakita Wagner and The Drummer. As the three of them carry out the clandestine plans of Planetary, they become increasingly intrigued by the artifacts uncovered from their efforts in “mystery archeology.” Unbelievable secrets are revealed as the group methodically works to map the secret history of the 20th century.

Absolute Planetary: Book One collects the first 12 issues of the series, plus the complete script for the first issue. DC Comic’s impressive hardcover Absolute format is a joy to behold and, although this first volume was out of print for some time, a new printing was released in July 2010.

Among all of the many mysteries which must be unraveled, one thing that is not a secret is the unadulterated imagination that pulses throughout these pages. Writer Warren Ellis and artist John Cassaday compliment each other so well that text and images flow into a single form of communication. Every issue has a distinct “feel” to it and each one shines a little more light on the secret history of Elijah Snow, Planetary, and the villainous enclave called The Four, who are the antithesis of Planetary.

The stories can be appreciated on many levels, as there are countless references to pop culture icons, comic book characters, and fragments from favorite sci-fi and horror stories that are part of our cultural subconscious. There really is something here for everyone, from tales of a stranded shiftship that once traveled between the multiverse, to the ghost of a murdered policeman who comes back from the grave to deliver justice.

One of my favorites involves the exploits of Doc Brass and his superhero cronies as they secretly fight to save the planet from a variety of evils in the 1930s and 40s. How can you not smile after reading the following sentence:

Beneath Chicago, Doc Brass fights for the future of Man in the Spawning Caves of the feral miscegenated Neo-Arachnid Variants bred by the Murder Colonels.

And of course, John Cassaday’s depiction of this event only heightens the sensation of finding a dusty attic relic in the form of a forgotten dime novel or pulp magazine. Cassaday’s artwork is stunning and when viewed on the oversized, glossy pages of this Absolute edition, it will make your eyes pop. After I read the book, which was at a breakneck speed because the stories were such page-turners, I immediately went back and simply looked at everything again.

Because this is a story about secrets, each issue must do its part to slowly reveal answers to the many questions presented at the beginning of the book. Warren Ellis does this in fine style, but it does require a bit of patience as you start out. However, ramp up your tolerance for ambiguity because there is pay-off as things progress.

One of the best compliments any story, especially a serialized story, can receive is when the reader finishes the last page, looks up, and mentally screams, “I WANT MORE!” Luckily, Absolute Planetary, Book Two is already waiting in the wings.


Susan is a librarian who thinks graphic novels and audiobooks are the best parts of a library collection. In her spare time she’s the audiobook reviews editor for SF Site and blogs about audiobooks on her site, AudiobookDJ.

3 comments
INCyr
1. INCyr
Sadly, as much as I love this series, I'm not sure there's enough in the Absolute editions to warrant a place on my shelf. You can pick up the entire run of the series for as much as 1 of the 2 Absolute editions, which allows you to take them anywhere (and everywhere).
INCyr
2. KMG
This was one of my favourite reads of the decade, even after taking into account the very erratic printing schedule. I agree that some of the Pulp elements were wonderfuly evocative. I particularly enjoyed Issue 13 and its inclusion of Dracula, Sherlock Holmes and others.

Thanks for sharing info about the Absolute edition; I generally don't think they're worth it, but given Cassady's art and the wonderful stories from Ellis, I might give this a go.
INCyr
3. ***Dave
Not everything demands the Absolute treatment, but Planetary definitely does. Great series, and worth the investment.

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