Overview

Planetary #23

Review

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Planetary #23

Credits

  • Words: Warren Ellis
  • Art: John Cassaday
  • Inks: John Cassaday
  • Colors: Laura Martin
  • Story Title: Percussion
  • Price: $2.99
  • Release Date: Jun 29, 2005

He’s an informational black hole. He changes T.V. channels with his mind. And he’s mean on a pair of sticks. Introducing: The Little Drummer Boy.

With Jacob Greene set adrift like a space oddity (Planetary, issue #20), and William Leather captured then tortured in an undisclosed location (issue #22), The Drummer and Jakita Wagner meet to discuss Elijah Snow’s mysterious and secretive actions. Jakita, echoing sentiments she’s been feeling since the Greene affair, thinks that Elijah has changed, and not at all for the better. The Drummer doesn’t think that Snow has changed at all—he’s still the cold, hard man he’s always been. Further, The Drummer surmises that Snow’s stealthy maneuvers were meant to prevent the remaining two members of The Four, Dowling and Suskind, from striking back. When Jakita, frustrated that she’s not as "in" as she used to be, insinuates that Drummer has his own motives for defending Snow, we flash back (at least 15 years, I presume) to his rescue from Dowling’s control by Snow, Jakita, and the now deceased Ambrose Chase. Along with other kids with similar but not as well developed abilities, Dowling had been using the nameless teen known as The Little Drummer Boy in a bid to gain control of the then nascent Internet. Planetary’s extraction operation is head-on and vicious, The Little Drummer Boy delivering the final blow to Dowling’s plans with his sticks. Later, Snow learns that the kid is a total orphan, then takes him into the Planetary fold. The narrative then shifts back to the present, where The Drummer, as he stares at the tight, intricate petals of a chrysanthemum he’s just picked, finally understands the purpose of Snow and people like him, and may also have correctly guessed what Snow will be up to next.

Technically, Warren Ellis’ script strikes an excellent balance between talking heads and flying fists. As one layer of mystery is stripped away, at least two more are added, the story concluding with a final panel that is as evocative (of both the petals of Snow’s hallucinations in issue #21 and Leather’s in issue #22) as it is suspenseful. The first three pages refresh the reader’s memory of the most recent issues while also dramatizing the growing rift and tension within the Planetary team. It also serves nicely as a springboard into The Little Drummer Boy’s story, from which the reader comes away with a deeper understanding of who The Drummer is, what makes him tick, as well as perhaps an explanation for the cooling off of the once antagonistic relationship between himself and Snow. But the Little Drummer Boy flashback also packs some intense action, Ellis here wisely giving the reader a break from the thickening plot with lyrical widescreen ultra-violence. And holding it all together is a deft sense of pacing that keeps the narrative flowing. The transitions from high action to slower moments are so smooth that the reader barely notices.

What can a reviewer gush about the best artist in comics right now that hasn’t already been gushed? John Cassaday seems to never miss a beat, his images, even if it’s just a face, stunning for their depth and texture, the elegance and intensity that hits the reader all at once. What stands out in Planetary #23 is the range and richness of his emotional palette. In medium-shots foregrounding sparsely detailed settings, or close-ups against sometimes empty backgrounds, his tight line work captures Jakita’s frustration and suspicion, Drummer’s composed insanity as an adult and unbridled rage as a kid, Ambrose’s confidence and intensity, John Stone’s shifty super-spy paranoia, and the burden and responsibility Elijah Snow seems to carry at every moment like the secret warrior he is. The reader gets engaged in the story through the conflicting emotional states of the characters, and Cassaday’s art here adds as much drama to the story as Ellis’ words. But his focus on the all too human in this issue notwithstanding, what catches the reader’s attention on the second and third reads are those panels in which he details his backgrounds. Look closely as The Drummer and Jakita converse—the backgrounds are photo-realistic, as if Xeroxed from a magazine, then painted with Laura Martin’s limpid and subtle colors. Unless I’m missing something, I haven’t yet seen this aspect in Cassaday’s work. One hopes that he’ll add more of these nice touches to his repertoire. They can only expand what already is a brilliant and singular artistic vision.

Because Planetary drops on a quarterly schedule, re-reading several previous issues before delving into a new one is a must. It’s always worth the wait and extra work. But after this issue, though three months is too long a wait to see what happens next, I’ll probably re-read issue #23 just for the sheer pleasure of it.

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