Polter-Cow (spectralbovine) wrote,

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Strange World

While waiting to be an extra in my friend's short film (I know!), I read RED, by Warren Ellis and Cully Hamner. Having enjoyed the ridiculous movie, I wanted to see the comic it was based on inspired by. First things first: Helen Mirren and John Malkovich are nowhere to be found, as the book focuses entirely on the Bruce Willis character, and it has a very different tone. Paul Moses is a retired CIA agent haunted by the things that he's done, his only human connection with the woman who handles his pension checks. And then one day the new boss decides he Knows Too Much and must be killed...but you just don't try to kill the best killer in the world. Well, actually, yes, that's all you can do: try. What follows is a lot of shooting and killing as a pissed-off Moses goes after the entire CIA for fucking with his retirement. There is a little exploration of his character, the usual musing on what makes a killer and what years and years of killing will do to a person, and there is also a political message about the terrible things he's done in the name of serving his country. But it's rather cursory. All in all, RED is too short, but it is a quick, action-packed read.

I picked up Bad Kids Go to Hell, by Matt Spradlin & Barry Wernick and Chris Allen & Anthony Vargas, at Comic-Con because it was five bucks and called Bad Kids Go to Hell. Sadly, the title doesn't appear to have anything to do with the book—which appears to have started life as a movie and then adapted into a comic to be turned into a movie and I don't even know. It starts off very Breakfast Club, with a bunch of spoiled rich kids stuck in detention, but then they discover they're on top of an Indian burial ground because apparently we're still doing that story, and there's an angry Native American spirit curse because apparently we're still doing that story, and these bad kids start dying. BUT NOT GOING TO HELL. Way to lie, title.

It takes a fair bit to really get going, but once the action starts, it's a fairly enjoyable read, despite the fact that none of the characters are really likable or interesting. I did end up liking a couple, but not for any good reason. But the women are all sexy schoolgirl stereotypes, and the two non-white dudes barely have a personality. The storytelling is both muddled and pedestrian, the art is okay, and the lettering is laughable. While it's kind of fun, it's exceedingly mediocre, and I am left scratching my head at the amount of energy that is being put into telling this story in various formats and promoting it.

I am going to begin this review of Planetary, by Warren Ellis and John Cassaday (full Goodreads reviews: Volume 1, Volume 2, Volume 3, Volume 4, Crossing Worlds), with the statement that Planetary is fucking amazing. Please just assume that I am saying that after every sentence of this review. Because it is fucking amazing.

Planetary. The word itself evokes a sense of our place in the cosmos, one small planet in a vast universe of wonders. It is an apt name for an organization of mystery archaeologists who unearth these wonders, observing the hidden secrets of the world (our world, as well as its relation to others). The superhuman Jakita Wagner, the immortal Elijah Snow, and the machine-talker Drummer travel the world and investigate strange happenings, usually after strange things have already happened. Think Fringe Division except without having to catch any bad guys, just walking up to weird shit and going, "Huh, that's some weird shit." THIS SHOULD NOT WORK. It should be totally boring and unsatisfying. But it's not.

Warren Ellis proves his strength in crafting marvelous single issues (also seen in Global Frequency), managing to present a high concept, marvel at it for twenty pages, and then leave it behind because he's got a couple dozen more for you anyway. It's incredibly dense storytelling. Warren Ellis packs a lot into each issue, sometimes by saying a lot and other times by not saying a lot and leaving a huge empty space in between the lines for the reader to fill in the gaps. Each issue expands the universe; it's as if there's no limit to Ellis's imagination. As a bonus, he riffs off various comic book characters (some I recognized and some I didn't), reimagining them in the context of this world. (For some people, this is actually the main selling point and highlight of the book, but for me, it was simply an extra layer.) I love the way that Ellis makes this universe one in which basically everything is true: creation myths, aliens, monsters, Sherlock goddamn Holmes. It's almost Gaimanesque in its retellings/retoolings of stories, but it retains that action-packed core that Ellis excels at. What's wonderful is, well, the sense of wonder behind it all. The repeated theme of the book is "It's a strange world. Let's keep it that way." It's a beautifully odd mission statement. This isn't about killing monsters or saving the world. This is about embracing the beauty and appreciating the strangeness of the world. And, boy, there is some strange shit, but it's explicitly descriptive rather than vaguely coy. Think Grant Morrison, but accessible. Warren Ellis is able to take complicated sci-fi concepts and make them just accessible enough so that even if you don't fully comprehend what's going on, you still feel the impact of the story.

Although each issue is generally self-contained in the beginning, ongoing stories do develop, tying some of the cases together and raising questions about both the Planetary organization and the mysterious history of Elijah Snow. Not to mention the fact that the villains of the series are Ellis's take on the Fantastic Four.

If I have one criticism, it's that the intense focus on Elijah Snow—who is a great character, don't get me wrong—means Jakita and Drums don't get as much development as I would have liked. And yet, they still feel fairly fleshed out, and Planetary is also a book about the three of them, the small family they have made for themselves, having no one else.

But fuck all that, you guys: John Cassaday's art is fantastic in the first volume, and then it actually gets better. At times, it's simply astonishing. Laura Martin on colors also brings a lot to the book. Ellis could have written an entire issue of Elijah Snow reading the phone book, and it would have been awesome because of the art.

From issue #1, Ellis and Cassady take us from outer space to innerspace—and everywhere in between—with ease and bring the series to an immensely satisfying conclusion. There is not a weak issue among the 27. Planetary is a hell of a book.
Tags: books, comics, personal, pimpings
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