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Review: Planetary/JLA: Terra Occulta

This article contributed by RDG, check his site on Planetary, one of the few comics every to catch my attention, here

"Technologist Diana Prince is a woman trapped in Man's World, her home destroyed by fire from the sky. Hardbitten newspaperman Clark Kent is a man without a past, confused by his awesome abilities and half-remembered childhood talks with long-dead parents. And billionaire Bruce Wayne... he knows that there are crimes being committed, out there in the dark, strange and secret... and he wants justice."

-Warren Ellies http://www.warrenellis.com/

The story begins with our eavesdropping on a letter being written by a striking woman to her mother. We follow a narrative that reveals the woman feels like a stranger to the society around her. Her destination is what appears to be a train station, but is in reality a hub for teleportation portals (called Planetary Portals) that carry instantly her from Metropolis to Gotham City. At a party in Gotham sponsored by Wayne Industries, we learn that the woman is one Diana Prince, "technologist," who is greeted warmly and a bit suggestively by the party's host, Bruce Wayne.

As the two adjourn to Wayne Manor, the tone of the liaison quickly changes from pleasure to business, as Bruce chastises Diana for using Planetary Portals, warning her that she risks being detected (by an as yet unnamed foe). She replies by stating that she's only kept alive by the foe because it amuses the foe to do so. Bruce has another focus, though, as the foe's omnipresent tracking has a gap that will allow Clark Kent to join the two of them at Wayne Manor undetected. Clark, a mild-mannered reporter from Metropolis, arrives on a balcony at the manor after flying here under his own power.


Martian ManhunterThe three retreat to a cave underneath Wayne manor, where Bruce reveals that he's broken through the computer security of their foe, now identified as the Planetary organization. We learn that Planetary is responsible for the death of Clark's parents (who they killed to retrieve the ship that brought Clark to earth) and the destruction of Diana's island home and all who lived there. In short order, Bruce also reveals that he has uncovered evidence showing that Planetary have killed one Barrett Allen to unlock and market the secret of his fantastic speed; uncovered a glowing, green power ring and killed its owner; and killed scientist Raymond Palmer and marketed his ability to shrink humans. The four primary members of the Planetary organization, Bruce states, who have been responsible for every meaningful advance of the last 20 years, are murderers, thieves, and war criminals. Bruce describes the four main members, Jakita Wagner and Ambrose Chase, The Drummer, and Elijah Snow (and they seem to correspond exactly to the field team we have come to know outside this Elseworlds tale).

Bruce, Clark, and Diana leave the cave to access the time-physics experiments of one Dr. Julius Erdel, a scientist on the Wayne Industries payroll, to use it in an undisclosed fashion to take on the Planetary four. When they arrive, they find a drunk Erdel already activating his device. Because Erdel has tapped into the Gotham power grid to amplify the reach of his time-spanning device, Gotham is suddenly plunged into a blackout, attracting the attention of the Planetary four from their base on the moon. From Erdel's device steps a large, green-skinned alien from 75 million years in earth's past. As the startled group rushes to the alien in a futile attempt to help it, a Planetary portal appears and Ambrose Chase steps out.

At this point the story takes off like a runaway train. Chase, recognizing the people assembled in the room, activates his reality-warping powers and begins to draw his guns. Clark, moving with superhuman speed, attacks Chase and crushers one of Chase's guns, with Chase's hand along with it. Clark shoves Chase into the blinding field generated by Erdel's machine, and Bruce throws a bat like object across the room to cut power to the device. Erdel has died in the spray of bullets Chase had fired, and the green-skinned alien has died from the foreign atmosphere.

Using a Planetary-Portal generation device that Clark had freed from Chase with a blast of heat from his eyes, Bruce, Clark and Diana open a portal to take them to Planetary's moon base. There they are immediately separated by force fields, and Clark's chamber is opened to outer space. A voice is broadcast as this occurs, describing the likely source of Clark's powers and how they will not save him in space. Bruce and Diana split up, and each quickly finds an opponent: Diana runs into Jakita Wagner, and Bruce finds a bald, almost Lex Luthor-esque Elijah Snow himself.

While Diana reveals powers of her own, driven by bracelets that apparently allow her to generate energy filets as solid weapons with which to fight Jakita, Bruce first engages Snow in a conversation. Bruce accuses Snow of having killed his parents, and Snow doesn't seek to deny this. After some exposition on the marvels he has horded away from humanity in his one hundred-plus years, he attempts to kill Bruce by freezing him. Bruce, who has investigated other murders perpetrated by Snow and has noticed ice in the victims, has protected himself with an insulated costume. Pressed to other action, Snow attempts to shoot Bruce but is felled with more of those bat-shaped throwing devices. Diana then appears, having triumphed over Jakita, and delivers the coup de grace. Snow is dead, the Planetary four defeated, and Diana and Bruce begin to contemplate the future of the world they have liberated.


This is a very, very ambitious work. Think about the requirements here: create an alternate universe, leverage the readers' existing knowledge of Planetary and much of the DC Universe, and create then resolve an epic confrontation all in 48 pages. Certainly all of DC's Elseworld tales attempt some of this, to an extent. But to involve so many characters and so much history from two wholly separate universes is an awfully tall order. Everyone will judge for themselves the level of success Ellis achieved in this regard. Rather than debate this point here, let's focus on some of the better elements touched on in the story.

First, the inversion of the Planetary team. Terra Occulta shows a reality where Planetary essentially adopts the role of The Four Voyagers from the Wildstorm universe, and it suddenly becomes clear how short a jump that could be if Snow had just a slightly more nasty disposition. It would have been an easy alternate road for our Snow to have taken. He's already shown a tendency towards viciousness and violence; a little less altruism, and he could have been his world's Dr. Dowling. After all, he had over a 60 year head start and, as this story shows, could have easily nipped the Four and their origin-mission in the bud. In Terra Occulta, Snow's character is given the extra wrinkle of baldness, evoking a Lex Luthor quality, but the character is still very much Snow. His chilling dissertation on Clark's powers, both their origin and the method of their neutralization, was vintage Snow (and an awfully interesting take on a scientific reason for Superman's abilities, to boot!).
Clark Vs Ambrose The way that the Planetary team interfered with the lives of Bruce, Clark, and Diana diverged from the way the Four handled it (for Clark and Diana, at least) in the Wildstorm Universe. Also, the way they used the technology stolen from Clark's ship, The Flash's genes, and The Atom's technology to both benefit and rule the world was different from the approach of our Four (who would have just horded the knowledge, nothing more). The way the Elseworlds Planetary killed to achieve their control was very much like our Four. Ellis even managed to dig deep into DC's rich history to involve the Martian Manhunter.
While not a direct victim of the Planetary team, he was part of a plot device centered around Dr. Erdel to stage the first confrontation between the two teams. (Dr. Erdel was the name of the scientist that originally brought the Martian Manhunter to earth.) The scenes that surrounded the Manhunter's appearance were very reminiscent of some of the breathtaking panels that series regular artist John Cassaday usually delivers.

Jakita and Ambrose were a little less intriguing, apparently just evil versions of the characters we've come to know. Their roles here parallel that of Kim Suskind and William Leather of the Four. But what was really interesting here was the character development. We've perhaps learned more about these two characters in a few pages here than we have in several regular issues of Planetary. For example, Jakita reveals an aristocratic heritage. Just one item, but this matches the sum of our knowledge of Jakita's past as revealed in the regular series (i.e., that Snow changed her diapers). On the Chase front, we get a more complete explanation of his powers than we've seen to date in the regular series. His reality-distorting powers are explained as control over time in localized areas. (And Ordway's take on the effect, a hand-drawn execution instead of a computer-generated one, was a creative solution to interpreting someone else's effect in your own style.) The only character who seemed to receive little real attention was The Drummer. His absence from the action of the story did seem to mimic the absence of the final member of The Four, Jacob Greene, from the regular series. The Drummer had a live appearance in the first few pages, haunting the teleportation station of Gotham, tracking Diana's movement. Ellis, when questioned on the strange nature of Drummer's presence in the story, issued a coy reply that implied there was more to be read into it all, but we'll probably never get any more on it.


Diana Vs Jakita Speaking of the teleportation station, you no doubt noticed they were the Door devices Ellis introduced in his run on The Authority. Nice touch!
As for the Justice League, well, most of them were dead before the story opened. Many former leaguers, as well as villains of the DC Universe, were on taxidermist's display in the (DC Universe's Justice League's ) moon based headquarters. With only limited space to devote to the Justice League back story, Ellis did a nice job of addressing the fates of most of the regular League characters. The handling of Clark and Diana was consistent with the way Ellis dealt with DC's silver age heroes in Issue 10 of the regular series. In the space available, Ellis manages to recap the basic details of each of the main character's origins. Clark's and Bruce's are very close to their DC origins. The environment of the Elseworlds universe is all that kept them from donning the costumes as they did in the DC universe. Bruce's origin received the added wrinkle of Snow being the killer of his parents (Elijah Snow? Joe Chill? Nahhh...), and Clark's parents died an untimely death as part of the cover to retrieve Clark's ship. Diana's past was the most dissimilar from the DC universe version, but Ellis took the opportunity to resurrect the history he had created in Issue 10 if the regular series. It was a popular interpretation of the Amazon legend, accompanied by a fresh visual approach, and it's reappearance here was no doubt well received.
Bruce Vs Elijah While Bruce and Snow were the least physically impressive in their battle, theirs was the most fascinating battle because of their intelligence. We've become accustomed to seeing our Elijah Snow out-maneuver his more powerful opponents, and this Snow managed the feat against no less a set of opponents than Superman, the Green Lantern Corps, and an entire race of Amazons.
But here, Snow faces Bruce Wayne. In the regular DC Universe, Bruce is the world's foremost detective as well as a scientist and an athlete. And because of the twist of the story, Bruce is playing the role Snow plays in our Wildstorm Universe: Bruce is to our Snow as this Snow is to our Dowling. And true to our model, Bruce is able to win by his wits over an apparently superior foe. (Let's hope it works out as well in our Planetary series!)

Questions Raised
If I promised to act like I'd never read this special issue, would Ellis, Ordway, and the fine folks at DC and Wildstorm expand this to a 6-issue prestige format limited series so they could reeeealy go to work on all the terrific ideas they only got to touch on this issue?