Sunday, November 30, 2014

Planetary Vol. 1 All Over the World and Other Stories Hardcover Review

Planetary Vol. 1 All Over the World and Other Stories
DC Comics - Wildstorm
160 pages
$75.00 (2014) Omnibus
$49.95 (2004) Absolute Edition Vol. 1
$24.95 (2000) Hardcover
$14.95 (2000) Trade Paperback
ISBN 9781563896484

Contributors: Warren Ellis, John Cassaday, Laura Depuy, Bill O'Neill, Ali Fuchs, David Baron, and Wildstorm FX

Reprints: Planetary #1-6; Preview

Synopsis: Elijah Snow has been living in the desert for a decade and avoiding society.  He gets recruited to join the Planetary organization by the beautiful and powerful Jakita Wagner.  Planetary is a largely unknown and mildly covert group which function as 'mystery archaeologists'.  They uncover the secrets of the world hidden beneath the surface of society.  The ground team is always a three-person group which currently consists of:
  • Jakita Wagner - superstrong, superfast, and incredibly bored with regular society.  She is the powerhouse of the team and can handle any situation with a cool head.  Lives for a thrilling adventure or discovering an amazing secret.
  • The Drummer - fan of grunge rock, can talk to machines, and kind of a hipster weirdo.  
  • Elijah Snow - newest member of the group, nearly one hundred years old (a century baby like Jenny Sparks born in 1900), can control temperature absolutely, and an utter grumpy bastard.
Elijah Snow is a cranky old bastard
Snow's first mission with Planetary takes the team to a secret base in the Appalachian Mountains which was home to a group of superhumans from the 1940s.  The group included mystery men from around the world and remained completely undercover.  The secrets uncovered in this long-forgotten base are startling and far-reaching.  What tragic event happened to the members of this secret society to keep them forgotten?

The next mission takes the group to a remote Pacific island where a group of Japanese extremists are about to discover the astounding secret of Island Zero!  We get a glimpse at the Tokyo branch of Planetary.  Then they head to Hong Kong to investigate rumors of the ghost of a murdered cop.  We see Planetary's Hong Kong office and the hidden secrets of the afterlife.  Afterwards the team is investigating a strange object which was unearthed in an explosion beneath an office building of the Hark Corporation.  What happens next is a tragic miracle linked to the Bleed (the space between dimensions of reality).

The final, secret fight of a group of mystery men from the 1940s
Between missions Elijah Snow talks with Axel Brass, the mystery man they found beneath the Appalachians.  Both were born around the turn of the century and Snow finds a kinship with this displaced hero.  They discuss the world and its secrets.  One is cynical and one is a dreamer.  We get to learn the secret origin of Brass, but also see glimpses of other enduring heroes like Jenny Sparks and The High.

The true enemy is revealed at last to Elijah Snow.  A secret division of the United States government has been operating in the deepest shadows since the end of the second World War.  Four individuals became the product of this covert exploration and usurped its power.  These four are now puppet masters within modern society - suppressing knowledge, silencing dissension.  The team storms one of their locations, but are they ready for what they find?  
The true enemy - a group of superhuman adventurers manipulating
the world from behind the curtain.  Look familiar?
Pros: Amazing art by John Cassaday, clever writing by Warren Ellis, big mysteries and exciting adventures, keen homages to many pop culture icons/genres (they change each issue's cover logo and theme to match the different genres), intriguing concept, Elijah Snow is a cool protagonist, despite biting off of many genres it feels original, final villain is really cool, introduction by Alan Moore, nominated in 2000 for Eisner Award as "Best New Series" and "Best Continuing Series", Laura Depuy won the 2000 Eisner for Best Colorist

Cons: Story jumps around a lot, nothing is explained and concepts are just thrown at the reader, practically zero character development, bites off of one pop culture genre to another

Mike Tells It Straight: I found this book to be intriguing and an interesting departure from the typical superhero genre.  Both Warren Ellis and John Cassaday put in some of the best work in their careers in this series and it hooked me from the beginning.  Overall it's a meta-fiction exploration of pop culture genres in both comics and movies.  The biggest draw for me was Cassaday's art which put him on the map as a premier comic book artist.  Ellis had been around for years and transformed Stormwatch (a soon-to-be-cancelled superhero book from Image which was known for flashy art and terrible writing) into The Authority, a genre redefining superhero book which brought widescreen cinematic sensibilities to a stale medium.

Trade Paperback cover
My main gripe about this first volume is the lack of characterization.  We get a small glimpse into Elijah Snow's personality, but Jakita Wagner and the Drummer are both blanks.  They feel like one-dimensional stick figures.  Ellis jumps around with his plot and too many questions are left unanswered.  That's a small list of complaints.  Ellis focuses on several genres in this first volume starting with Axel Brass and his secret society of mystery men  represent the Golden Age superheroes/literary figures (Tarzan, The Shadow, Doc Savage, Fu Manchu), then Island Zero gives us the giant monster/daikaiju genre (Godzilla and it's many sequels), the ghost cop of Hong Kong is hardboiled action films (most notably by John Woo), and four from the black government agency (are a twist on the Fantastic Four).

Despite its flaws I found this book to be a captivating read.  It may be a bit stiff, but Ellis presents a neat concept and Cassaday's art is groundbreaking.  The last issue when the team takes on a superhuman that can actually withstand them was epic.  This collection sets up the rest of the series as Elijah Snow and crew work to find out the secret history of the world.  Includes the preview story which mirrors the origin of the Hulk.  Highly recommended!

TO BUY and Recommendations:

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving 2014!

Wishing you a fun holiday with your family and friends!  Don't forget to take a break and read some comics.

Mike & TPB Reviews

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Red: Better R.E.D. Than Dead Trade Paperback Review

Red: Better R.E.D. Than Dead
DC Comics - Wildstorm
Softcover Trade Paperback
144 pages
$14.99 (2011)
ISBN 9781401231972

Contributors: Cully Hamner, Val Staples, Wes Abbott, Erich Hoeber, Jon Hoeber, Gregory Noveck, Jason Masters, Carrie Strachan, Wes Abbott, Doug Wagner, Bruno Redondo, Pol Gas, Tony Avina, Saida Temofonte, Diego Olmos, Martha Martinez, David Hahn, and Jonny Rench

Reprints: Red: Eyes Only; Red: Frank; Red: Joe; Red: Marvin; Red: Victoria

Synopsis: The plot of the comic book: Paul Moses was once the deadliest black-ops CIA agent in the history of the organization.  He perpetrated unspeakable acts all under the orders of his government and for the 'greater good'.  He also got to do what 99% of black-ops agents don't get to - he retired.  The official term was 'retired, extremely dangerous' (R.E.D.).  Paul was content to live out the rest of his days in peace while suffering horrific nightmares of his evil deeds as a form of atonement.  Things changed when a new CIA director was appointed and orders Paul Moses sanctioned.  Bad mistake.  Paul came out of retirement and killed his way to the top.

You do not want to cross paths with Paul Moses
The plot of the movie: Frank Moses was once the deadliest black-ops CIA agent in the history of the organization.  He perpetrated unspeakable acts all under the orders of his government and for the 'greater good'.  He got to do what 99% of black-ops agents don't get to - he retired.  One day his retirement is cut short as a kill-squad raids his home and attempts to assassinate him.  This old dog has plenty of tricks left in him and he escapes.  Frank launches a mission to uncover the plot of his attempted assassination and pulls in some of his old colleagues including Joe (former intelligence mover and shaker), Marvin (paranoid former assassin), and Victoria (debonair British assassin).  They kill their way to the top.

  • Eyes Only - Paul Moses was the most effective and deadly agent in the CIA's ranks.  Then he decided to retire and got shunted off to a simple security detail for a political candidate.  It's the 1970s and Paul Moses is head of security for Carver Hampton Jr., the first African American presidential candidate with a chance to win.  On the eve of election night, Paul warns Carver that an assassination attempt will happen.  Can Paul's expert training stop the assassin?  
  • Frank - Frank Moses has survived in the business for 20 years through a combination of skill, luck, and paranoia.  His latest mission in Cairo has him paired him with a green rookie named Jordan.  The rookie has mad skillz, but doesn't know enough to stay free of any personal attachments.  He's got a new girlfriend and Frank tells him to lose her quick.  Will Jordan take his advice or is his girlfriend a 'spy like us'?  They're about to find out the hard way.
  • Joe - During the harshest winter of the Cold War, Joe is on a mission to Russia to make contact with his most deep cover agents.  He's a cool customer, but when things go pear-shaped he has to rely on his agents to stay one step ahead of the KGB.  It's a game of cat-and-mouse with the lives of his agents hanging in the balance. 
  • Marvin - Marvin Boggs is an expert assassin and agent for the CIA.  He's starting to suspect something funny is going on when his bosses have him steal a pen.  A plain and ordinary pen. The excessive amount of surveillance equipment in his apartment tips his mental balance and he starts to ask questions.  When Frank shows up unannounced - is it a social call between two friends in the deadliest profession or is he there to eliminate Marvin?  
  • Victoria - Victoria is MI6's best agent.  When she goes on holiday and meets a handsome stranger - is it serendipity?  The two lovers lose themselves in each other and then return to the real world.  Things are much different when Victoria meets Ivan again, but will love conquer adversity?
Pros: Prequel stories for both the comic book and movie which add a little history to the characters, movie prequels are written by the movie screenwriters, fair art in a couple books

Cons: No Warren Ellis (he wrote the original mini-series), different artist on each issue and their styles vary greatly, the comic and movie are fairly different
You do not want to cross paths with Frank Moses

Mike Tells It Straight: Warren Ellis and Cully Hamner put out a short, violent mini-series called Red in 2003 which became a major action movie in 2010.  I found the mini-series to be slightly entertaining, but mostly unremarkable.  The movie was a hit thanks to an all-star cast including Bruce Willis (Frank), Morgan Freeman (Joe), John Malkovich (Marvin), Helen Mirren (Victoria), and Mary Louise-Parker (Sarah).  The success of the movie prompted this series of one-shots which served as prequels for each of the major characters of the movie and one for the mini-series.

Cully Hamner did the story and art for the mini-series prequel which gave an idea of why Paul Moses retired.  No Warren Ellis to speak of and the book was okay.  The four character prequels were written by the movie screenwriters.  That's pretty cool and the stories were decent spy fiction.  Frank goes on a mission and is a consummate bad ass, Marvin's history is shown and his extreme paranoia is explained, Joe's story is surprisingly decent and shows him to be a tough customer, and Victoria's story was too simple although drawn quite well.

I'd say the book is an overall pass because the movie can stand on its own.  It's mildly interesting, but only adds a small insight into the characters.  I'm glad they showed some love to the original work by including a prequel to the comic, but the comic just wasn't that good.  I guess it depends which version of the story you're a fan of - comic book or movie.  This collection is definitely geared to pull in fans of the movie.  Either way you may be disappointed.

TO BUY and Recommendations: