Planetary Volume 1: All Over the World, written by Warren Ellis, illustrated by John Cassaday and Laura Martin (1998-2000; collected 2001): 27 issues spread over 12 years… that’s how long the truly epic story of Planetary took to play out due to a combination of health issues and other artistic and writerly committments.
Elijah Snow, The Drummer and Jakita Wagner — the three super-powered members of Planetary — would investigate a wide variety of superheroic and science-fictional events over that time, all tied into the overarching plot that involved the efforts of the super-powered, Nazi-derived Four to do something terrible to all of humanity, something terrible they’d been building towards for decades.
The Four — a nightmarish version of Marvel’s Fantastic Four — had been systematically holding back humanity for those decades, destroying or suppressing various wonders, technologies and strange visitors from another planet. Against them stands Planetary, “archaeologists of the impossible”, funded by a mysterious Fourth Man as the world’s last hope for a future. As Planetary seeks out the roots and the aims of the Four’s plan, Snow also seeks out the mystery of the identity of the Fourth Man.
Early on, though, the master-narrative was still being alluded to, discovered by the characters as they went along. Snow, capable of generating vast amounts of cold (which of course means that he’s really capable of extracting kinetic energy from his environment), begins the book somewhat amnesiac and terminally bored. Recruited by super-strong Wagner and information guru The Drummer, he then takes part in a series of pulp- and comic- and movie-allusive adventures that begin to reveal the secret world under the skin.
Giant atomic monsters on Japan’s Island Zero! The secret fate of pulp superman Doc Brass! The Hong Kong ghost-cop and his mission of vengeance! And the origins of The Four, America’s first astronauts transformed into something greater and something worse than human. With John Cassaday’s often stunningly beautiful art, Planetary quickly became one of the best, and the most interesting, superhero comics ever created. Highly recommended.