ADVANCE REVIEW! Planetary #28 will go on sale Wednesday, April 4, 2012.
Planetary returns this week after a nearly three-year absence caused partly by writer Warren Ellis' recent "burnout" at the state of the industry and partly because artist John Cassaday was busy with various film projects. And with it came a whole raft of twists and surprises which should catch many readers off-balance. Ostensibly a story about the grim reality behind superheroics, the narrative decided to follow the team as they went on a mission into a dystopian future where everything is ruined apart from, apparently, the local trenchcoat store. Plenty of trenchcoats in this issue.
Front and center for the issue is Elijah Snow, whose smoke-riddled monologues about history and genocide have become somewhat of a trademark for the series. Fear not! He gets his lengthy diatribe which starts off as irritation about getting gum on his shoe and ends up a rant against the freedom of speech which the media use to their advantage every chance they get… but you'll have to wait for it. The dystopian aspects of the story are actually used as a framework for the real story Ellis wants to tell here: the adventures of a wise-cracking crab who dreams of marrying a mermaid, but is too afraid to say anything about it. It's a strange twist for Ellis, but it pays off in the long-run, and also gives readers the chance to ogle some lovely artwork showing off the red crab's homeworld under the sea. It's a change for Cassaday to have the chance to draw something which isn't filled with grit and black boots and people in steampunk hats, and you can tell he's having a ball with the song-and-dance sequence towards the end of the issue.
Structurally, Planetary has never been afraid to mess around with time and space, and issue #28 plays off on that reputation by subverting everything the reader might've expected. When most people picked up the story, they might've been expecting to see the four lead characters continue their quest, picking up from #27. Instead, we see them trudge through an uncertain future, the existence of which depends on the choices made by the talking crab (Sebastian) in the present. Ellis' tendency to lean on dark humor means that we're all expecting the comic to zig when he's actually plotting a zag. It's a tremendously clever con on his part, leaving behind his main protagonists after two pages in order to focus on a life aquatic. Sebastian is well-drawn as a character, with a refreshingly well-researched Jamaican accent that crackles on the page, making his dialogue a treat to read. You might feel that this is a rather strange direction for Ellis to lead readers down, but at no point does it feel forced to read 17 pages about a Jamaican crab hectoring a mermaid about her ill-conceived plan to live on land, all the while attempting in vain to hide his obvious desire for her.
Long-time fans will be pleased to see several familiar faces making an appearance in the issue, as Spider Jerusalem appears in one panel playing the lute, while the carp plays de harp. It's the little touches like these which make the issue so much fun, and a worthwhile companion to the previous 27. Cassaday throws in several cameos such as this, like Pete Wisdom smoking an underwater cigarette or Jenny Sparks wearing a trenchcoat and swearing at a doubfounded flounder. Every page is crammed with details, brought to vibrant life by Laura Martin's deft colours. Planetary works not just as a work of fiction, but as a commentary on fiction in general. Should stories only ever be about grim dystopian worlds where everybody wears a trenchcoat and smokes and swears and has an off-kilter take on sexuality and are all essentially the same person regurgitated time after time after time without the fanbase noticing for whatever reason? Ellis reveals that the past 20 or so years of his comics have all been a set-up for this glorious punchline, in which we, the readers, are forced to confront the fact that maybe "dark and edgy" comics are for idiots and talking, amiable Caribbean crabs are the future of the medium.
Planetary #28 is a success, and a welcome return to comics from one of the most important and certainly not repetitive writers of the modern era. It ushers in a bold new direction for the series, leaving the reader desperate to join Sebastian in his own underwater paradise. It truly is betta, down where it's wetter, under da sea.
Steve Morris is the head and indeed only writer for Comics Vanguard, the internet's 139th most-favourite comic-book website. You can find him on Twitter at @stevewmorris, which is mostly nonsensical gibberish you may enjoy or despise. His favorite Marvel character is Darkstar, while his favorite DC character is, also, Darkstar. Never forget! He writes The Book of Monsters, a webcomic which updates every Sunday with a new story, monster, and artist. Join in!