“Keeping It That Way”: The Cultural Maelstrom of Warren Ellis’ Planetary

[11 October 2009]

By Kevin M. Brettauer

Merriam-Webster defines the word “planetary” as “of, relating to, or belonging to the earth” or “having or consisting of an epicyclic train of gear wheels”.

Warren Ellis and John Cassaday’s recently-concluded epic series, Planetary, is a cultural hodgepodge, the mythology of the last 150 years of adventure stories shoved into a distinctly Ellis-owned blender, building to an emotional catharsis that can, in fact, only be described as epicyclic.

It was stated recently that, when it comes to his views on humanity and respect for the rest of the species, Warren Ellis is a lot like a perpetually hung-over Joss Whedon. It would probably be more accurate to call him the UK’s Kurt Vonnegut; here is a man whose work always finds a way to betray or subvert the angry, bile-filled venom inherent in his characters by the end of a given tale. While it’s clear that Ellis, like Vonnegut did, has a cynical view of the group “humanity” as a whole, he is always open to, and actually encourages, being surprised by the individual. Is that, after all, not the purpose of Spider Jerusalem, Miranda Zero, Doktor Sleepless and, indeed,  Planetary’s own Elijah Snow?

Ellis has always portrayed Elijah Snow as a man with a very simple, very human mission, perfectly replicating the human condition by depicting that mission’s constant evolution and taking it to its only logical closure point. One realizes, upon finishing their first read of the series, that Elijah Snow doesn’t just want to keep the world safe and strange—he wants to save the life of the Individual, here typified by the missing Ambrose Chase.

Because Elijah Snow, despite his frosty behavior towards some and the cold shoulder he gives to others, is just like the rest of us; beneath his white suit and pale skin is a warm, beating heart.

While cloaked as a cultural history of the last 150 or so years, Planetary is really the Joseph Campbell-inspired tale of a hero’s second chance at life and attempt at the hero’s journey and, indeed, how one man can make the world a better place, no matter how strange it really is—even if it means keeping it that way.

This coming week, The Iconographies explores both the series as a whole and the years-in-the-making final issue of Planetary.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/post/113061-keeping-it-that-way-the-cultural-maelstrom-of-warren-ellis-planetary/