Comics

Planetary/Batman: Night on Earth

Michael David Sims

Batman is no different than you or me: he adapts to survive in a constantly changing world, and there aren't many superheroes out there who can boast the same.

Planetary/batman

Publisher: WildStorm (DC)
Subtitle: Night on Earth
Contributors: John Cassaday (Artist)
Price: $5.95 (US)
Writer: Warren Ellis
Item Type: Comic
Length: 48
Publication Date: 2003-08
Amazon

The More Things Change

He who rejects change is the architect of decay. The only human institution which rejects progress is the cemetery.
— Harold Wilson

As we all know, people change. What started out as a lighthearted, giggling toddler can morph into a gloomy, brooding teen which gives way to a cutthroat, cunning CEO. Change is a way of life -- change or die, as they say.

Oddly enough, we don't want our comic book heroes to change. We want the same Green Lantern we grew up with twenty years ago, refusing to accept this fresh, young upstart who currently wields the power ring. The Flash isn't the Flash -- it's his nephew. And who's this kid calling himself Robin, and what did they do to that costume? It certainly isn't the barelegged Dick Grayson we all remember. They're all pretenders to the throne, and whenever there are major upheavals in our little four-color world, we shit a collective brick.

Ironically, when the characters don't change, we grow weary of them. What we're reading now is the same old things we read ten years ago, and ten years before that, and ten years before that. Comic book heroes don't change; they recycle what's already been recycled -- leading to an eventual breakdown.

However, one character has changed repeatedly, yet remains true to the original concept: Batman -- the second oldest superhero, only behind Superman.

What's most interesting about Batman is not his "toys" (as The Joker put it in the 1989 Batman feature film), not the cave, or even Bruce Wayne's money, but how open he is for interpretation. Unlike his red and blue Kryptonian elder, who cannot stray from his Boy Scout image, Batman can be whatever the creators want him to be -- just so long as he remains a detective. No other book has illustrated this point more so than Planetary/Batman: Night on Earth.

We open as WildStorm's Planetary (a group of superhero historians/detectives who's job it is to uncover "the secret history of the [comic book] world") descends on their Gotham City, not the Gotham City we all know. And, just like ours, their Gotham City has its very own Dick Grayson and Jasper -- neither who have ever met Bruce Wayne/Batman (because he does not exist in their Gotham City), and therefore never became who we know them as: Robin and The Joker.

We learn that Planetary (Elijah Snow, Jakita Wagner, and the Drummer) is on the trail of one John Black, whose father was "one of a handful of survivors of the American secret experimentation camp Science City Zero." The belief is that the senior Black passed on "some kind of superhuman capability" to his son. And indeed he has.

It would seem that John has the unique ability to warp reality, to open spontaneous gateways to other universes, and (if that wasn't enough) he can merge them (and its inhabitants) into one.

Being the brave bastards they are, Planetary gives chase. Unable to control his powers, John and the unsuspecting team are all shifted to another universe -- another Gotham City. This one, however, has its very own superhero detective: Batman, who glides from above, moonlight illuminating what's used to shadows.

Jakita (think of her has Planetary's Batman with a touch of Superman's power and a cocky, dry wit that's all her own) engages this enigmatic masked man as Snow and Drummer chase the fleeing Black. Despite her superior strength, Batman surprisingly (to Jakita anyway) holds his own. (Remember, this is a guy who's gone toe-to-toe with Superman. There isn't anyone in the DC Universe who's a better fighter or battlefield tactician than this guy.)

As the duo battles, Black bends reality once more, turning Batman from a calloused creature of the night into... Adam West! Or at least the 1960's Batman everyone remembers from the television series of the same name. Unlike the previous Batman Jakita had been trading blows with, this one exists in a colorfully outdated world where fighting women (even those of superior strength) was unheard of. To get around his curvaceous foe, Batman pulls out his trusty can of Bat-Female-Villain-Repellent.

It's right about here we think we know Batman in all his forms -- from his current persona to the campy TV version -- but we'd be wrong, because as Snow turns to challenge the caped crusader, he comes face to face with The Dark Knight: Frank Miller's seemingly seven foot tall, thick as a house, fascist Batman -- one of the most violent representations of the man, with a tank, mini-Batarangs that pierce the skin, and exploding charges.

A brighter Batman emerges as reality is sent spinning again. This time it's Neal Adams' dark knight detective -- some would say the perfect representation of Batman. He's just, righteous, swift, and willing to listen to those around him, even if it means conceding once in a while.

But before Batman can hand Black over to Planetary, there's another change. In what some might consider a break from all that Batman stands for, we see him with a gun trained directly at Black's head, uttering, "Crime doesn't pay. Crime mustn't pay. Ever."

Remember what this book is about: honoring all of Batman's interpretations throughout the years, even those that seemingly don't fit. The original Batman, like many costumed vigilantes of the late '30s/early '40s, carried a gun at his side, despite how his parents died years earlier.

Though this image of Batman lasts but a page, it's a stark reminder of how much people change over the years. From a young boy filled with glee as he and his parents walked down the wrong alley one night, to the angst-filled teen who setout on an epic adventure to learn all the skills he'd need later in life, to the father figure he'd become to a tragically orphaned acrobat.

Depending on when you grew up, your idea of who Batman is will be entirely different than mine, and that's what makes him an icon of the comic book world. Batman is no different than you or me: he adapts to survive in a constantly changing world, and there aren't many superheroes out there who can boast the same.

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.


Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09
Amazon

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less
7

Very few of their peers surpass Eurythmics in terms of artistic vision, musicianship, songwriting, and creative audacity. This is the history of the seminal new wave group

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominating committee's yearly announcement of the latest batch of potential inductees always generates the same reaction: a combination of sputtering outrage by fans of those deserving artists who've been shunned, and jubilation by fans of those who made the cut. The annual debate over the list of nominees is as inevitable as the announcement itself.

Keep reading... Show less

Barry Lyndon suggests that all violence—wars, duels, boxing, and the like—is nothing more than subterfuge for masculine insecurities and romantic adolescent notions, which in many ways come down to one and the same thing.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) crystalizes a rather nocturnal view of heterosexual, white masculinity that pervades much of Stanley Kubrick's films: after slithering from the primordial slime, we jockey for position in ceaseless turf wars over land, money, and women. Those wielding the largest bone/weapon claim the spoils. Despite our self-delusions about transcending our simian stirrings through our advanced technology and knowledge, we remain mired in our ancestral origins of brute force and domination—brilliantly condensed by Kubrick in one of the most famous cuts in cinematic history: a twirling bone ascends into the air only to cut to a graphic match of a space station. Ancient and modern technology collapse into a common denominator of possession, violence, and war.

Keep reading... Show less
10

Award-winning folk artist Karine Polwart showcases humankind's innate link to the natural world in her spellbinding new music video.

One of the breakthrough folk artists of our time, Karine Polwart's work is often related to the innate connection that humanity has to the natural world. Her latest album, A Pocket of Wind Resistance, is largely reliant on these themes, having come about after Polwart observed the nature of a pink-footed geese migration and how it could be related to humankind's intrinsic dependency on one another.

Keep reading... Show less
Film

Victory Is Never Assured in ‘Darkest Hour’

Gary Oldman in Darkest Hour (2017) (Photo by Jack English - © 2017 FOCUS FEATURES LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. / IMDB)

Joe Wright's sharp and only occasionally sentimental snapshot of Churchill in extremis as the Nazi juggernaut looms serves as a handy political strategy companion piece to the more abstracted combat narrative of Dunkirk.

By the time a true legend has been shellacked into history, almost the only way for art to restore some sense of its drama is to return to the moment and treat it as though the outcome were not a foregone conclusion. That's in large part how Christopher Nolan's steely modernist summer combat epic Dunkirk managed to sustain tension; that, and the unfortunate yet dependable historical illiteracy of much of the moviegoing public.

Keep reading... Show less
7
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image