Night On Earth
writer: Warren Ellis
artist: John Cassaday
Very few creators command the ability to get their
characters top billing over the Dark Knight. If you don't
know why Warren Ellis is such a man, then you really need
to pick up this book. And every collection of Planetary.
When first announced, this seemed a really unlikely team-up.
On top of Ellis' recent high-profile disinterest in superheroes,
his investigators of the unexplained clearly exist in the
same world with The Authority and Gen 13. Even that is an
uneasy fit. It's just as clearly a world without a Batman.
(The icons of the DC Universe had counterparts there, but
they were wiped out by Planetary's arch-enemies.)
Thankfully, Ellis is so good a writer that he can swallow
any vague disdain and deliver an entertaining story. While
a previous crossover between Planetary and the DCU had been
an Elseworlds tale to make it work, Ellis plants this one
as firmly in continuity as one wants it to be. The secret?
Lifting a gimmick from the Zero Hour event and turning
it into something somewhat meaningful.
I'm not saying that Ellis stole the idea; it's just that
we have seen it before. But it's the teller, not the tale,
and this skilled craftsman does his job well. In fact, from
Planetary leader Elijah Snow's off-handed remarks, it's obvious
that Ellis mined from more than one big event.
When first we encounter the group, they're on the hunt for
a killer in their world's Gotham City. Originally their goal
was just to find out what John Black knows about "Science
City Zero," but it seems his time there has given him powers
that end in death. The Gotham City branch office of Planetary,
manned by a squirrelly Dick Grayson and a strange green-haired
man named "Jasper," has found Black's victims. And it's not
So horrible, in fact, that Snow has seen something like
it only once before - "partial multiversal collapse." In 1986,
of course, the reluctant adventurer witnessed Crisis On
Infinite Earths, though it wasn't quite so infinite. At
that time, a third of the population of all the Earths involved
got messily merged into an amalgam of heads, torsos and limbs,
even though George Perez never drew it.
Black doesn't mean to kill. But he keeps randomly generating
warpzones into other Earths, and other Gotham Cities. If someone
stuck in that isn't prepared, he could be fatally merged with
For Planetary, however, it also means that they can be shifted
to a Gotham City with a protector that doesn't exist in their
own. And any killers in those alternate cities answer to one
man: The Bat-Man.
Exactly which Batman changes from page to page. Ellis and
Cassaday grab a few classic versions of the character and
put them through their paces. Even Adam West's Batman has
a strange dignity in these creators' hands, though really,
It's an excuse for Ellis to re-introduce us to the motivations
of his own characters, and perhaps explain his own viewpoint
on one of DC's cornerstone creations. In any universe, what
drives Batman has always been the same thing, even if we sometimes
laughed at him.
There's also a lot of throwaway bits that speak volumes
for each character. The Drummer, who speaks to machines, convinces
television sets to receive alien porn (thanks for the image,
Cassaday). Though no explanation is ever given, Jasper sure
walks the walk like The Joker, even if he doesn't talk the
talk. Nevertheless, he gives Snow the creeps. Perhaps it's
a play on the idea that Batman really is responsible
for The Joker's continued existence. Certainly without Bruce
Wayne in this world, Dick Grayson isn't even a quarter of
the man we usually know.
And boy, does Batman ever bring out the wild woman in Jakita
Wagner. But that's just for our titillation.
Rising to every challenge set forth by Ellis, Cassaday makes
me long for him to get a regular shot on Batman. He captures
the essence of every famous artist's stamp on the character,
while still making it his own. When finally given a chance
to do his own design, it's elegant, smooth, and yet no doubt
still extremely dangerous.
That, however, would just make Cassaday a great pin-up artist.
There's far more to his skill. On top of being a keen storyteller,
the man draws ordinary people just as well as the extraordinary,
which is one of the key elements of Planetary anyway.
The regular book will start appearing bi-monthly at the
end of August. If you're not hotly anticipating it, after
reading this crossover, you will be.
Planetary: All Over the World and Other Stories
Planetary: The Fourth Man