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Crisis In Zero Hypertimes...

Planetary/Batman: 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 pretty.

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 another self.

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, "Bat-apologies?"

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

Derek McCaw

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