Planetary/Batman: Night on Earth

July 4, 2006 at 12:57 AM (Comics)

Just finished reading the one-shot Planetary/Batman: Night on Earth by Warren Ellis (writer), John Cassaday (artist) and David Baron (colourist).  Absolutely awesome!

I think Planetary was the only Wildstorm Comics title that Gotham Comics published in India (sadly, this lasted only some 4 issues, and for the past few months there have been no new comics available at all), and this caught my attention the moment I read the first issue.  It was a very engaging combination of the SF and adventure genres, featuring an organisation called "Planetary" — consisting of the hundred year old Elijah Snow, the superhuman Jakita Wagner and the mysterious The Drummer and an as-yet-unidentified The Fourth Man — who try to uncover a hundred years of secret history of the world.

This one-shot is a crossover of Wildstorm’s Planetary with DC Comics’ Batman.  It’s a very unusual take on the theme, certainly the most innovative crossover I’ve read.  The story goes like this: Planetary is in Gotham City (I’m told the universe they start off in, is the Wildstorm Comics Universe; so in this Gotham City, Batman doesn’t exist), trying to track down an individual called John Black, whose parents were victims of some experimentation that might have given John superhuman abilities.  John caused the deaths of several people, whether he did it intentionally or not is unknown to Planetary.

When Planetary finds John, they discover that he really does possess superhuman abilities — he has the power to transform reality (basically, he can transport chunks of reality into alternate universes, because his mind is locked into the rotation patterns of the 196,833 universes that make up reality).  Upon confronting John, Planetary finds themselves transported to an alternate Gotham City, and soon, a mysterious caped figure dressed like a bat — Batman — arrives on the scene.  Jakita and the Batman fight, and Elijah and The Drummer chase John.  John’s mind is unstable, and each time his power is exhibited, it transports the characters into a different Gotham City, with a different version of Batman.

In each universe, Batman seems concerned about taking down John, a known criminal — whereas Planetary recognise that John is simply out of control and the real villains are the ones behind the experiments that changed him into what he is.  Another running theme through the story is that John lost his parents in those same experiments, a parallel to Batman losing his own parents as a child.  All the events in the story take place in Crime Alley.

What makes the book so unique is that the different universes which John transports Planetary to, all represent different versions of the Batman.  The serious crimefighter Batman, the (silly) 1960s Batman, the 1970s Neal Adams Batman, the 1980s Frank Miller Batman, and even the original 1939 Batman all appear in this book)!  I thought it was a very creative way of implementing a crossover, with writer Ellis happily blurring the lines between fiction and meta-fiction!

I’ve admired John Cassaday’s artwork ever since I read my first Planetary issue.  His work has been described as "deceptively simple" — while he uses very little rendering, his art is very realistic.  The more brightly-coloured Planetary has beautiful artwork (but Astonishing X-Men took things even further, that title has some stunningly realistic art!).

The art here is excellent, nothing short of what was expected.  Especially remarkable is the way Cassaday offers his own interpretations of the different Batmans — they’re all instantly recognisable, and seamlessly blend Cassaday’s own style with the style of the artist he is emulating!  Colourist David Baron’s work goes a long way in creating the intended atmosphere for the different versions of Batman.  For example, the pages featuring the 1960s Batman have a more colourful and bright scheme, and when there is a transition from this version to the Frank Miller Batman, the palette changes to a gloomier, more gray/muted purple-brown scheme.

Wonderful, creative work, this!  The book is very fast paced, and that fight I mentioned between Jakita and the Batman is quite exciting.

Rating: 9/10

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1 Comment

  1. Fuyuhiko said,

    the planetary/batman story sounds interesting! specially the different batmans 😀
    and how come i never heard of planetary?

    gonna try to check this one out.

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